You Probably Shouldn’t Study Abroad

Yes, you read that right. You really should NOT spend that semester in France, dear reader.

I mean, after all, a semester (or even a year!) away from home is a long time! Think about all the things you’d be missing – you know, those Friday night parties at your best friend’s apartment that you and your group of friends go to every week and, well, do the same things you always do together? You definitely wouldn’t want to miss out on those just to gallivant about Europe or Asia, would you?

And speaking of friends, think of how much you’re going to have to put yourself out there to meet new ones while you’re abroad. School-sponsored weekend excursions, weekly conversation hours at the bar, classes every day with strangers? Strangers who also probably won’t know anyone else and may be just as homesick and nervous as you are? Is that a can of worms you even want to open?

Not to mention that those new friends will probably come from totally different cultures and all walks of life. They may even challenge everything you thought you knew about a particular cultural group, or even your own culture and perspective – could you imagine?

And forget about the language issue – what if French is the only language you have to communicate with all these new people? An entire semester or year of only French, with minimal (or even no) English at all. What’s even the point?

Don’t even get me started on the food.

And when it’s all said and done, think of the heartache you’ll experience when you have to leave this brand new home you created for yourself, the family you chose, to return to a place that feels almost as foreign to you as your destination did six months ago. How could you possibly withstand those pangs of nostalgia when you stumble across a photo from that night on the banks of La Maine, that longing deep in your gut when you remember how it felt to wander the cobbled streets and drink wine on the terrace at night and that last bise goodbye before you got on the plane, not sure if you’d ever see this place or these people again?

No, no. You should probably never study abroad.

Five Years Since France

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Five years ago today, I stepped on a plane and my life changed forever. I had just gone through a major transition in my life and wasn’t sure what would be waiting for me when the plane landed in Paris. I was excited, terrified, sad, nervous – everything, as I faced the prospect of spending five months living and studying in a foreign country, away from my friends and my family and my familiar.

It wasn’t easy at first. Landing at the CDG airport was a shock – we (I was with two other girls from my same university) were greeted by a clearly homeless and mentally ill man with no pants or underwear on who was lighting magazine pages on fire inside the airport. The first time I ever spoke French to a real, live French person was to buy train tickets (I planned out everything I was going to say, word-for-word, before I got in line). The bathrooms were filthy and cost money to use. It was freezing cold in the train station, and the only area with heat was a closed-in waiting area that smelled so strongly of urine I could practically taste it. The jetlag caught up with me once I sat in my seat on the train, and though I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open, I was terrified of falling asleep and missing my stop.

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And then we arrived in Angers, met our host families and went to our new homes where it really started to sink in – this is it. I won’t see my home or my family again until June. I cried the first night as I Skyped with my mom.

But slowly, Angers started to feel comfortable. My French exploded, and I felt more confident in my second language that my first, wanting to avoid betraying myself as an outsider. I made friends with my host mom’s daughter, fell in love with a little café and their amazing lattés, and even reconnected with some friends that I had originally met during my time in New York, who I thought I would probably never see again after they announced they were moving to Paris (life is so funny sometimes). I got to know people from all around the world. And then when June rolled around, I didn’t want to leave.

I’ve been back to France many, many times since then. I even revisited Angers in 2013 and had lunch with my host mom in that big, old house. It felt like slipping back into a favorite old sweater. Five years – it seems like so long ago but just yesterday at the same time. Even so, I can’t help thinking that I’m not quite done with Angers yet.

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