Studying abroad: If I knew then what I know now


It’s not that I didn’t appreciate my studying abroad experience. In fact, I think I appreciated it, while it was in motion, a hell of a lot. The thing that sucks with time and experience and retrospection is that while you’re experiencing life as it’s coming at you full force, you obviously don’t know how that experience will affect future you…until you are future you (thought derived from John Green). And that’s just how life works but there’s some sadness to that thought. In the sense that there’s always the idea that if we knew then what we know now, we would appreciate an act or person or event much more than we did back then. And yet, how sad? How sad it is to know that if you could go back in time you would act differently and knowing that you can never go back in time.

When I was studying abroad in Paris for about 3 1/2 months, a lot of things happened. I walked around aimlessly, was astonished at my lack of homework, worked as a babysitter, learned how to eat like a broke exchange student in such an expensive European city, kissed french men, drank cheap wine from Monoprix and the list goes on. I actually look forward to writing more about these experiences in the future. However, as of now, the point is that a lot of things went down. Both wonderful and to be honest – shitty. There were tons of times when I would be walking aimlessly with my Pay As You Go phone in my hand, not hearing from anyone, and having absolutely nothing to do. There were moments of boredom and absolute loneliness. But instead of me just walking from the 4th arrodissement to the 1st, if I knew then what I know now, I would have told myself to explore completely. Take myself to odd and obscure corners of the city, go to Montmartre more. Write more. Read more. Allow myself to take in every breath of what it means to be lonely and lost and all alone in a foreign city. Don’t be confused, I had two other friends from college there with me but we lived in different arrodissements and we didn’t hang out as frequently as one would expect.

In October of the Fall semester, that’s when shit really hit the fan for me. I was living with a landlady and her daughter. But this woman’s apartment, like many other Europeans, was also her office so she had people constantly coming in and out. The room I rented out was in Bastille, a prominent neighborhood, and I had no door – just a curtain. Besides not having much privacy, she didn’t do much for me. Don’t be mistaken, she was nice and knew how to speak English well so communicating was no problem, but as far as me definitely feeling like a foreigner – boy did I feel like one. We never ate together, rarely spoke etc. We simply shared space and that was it. And aside from having just a curtain for a door and waking up to second hand smoke every morning WAY before I even had to wake up (I HATE smoke by the way), her two cats and two dogs would come in and out of my room constantly. On top of that, during October their fleas started to infest my room and yes ladies and gents…I got fleas! I’m talking about waking up in the middle of the night and figuring out that you have flea fecies on your bed and then having small red bumps up and down your legs and especially your feet. Itching like hell and then having to go to a doctor. Then having to buy flea repellent up the ass so that you can live in your room comfortably. She helped me clean out my room and all but that is when I really started to hate being in Paris. I loved the architecture, the language, the absolute beauty of a foreign European city. It was also my first time ever being in Europe and damn it’s gorgeous. Now let me be clear that I am not the type of person who has trouble adjusting to change or new environments. I usually fall right into place without anxiety, homesickness, or any of the other ailments most people fall victim to when going out of their comfort zone and more specifically, away from their family. Yet, needless to say, after this flea incident which took over a month to successfully clean out, I was homesick.

Now some people may be saying to themselves: “well then why didn’t you move out?” Well honey, you try going to Paris and finding an apartment that someone will let you lease and rent for only 4 months and tell me the luck you have. It’s ridiculous. Even French students have trouble finding apartments in their own city. I guess it’s somewhat comparable, but maybe not as severe, as New York City. Who knows which one is worse. Maybe Paris is since they are also very stuck on only renting out to fellow French people and if they do rent out to Americans, you better be prepared to feel like you’re taken advantage of.

Aside from all of this, I was ready to leave when I needed to. I was ready for the experience to be over but I knew, I just knew that I would miss it. I knew how important it was for me in terms of personal growth and development. It taught me how to be more of an adult and take care of myself. It taught me to be more independent. It taught me a slew of things and being immersed in a different culture as a foreigner, opens your eyes so very much. It is of the utmost importance to get out of your comfort zone and experience the many differences that reside in the world; whether it’s cultural, societal, economical, racial, etc. It is so very important to understand that you are apart of the world and you reside in the world. You and the world are one, essentially. However…

I did enjoy and appreciate my time in Paris. Even those moments where I was crying and feeling like I wanted an out. Those moments where Paris and Parisians were not so nice to me or my other American friends. Yet, as mentioned above, retrospection really gives you a different perspective. I mean, it’s a perspective in and of itself …no? If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve pushed myself to speak more in french (although I was speaking it constantly and daily), I would have pushed myself to make French friends, to get out there more, to stop worrying so much about money and being “cheap”. I wouldn’t walked around different arrodissements and taken more pictures. I would have gone to La Seine at night with my friends and drank copious amounts of wine and allowed myself to dance stupidly and drunkenly on La Seine where people often smoke pot and drink and listen to musicians. I would have allowed myself more nights of looking at the Eiffel Tower dazed, amazed, and in love. I would have taken more risks. I think that back then, I wanted to do so much. I wanted to be free. I was seeking that crazy type of freedom that can only be experienced by living willingly and throwing yourself against the tide with arms wide open. The type of freedom that, at that time, I wasn’t ready for completely. I did have tons of fun and experienced a certain degree of said freedom. But the way I am now in my life, is someone who is much more independent and sure of herself. Someone who is more secure in herself and knows more of what she wants out of life, out of the world, out of relationships. And this person, if she was in that experience, would have sucked the blood out of it until it was completely dry.

Studying abroad and going outside of my comfort zone taught me so much as a person and truly endorsed my innate passion for traveling. So much so, that I’m looking to live in Europe hopefully within the next 3 years. It was the best decision I could have ever made for myself and although it caused my parents so much worry and anxiety, I don’t think they will ever understand how much their consent truly affected my life in an enormously positive way. How much their support in such a common yet unique experience was one that changed me forever. I will forever be grateful to them. I will forever be grateful to Paris for its stubborn ways and its amazing beauty. I will forever be grateful to the Universe.

And maybe, although we will always see things differently when looking back, this is a good thing. It allows us to constantly grow and learn and be ready and willing for the next adventure life has in store for us…


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