Now that I’m back in the US, I would like to reflect on my semester abroad. I do not always reflect on what I have experienced, but I started to do this more often while in Paris. As a part of my literature class at EDUCO, I observed a few French classes for seekers of asylum in France and helped some of the students with activities. After each class, I had to write a reflection about my experience. These written assignments made me confront some of the discomfort I felt during the classes and attempt to understand it, instead of just trying to ignore it. I now realize that thinking and writing about my experiences is incredibly important and something I should engage in more often. In that vein, I will discuss what I learned this semester and offer advice for students who will study abroad in the future.
First of all, I learned that I have to be vulnerable sometimes. For example, one day during my history class at Paris Diderot University, I responded in French to my instructor’s question and she looked confused. She did not understand what I said, so I repeated myself. She then understood and agreed with me. My friend sitting next to me then corrected my pronunciation of a word, and I felt embarrassed. In hindsight, I realize this was not a big deal, but at the time, I felt uncomfortable and out of place. Nevertheless, I am happy I tried to answer the question because there will be moments in life where I will do something wrong in public, and I should get more accustomed to it. However, in a different class at Paris Diderot, I rarely participated because I was afraid my classmates or professor would judge me, so I still need to become more confident in my French.
Secondly, I learned that trials are just as important to the study abroad experience as successes. Before I moved to Paris, my friend Meriel (who had studied in Spain the year before) told me that it’s okay if I don’t enjoy every moment of my time abroad. I now realize that she was right. Sometimes I was homesick in Paris and missed Cornell greatly. I have a close-knit group of friends at Cornell, so I missed being around my strong support network. I even longed for Cornell’s dining hall food, because it was superior to the Restaurant Universitaire I frequented in Paris. Other times, I was very frustrated after making a mistake in French and felt like I was not making any progress in the language. So I did not always have a good time in France, but that is okay. I think dealing with my homesickness and frustration made me become more independent, and I’m now more ready for life after college and also for life in a city.
Lastly, I learned to take advantage of “free” opportunities. My exchange program, EDUCO, offered various cultural activities that we did not have to pay for because our tuition covered them. One example was trips to different cities in France. All students were allowed to go on trips to Normandy, Chartres and one additional city, which for me, was Reims. However, I was also able to visit Lyon, because some students decided to drop out of the trip a few days before it happened. I had always wanted to visit Lyon, so I was thrilled. I strolled around the brick streets of the city, ate a praline tart and gazed at a Roman amphitheater. My advice to students planning to study abroad is to seize as many of these opportunities as possible. Go to plays, visits old towns, learn how to make madeleines— just try new activities that you would not normally do at Cornell.
It’s all over now, but I will continue to bother my friends and family with comments about my time in Paris. Thank you for reading my blog this semester.