Being now halfway through my study abroad experience, I cannot believe that time has passed by so quickly. As the saying goes, time flies when you're having fun. Sitting here in the apartment common room, surrounded by flatmates and friends (all of whom are diligently working on homework for the coming week), I have ample time to reflect on the many wonderful things I have experienced in my brief, but fulfilling stay in Europe.
So far, I have seen the world, (well, parts of it), its beautiful people, tried incredibly delicious food, had enriching conversations with strangers, and so much more that I cannot even begin to describe. I suppose it's not so strange that at this very moment, a particular song has popped into my head, unwilling to relinquish itself from my mind. This song just so happens to be the inspiration for the title of this post.
As true Disney fans would know, "Almost There" is the name of the opening musical track from the critically acclaimed Disney creation, The Princess and the Frog. If you are familiar with this animated film, you know this particular song is referencing how close Princess Tiana is to finally achieving her dream of owning a restaurant in New Orleans. I relate to the Princess, not in that I too wish to own a successful restaurant, but in the fact that I am so close to accomplishing my dream, one of my life goals. As a matter of fact, I am living out that dream- one I have had since freshman year of high school- right now, as I type: to have lived and studied abroad in France is something I can claim when all is said and done.
So, why did I want to study abroad in the first place?
I initially fell in love with the French culture during middle school. I began studying the language in seventh grade, and would continue throughout my entire high school experience, eventually making it into IB (InterBaccaluareate) level courses, junior year. Because I loved the langauge, and had grown to be quite good at it, I made a vow to myself freshman year that I would one day experience the culture up close and personal. It would be only a year later, that I would have the chance to travel with my French class to France and England for two weeks. This trip - seeing the Eiffel Tower, hearing the language spoken in its native country, eating incredible crêpes- all for the first time, would etch a permanent place in my heart for France.
How have I changed and/or grown from this experience?
First and foremost, this experience has been so incredible simply because I am achieving a goal that I set almost eight years ago. Choosing to pack up and leave behind everything you know - whether for a semester or year- and fully immerse yourself in a different life, language and culture is no easy feat. I have, in this time of meeting new and different people, with varying life experiences, backgrounds and beliefs, developed a better understanding of the world and how it works. For the first time in my life, this has been able to occur without the American outlook taking precedence or interfering. More specifically, I have grown to understand the way of life and customs of the French people, and analyze how it differs from my everyday life back at home. Receiving this kind of exposure has provided me with a rare, but wonderful opportunity, to get to know me
; to explore what is most important in life to me
, to reflect on how best to spend my time and utilize my talents. Perhaps this sounds a bit cliché. But, I am in no way saying that I have it all figured out. I’m simply recognizing that, because of this experience, I feel better grounded and prepared for whatever life may throw my way.
What kinds of things have I learned or been doing in my spare time?
Of course, traveling and seeing ancient or famous cities and landmarks that I would otherwise, not, makes this entire experience memorable. However, I have chosen to dedicate some of my time to other endeavors that have proven to be just as, if not more so fulfilling and rewarding. These opportunities include: volunteering at Secours Catholique, tutoring young French students in English and choosing to join the only American-English church’s choir. (We’ll be performing a holiday concert in the heart of Aix during the first week of December.) It’s incredible to be apart of something that you know to be much bigger than yourself; something that you know is helping or bringing others joy.
I think that's the overarching purpose of study abroad; to gain a "broader" understanding of yourself and the world around you.
Kara Henderson is Fall 2013 CEA MOJO in Aix-en-Provence, France. She is currently a junior at the University of Pittsburgh.
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