I have now been in Paris for a little over a month and have more or less just gotten used to things. I admit it was tough at first, having been dragged out of my comfort zones – be it in DC or Hong Kong – and thrown into totally unfamiliar territory. I thought the first two weeks of my stay would determine the rest of the four months, but of course I was wrong.
One month has passed and while I cannot say that I am currently living a typical Parisian lifestyle (whatever that is) and have totally mastered the French language, I can say that I am getting there. I’m getting more and more used to the workload at Sciences Po, and how students tackle their hectic workloads in so little time. I’m getting used to living in a host family – a very bizarre concept for a 20-year-old college student. Having been thrust into so many only French-speaking environments, my French is undoubtedly improving, which is a great feeling.
But enough about my own experience, and more about one that I suspect all students studying abroad must be feeling. I have spoken to many friends who are studying abroad – in both Paris and elsewhere – and while we all have different workloads, living situations and culture barriers to surmount, I’ve noticed one thing in common: we all got to know ourselves a little more.
One unexpected thing about studying abroad was how much more independent I have had to be – and become – living in a city. Going to school in a city is so vastly different from going to school on a campus, and I’ve noticed this in two main aspects:
1) Making friends. Being here in Paris has really made me realize how often we take for granted campus life in helping us shape our college experiences. Back in Georgetown, I made friends in my dorms, classes and extra curricular activities; here at Sciences Po, there are no dorms, some people arrive right before and leave right after class, and extra curricular activities here in a city university are not as popular as those in a campus university. As a result, some of the friends I’ve made here have been made while waiting in the student affairs office or for soda in the vending machines – not the most organic start to friendships, one may even say, but friendships made nonetheless.
2) The use of time. I do live with a host family, but apart from classes and the three meals a week I have at home with them I am free to schedule my day and week as I please. I have been exploring Paris with old and new friends, and occasionally travelling out the country to explore places I otherwise wouldn’t have the time or means to.
To tie up all these loose ends, I guess what I’m trying to say that I’ve finally realised that, while school/work may hinder complete freedom in doing whatever we like, how we shape our experiences – whether abroad or not – is totally up to us, and not anyone else. It’s not high school where we have to conform to a certain image, live to a certain expectation or obey a certain curfew anymore. It’s real life.