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Study Abroad Blog

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What No One Tells You About Studying Abroad: The Good and The Bad

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What No One Tells You About Studying Abroad in Paris

Emily in Paris. You know the name and you’ve seen the show, so go on make the joke. It’s a picture-perfect life, the dream we all want to live. But it’s fiction, a fairytale. While living and studying abroad in Paris has its fairytale days, they are riddled with loneliness and exhaustion in between. Studying abroad is a time of challenges, changes, and growth. Expect some of the most formative days of your life, but don’t lose sight of the trials of reality. In my experience, that is one of the hardest challenges I faced: reality. My new reality consisted of loneliness, missing out on trips back home, budgeting, and resting. Balance is the key to life, and when you’ve been told and expected that every day is the best day of your life while studying abroad, you find yourself with a lot of guilt. Guilt for being tired and staying in one night, guilt for having a slow lazy Sunday, guilt for taking care of yourself instead of wandering the city one day. Don’t fall into this trap, you’re only human, you have needs, be kind to yourself.

Studying abroad feels oddly like freshman year of college, in a strange new place, with brand new characters, and the ignorance of your surroundings. Finding a new routine, a routine in a foreign place. There’s a lot to learn living abroad, like taking the subway, how to use a foreign washing machine, and even how to open some doors, believe it or not. No matter how much you research, you’ll run into something novel. Figuring out the metro was step one for me. I remember being so turned around the first few weeks and now it's second nature to hop on the Line 1 towards Ch. de Vincennes to get home. Orientation resembled that of summer camp, and slight amnesia that we were here for class. It did, however, give us the opportunity and freedom to be tourists and make friends over a croissant before obligations and responsibilities set in.

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My goal for the summer was to blend in, become one of the locals, and take on the disguise of this new culture. It’s not easy because you quickly realize the little comforts from home that you took for granted, like the size of showers, free water at restaurants, air conditioning. Gosh, what I would give for AC in my apartment, but I know I’ll tell stories about it for the rest of my life. One of my favorite parts about diving full force into living like a local are the little rituals, such as the grocery store picnics by the Eiffel Tower, the mandatory happy hour starting at 4 p.m., and going to the local markets twice a week.

Finding the balance between, “Oh my gosh I’m in Paris and I have so many things I want to do,” and doing the required work is hard. It’s taking classes on vacation. I knew I wanted and needed to find a balance, something I’ve struggled to find my entire life. In June, I spent most afternoons in photography class. So, I created a ritual. In the mornings I would leave my apartment no later than noon, go out and walk around the Marais, which is the area CEA is in, learn it, study it, make it my personal playground. Most days consisted of a baguette sandwich from a little bakery by Hotel de Ville. I walked, window shopped, explored, and read. I wanted to learn how the city moved and that I did. The photography class was one the most influential ones I’ve ever taken. It forced us to look at Paris in a new way, look for the different and the unique. It pushed us out into the streets and out of my comfort zone. But I also had to manage my time to get assignments, papers, and photos prepared on time. I would often go over my days and what we had planned and what I had due with my roommate. Having someone to talk through the days with really helped keep things straight, so does a planner. But you know that it's like college, only in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

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While most days looked like sore feet, good food, adventures, and the occasional Eiffel Tower, castle, and casual viewing of the Mona Lisa, not every day was perfect. Something I forgot, and something most people forget, is that moving abroad will not solve your problems. There have been days where all I wanted was to be home and hug my mom, moments of getting yelled at, low self-esteem, and crying. It’s your life for a few months, it’s not a week-long vacation. You’re going to have high highs, a spontaneous trip to Greece with your friends, and low lows, eating ice cream, and crying watching Sweet Home Alabama.

The month of July held lots of excitement, French Independence Day, a trip to Versailles and Giverny, a carnival, and the start of my internship. I worked at my internship virtually, which meant I had to plan my days on my own making sure I was getting my work done on time. While I was creating a lot of content, which was fun, it gave me the excuse to go do some fun things in the city. I was also writing and editing, so I had to schedule time to do that as well. I tried to do most of it at the beginning of the week so I would have time to finish up projects in time for my plans for the weekends.

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I’ve learned a lot about myself in these past 8 weeks. I grew up some more, it really was eye opening. You realize truly how quickly money can escape you. People are not always nice, but you will meet some of the kindest people. And with proper planning and work you really can do anything. So, if I leave you with nothing else, I’ll leave you with this: don’t be scared. If you’re on the fence, take the leap. It won’t be perfect, nothing is, but it will be an experience that will help you grow in ways you didn’t even know are possible, don’t let it slip you by.

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