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Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other

Decide to go abroad? Check. Choose location? Check. Choose between apartment or homestay? Check. Choose the classes I want to take? Check. Ready? Not quite...Research what to expect, freak out a little, pack and unpack an unnecessary amount of times to make sure I have everything I need, then repeat.

Before going abroad, I could fill out that whole checklist with everything I wanted. I had a lot of preconceived beliefs of my anticipated adventure. After coming here abroad, I realized that some things do not line up the way you intended, but learning to adapt is what makes these experiences most rewarding.

Here is a list of expectations I had and the reality that ensued after I arrived:

Expectation: My classes would all match up and my first location would be the one I chose.

Reality: A lot of classes will not match up. Nowadays, classes in college are so specific and they can be hard to match up. Originally, I had my heart set on Paris. I believed it would be the busiest and most lively place in France. Unfortunately, only 2 classes lined up, which would have left me with 8 credits. Our study abroad adviser sent me some more locations where more of my classes would correspond. At first I was a bit disappointed not getting my first choice locatio,n but I can’t begin to describe how coming to a different location than what I had originally anticipated has been such a blessing. The French Riviera is full of wonder and rich culture. It is exactly the type of environment I was looking for. It is full of countless restaurants and cafe’s, boutiques and markets on every corner. Located a short bus ride away from the beautiful SKEMA campus, a short walk from the beach, and minutes away from anything you may need. I could not be more happy of where I ended up and it was all because  my classes ended up not lining up with my previous location.

Anywhere you end up going will be wonderful and the trick is not to stress too much about location. Be open and flexible because any destination you end up at will have its own unique and even magical features.

 Here is a photo of my new home in the French Riviera (disclaimer: I am not living in a sailboat)
 You can see the city of Antibes in the background.

Expectation: Signing up with a program like CEA locks you into commitments and limits your opportunities.

Reality: Signing up with a program was another one of the best decisions I made. Within our CEA group, there are 21 students all from around the U.S. I also met some other cool students from the U.S. attending SKEMA international school. None of them had gone with a program and had to find apartments themselves, some of which came with only one bed for 3 roommates or no WiFi in the contract. Although, I had a preconceived belief, I have found that there is abundant freedom to discover the opportunities abroad. With a program, there are also various excursions that come with the price of a program and they are highly encouraged but optional. While I love meeting new French people, I find myself kicking back with the U.S. students in the program and bonding over our bad French accents and sharing baguettes and great cheese.

 Here is a picture of the CEA French Riviera crew on our excursion to Monaco.
 Classy cheese tasting at the guy's house
the first night we were all together.

Expectation: The apartments given to us are all going to be small and I would only use it for sleeping.

Reality: After receiving an e-mail from our program manager that we shouldn’t expect much and that apartments in France are generally smaller than apartments in the U.S., I had to keep rationalizing with myself that I would only need the apartment for sleeping. At this point, I’m picturing myself sleeping on a couch while my roommates shared a queen-size bed in our 2-room apartment. I expected the worst but hoped for the best. Upon entering our apartment, I looked around in astonishment. I mean, I had expected the worst but this was definitely better than the best I had hoped for. Among the 21 students in our program, we are split into 6 different housing situations. While one house has an ocean view, another has a perfect location close to the school’s bus stop. While one has a host family, another will have a 3 story apartment. From place to place, there’s a give and take to every location.

Expectation: Classes would be harder and the teacher’s would have no chill.

Reality: Classes are some of my favorite parts so far. The teachers are wonderful, and while we go to an English-speaking school, a lot of the students speak French. If a student asks a question in French, the teacher will always answer the question in English so that everyone can understand. Classes are nothing out of the usual. The grading system, as in every location around the world, is a bit different in France. It is almost harder than the U.S. system I am used to, but since everyone will do worse collectively, it will average out to about the same difficulty and rank of understanding amongst all the students. The grading system is rigorous, but it facilitates good work ethic and attentiveness while in class. The French education system is very good. Class time is efficient and effective, and it enables very little work outside of class.

Going abroad, some things will line up the way you intended, but others won’t be exactly what you had envisioned. When this happens, acknowledge it, move on to plan B, and keep going. Some things that do not end up the way you expected present opportunities, not limitations. There is a chance to grow and learn. When you fill out your checklist, make sure to keep a flexible mind in case things fall into a different path. Every experience has a learning opportunity along with it. You may find that your expectations do not match up with the realities. You will certainly find that your time abroad will exceed your expectations, so long as you keep an open mind and a free spirit.
Ready? Check.

Cici Holmquist if the Fall 2015 MOJO Blogger in the French Riviera. She is currently a Sophomore at Point Loma Nazarene University.

 À bientôt, mes amis!

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