The Art of Actually Studying Abroad

When you think of study abroad, ironically, the first thing you think of is rarely the actual classwork. Study abroad is an “experience” – it’s living in a new country and learning its customs and language, travelling a ton, meeting new people and making new friends – but it’s also taking five classes in another language and having to learn how to balance all the fun you want to have and your numerous papers, presentations, and midterms. It didn’t take long after settling in at Sciences Po for me to realize that my experience abroad wouldn’t be easy – at this school, the alma mater of almost every single French president, they take themselves quite seriously – and that I would have to buckle down and get to work.

At first, though, I had a problem: I didn’t know where to study. The library Sciences Po is always packed with hardworking undergraduate and masters students, and the cafeteria and seating areas are constantly crowded with groups of friends eating and hanging out, so school wasn’t an option. I tried a few caffès near my apartment, but I felt odd and out of place taking out my computer in such upscale eateries. And I definitely couldn’t work in my room, because there’s nothing worse for procrastination than being adjacent to your bed.

Desperate, I wandered the streets around a main road close to my apartment. Down a winding narrow alleyway, I stumbled upon a small caffè and immediately fell in love. It was filled with light, smelled like freshly baked banana bread, and had the best coffee I have ever had in my life. I sat and studied for an upcoming test for about six hours, and the owner said nothing about the fact that all I had bought was a three euro cappuccino. Since that day, I go back to that caffè several times a week, and now they even know my order. I’ve tried their quiches, a brownie or two, and of course that incredible smelling banana bread (I literally can’t describe how amazing it is). The French can make a mean baguette, but their desserts definitely deserve some recognition too.

One of my favorite parts about studying abroad is that you learn to make a new place your own, and it’s things like this – finding a tiny caffè to study in that makes you feel at home – that change the experience from being an outsider in a foreign country to really living there. I love feeling like I’m any French university student studying for my next test and having my morning cappuccino, and that I’m starting to fit in here, not just studying abroad.

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