Name: Hannah Brady
Major: French; Religious Studies
Location: France - Université de Bordeaux 3
Program: UC Education Abroad Program
Why did you study abroad?
To be quite honest, study abroad was always a given in my family; both of my older brothers had gone to study in England, and I expected to do it myself. The closer it came, the more I dreamed about it, how it would feel to have a life that was totally unknown to me, so by the time I left California, I had all my own excitement about studying abroad.
What impact did studying abroad have on you?
I would say that study abroad has been the most defining experience of my life. When you are studying abroad, you get the chance to reinvent, redefine, or refine your own identity; that means you finally get time to think about who you really are and what the things are that inspire you, challenge you, enthrall you, etc. I have decided that I want to be a writer, that I want to live in Europe after I graduate, and that I have not yet seen enough of the world to settle.
What was the most memorable/meaningful aspect of your time abroad?
Over the course of two semesters, I lived with two different families and I was also able to become very close to two other families because I tutored English in their homes. The unbelievable love that these people gave to me was totally unanticipated and it greatly humbled me. They stepped in fully and without hesitation to the role of my family and loved to hear about my world as well as share about their own. It was one of the most genuine instances of kindness, welcoming, and love one could imagine.
Describe a typical day for you abroad.
During the week, I usually had at least two hours of classes so I would wake up and go down to the most typical French breakfast buffet (yogurt, baguette, jam, juice, and tea) that was left out by my host family who would all be at work by then. It would take me about thirty minutes to get to campus by tram. Class would mostly be an affair of listening to a lecture by the professor, and then I would go to campus restaurants to have a very cheap but delicious lunch. After class, I would head back downtown to meet friends for shopping, wandering, homework in a café, or other various activities. Usually I tried to be back at my house by 8 PM, if not earlier, to do homework and then the family ate dinner together at 8:30. Most nights I went out to a pub or a café with friends for a drink or two. Then I had to be home by the last tram at 12 AM! I had a lot more free time in France than in Berkeley so I tried to be out and about as much as possible.
Describe your academic experience abroad.
As I stated above, I did not feel as academically challenged in France as I do in Berkeley. There are very few assignments to do on a daily or weekly basis, so reading is your only requirement and it is only YOU who will know if you have done it on time. Finals required a bit more studying, but were also not that stressful.
What was the most interesting cultural experience you had abroad?
By far the most interesting cultural experience that I had abroad was visiting a hamam in Istanbul, Turkey. It was basically a giant sauna with tons of naked women from all over the world being bathed by half-nude Istanbulians and then lounging about in hot tubs and water rooms. Obviously, the nudity is the most shocking aspect to an American sensibility, but I had amazing conversations with my friends and with other women that we met without worrying about appearances and knowing that we were very vulnerable to other's. It was liberating, luxurious, and ultimately very enjoyable.
What financial advice would you give to future study abroad students?
My financial experience in Europe was very privileged because I had saved a considerable amount of money before I left with the intention of spending most of it during my travels and time over there. For people who don't have this financial position, I would suggest to determine an approximate budget (about $500 per week when travelling to other countries, and $50 per week when staying in the host city, minus food and board) with the option to add more in specific situations. This experience demands a lot of money, so it's better to be prepared for that. On the other hand, there are great money saving options in travel, lodging and activities for students.
What was the biggest challenge/concern of your study abroad experience? How did you respond?
For me, the transition between fall and spring semester was a very difficult time. I had to adjust, for the second time, to an entirely different set of people. I struggled because it was hard to establish a new norm after such an amazing first semester. The whole year is very emotional so it is normal to have dramatic emotional swings, but don't get discouraged by them. I spent a lot of time talking to the few other people who went through the same thing and then I tried my best to get involved with new people to keep everything just as invigorating as it had been at the beginning.
What would you recommend to students considering studying abroad, especially to your country and program?
First of all, if you live with a host family, say yes to everything! Host families are an amazing resource and they genuinely want to help you have a brilliant semester or year. Also, try to speak your host language as much as possible; I got particular pleasure out of going on errand days where I would try to do the most mundane things just in a different language. Do everything in that language-movies, books, friends, etc., as much as humanly possible. Finally, focus on the people and the history that are around you, but don't feel guilty about doing normal things sometimes like watching a TV show; studying abroad is about building a life somewhere else according to different norms, so don't feel pressured to be extravagant all the time.
Anything else you would like to share about your international experience?
Study abroad was the best year of my life and I think everyone can make it just that if they are open to the opportunities.