When I graduate and look back at my time at UD, I know that studying abroad will be one of the best experiences I will take away from my four years as an undergraduate. My experience offered a completely unique opportunity to not only explore a new place but also to get to know myself. Here is what I gained from studying abroad in Paris for a semester!
First and foremost, my semester abroad strengthened me as individual. Before my trip, I had to go through the extensive visa process by following all of the steps and gathering all the needed documents, so, with determination, I was able to successfully complete the process on my own. Also, although I have flown with my family before, I flew on my own for the first time going to Paris, and then three more times for my fall break in Italy and my trip back to the U.S. It was rewarding knowing I could navigate the airport process by myself instead of relying on someone else! I also learned how to get around the city on my own. Once I got to Paris, it took me a few tries, but I quickly was able to figure out the metro system and was soon jumping on and off, making transfers, and following the signs in the underground passageways without a problem (but with the help of Google Maps, which is not only useful for metro routes but also for walking directions). I also really appreciated having my own unique experience exploring the city. I enjoyed many days jumping on the metro and choosing from the enormous selection of sights to see in Paris. I also decided to write in a journal consistently while I was there, which I have never done before, so it was nice to reflect on my day-to-day experiences and record my thoughts.
Speaking of sights, I had the opportunity to see so many amazing places in Paris (and beyond). Of course, I visited the popular spots like the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, Sacré Coeur, and the Arc de Triomphe, but I also had the time to explore other art museums, such as the Musée de l’Orangerie; walk around the quaint Montmartre neighborhood; stop by Napoleon’s tomb; and experience the arch and skyscrapers of La Défense, a business district right outside of Paris. Besides within the city itself, I also was able to travel on day and weekend-long trips to see Claude Monet’s house in Giverny, the castles in the Loire Valley, and the majestic island of Mont-Saint-Michel. My trip also gave me unique experiences and memories, such as attending a ballet in the magnificent Opéra Garnier or almost getting locked into the grounds of Versailles after dark near closing time! Each place I visited was magical and beautiful, which resulted in thousands of pictures filling my camera roll after three months, and I enjoyed learning about each sight I saw.
Besides experiencing the sights of the city, studying abroad gave me the opportunity to learn about and appreciate different people and cultures. My host mom made me many different meals from various regions of France and always had a new type of cheese for me to try every couple of days! We also had many conversations about each of our countries and their respective political ideas, people, and regions. Besides learning about France, I also was able to meet other international people through a language exchange I joined, as well as on Erasmus trips, which gathered young people from all over the world (who are in Paris just to visit or to study abroad, for example) for day or weekend bus trips to nearby destinations.
Of course, one of the main reasons I wanted to study abroad was to improve my French, and I definitely achieved that goal! After three months of taking classes only taught in French, talking to my host mom every night, going to language exchanges, and just being exposed to the language on a daily basis, my comprehension has improved, and I find it easier to form sentences and express what I want to say. I know I will never stop learning, but my experience in Paris definitely provided a step up in my language abilities.
Finally, studying abroad gave me the unique experience of feeling like the resident of another city, instead of a tourist staying there for a few days or a week. I could be leaving my classes for the day and then be stepping into the magical ambiance of Paris a few minutes later. I could take the metro to meet a friend or go to class and then return home to the apartment. I was even asked multiple times for directions!
Studying abroad for a semester in Paris was a special adventure that I will never forget. I value how my trip strengthened my individuality and self-advocacy; how it allowed me to get to know the city on a personal level by exploring all the sights it has to offer and allowing me to feel like a true resident; how it helped me learn about France and its people, as well as international cultures; and how it advanced my French skills, without a doubt! And, of course, if there’s anything studying abroad has taught me, it’s that I will definitely return to the magical city of Paris in the future!