As I am swarmed with papers and finals these coming two weeks, it is also scary how fast the semester came winding down. It didn't hit me till today that my finals are next week. When most of my American friends are celebrating thanksgiving, I'll be over here slaving over school stuff. So I have decided to write a few pieces of advice I have for those who are planning on studying abroad in the future. (If that idea hasn't popped up in your head already, I strongly recommend you to consider it, starting now.)
I am writing this blog post in the center of Paris, an Atlantic away, so behold these words of wisdom about study abroad, young Padawans.
- Keep your options open.
GW offers so many options for studying abroad, whether it be direct enroll or partnering up with another organization (IES, CIEE etc). Keep your options open because, as in the case of myself, I had a very rigid plan on where I wanted to go. I took AP French in high school so naturally, I thought I’d go to France for a semester, not to mention the institute (SciencesPo) that I’m enrolled in is rumored to be “The Harvard of Europe”. However, during the summer of my Freshman year, I went to Spain on a whim to study Spanish, and I just fell in love with the culture and the language. But I never took my mind off of going to Paris. It has always been France France France. Up until about two months before my arrival in Paris, I started seriously contemplating about studying abroad in a Spanish speaking country. But at that point, it was too late. I am not saying I’m not enjoying my time in Paris, as I munch on my pain au chocolate, but just bear in mind that maybe there are other alternatives to your study abroad destinations.
- Plan Ahead
First off, tickets are A LOT cheaper if you buy them earlier, needless to say. Second of all, if you’re planning on going to a country that’s a little bit different than the western world, it might do you well to brush up on some of the cultural aspects of that country. Just because you are a foreigner doesn’t mean you can disregard the local social norm. Thirdly, look around the region in where you’re studying abroad. Perhaps you might like to do some traveling around after your program is over?
- It’s ok when things don’t go as planned.
You’re in a foreign land, stuff happens, plans fall through, expectations are not met. Stay loose and just be adaptable. When I first arrived in Paris, I’d expected more people to speak English just because it’s a capital full of tourists but they don’t. After being in America for so long, it’s really easy to forget that most of your friends here did not learn English the “street way” and they will literally look up towards the sky as if a meteor is approaching if you ask them, “What’s up?”. It’s ok. Go with the flow and be understanding. Just like if my French friends suddenly come up to me with a bunch of street slangs, I’d be freaked out too.
- Prioritize and make goals.
Before you leave, make some goals on what you plan to achieve while you’re abroad. Are you simply there for the fun and kicks? Are you there to experience the vigorousness of academic intensity and to challenge your intellectual capacity? Are you there to become fluent in the language? I found it very helpful to keep in mind the reason why I have came to Paris, and would like to promptly kick myself when these goals have failed to materialize. (I planned to become fluent in French, so far I can order croissants at restaurants. #progress)
- Treasure it
Yes, you will get home sick. You will miss your friends back home when everyone around you is squabbling in a language that you don’t understand, but hey, when are you ever going to spend 5 months in a foreign land in the foreseeable future? Even if you disliked your study abroad experience at the time being (if you’re someone like me who likes to be cynical and complains a lot just for the sake of complaining), you will still miss being abroad once you have returned. I know I will.