In the fall of 2012, I studied abroad in Paris. I loved traveling in Europe but, to be honest, I didn’t really like the program that I was in. If you are looking to study abroad, learn from my mistakes on what not to do!
1. Know the climate of the place in which you will be living.
I sort of didn’t realize that Paris is really cold and cloudy in the fall… I had been there once before at the end of September, and the weather was sunny and perfect. However, living there in October and November consisted of rainy, grey days punctuated by 4:30 PM sunsets. I’ve come to realize how much I hate and am incapable of dressing for cold weather. I wish that I would have gone to Paris in a different season or studied in the south of France– a region whose climate is very similar to Southern California.
2. Go for a longer amount of time.
I did a program that was for fall quarter; my classes were only 2 months long, and I added three weeks before and one week after for traveling. It was difficult to really immerse myself in Paris in such a short amount of time. I felt like I was finally starting to feel comfortable and develop a daily routine when I suddenly had to pack up and leave. Additionally, it is harder to establish deeper friendships without being in one place for a longer amount of time; traveling every other weekend didn’t help. I definitely recommend traveling whilst studying abroad, as it is a fantastic opportunity to do so- however, if you are spending a whole semester or year abroad, taking trips won’t take time away from making friends at your home base as much.
3. Go to an actual French (or whatever) university.
I was in this weird program through my school in which I took classes with twenty-three University of Washington students and three UW professors. We just rented out a room in this building and had school there. Not only did it isolate us from meeting actual French students, but it was difficult for me to find my niche within our group. Yet, as they were the only people with whom I went to school, it was really hard to branch out and meet different people. I thus ended up feeling really lonely for most of my time in Paris.
In my case, however, it was significantly less expensive to go through UW than other study abroad programs I saw, such as CIEE. If possible, I would therefore recommend seeing if you could do a direct exchange with a university in your country of choice.
One of the other reasons why I chose the program that I did was the way that my university sold study abroad to us; they emphasized how hard it is to move to a foreign country, take classes at a foreign university, and find housing on one’s own. They repeatedly stressed how independent one has to be prior to leaving, and basically how not independent most of us are. That’s a bunch of B.S. You become an independent person by throwing yourself into “scary” or “hard” situations, not by having your hand held. People do direct exchange programs all the time and they survive just fine- in fact, they probably have a better time than people who go through programs such as mine. Sure, it’s riskier, but it’s more rewarding in the end!
4. Try to find an ideal housing situation.
In this case, I scored the jackpot: I lived with a host mom and her 10-year-old son who were the nicest people on planet Earth and didn’t speak English. I became really close with my host mom and dramatically improved my French conversation skills. I found myself being able to have long talks with her about politics, social issues, and personal things.
Others in my program weren’t so lucky, however, and ended up with host families who were only in it for the extra rent money and only spoke in English to them. If you choose to live with a host family, try to arrange it so that you have more control over with whom you will be living. Otherwise, I would recommend trying to find housing with locals who are close in age to you.
Good luck, and happy travels!
Have you studied abroad before? If so, what was your experience like?