"My view of the world completely expanded. My understanding of people and their views also grew. My appreciation and gratitude grew as a result of going abroad as well. Going abroad also confirmed to me that I would like to someday live in another country because you learn so much just by walking down the street of an unfamiliar place."
I knew from the time I was a freshman that I wanted to study abroad. I have long been interested in traveling the world and not staying confined to the country in which I was born. As I came to Berkeley and was aware of the opportunity to travel the world and study at the same time, I jumped at the opportunity to do so. More specifically I chose to study abroad to expand my worldview. I wanted to see the world from a different lens and not just the lens I have while being a US resident. Being able to see things from a different perspective has allowed me to better engage in conversations, discussions and topics surrounding world issues. I place high value on being able to engage in intellectual discussions. Furthermore, since I am an International and Area Studies major, traveling to another country only seemed like the right thing to do considering that most of my classes discuss issues in countries besides the US. The choice for studying in Paris was an easy one because 1) I have always wanted to go to Paris and 2) the language I am currently learning is French.
The city of Paris is like none other. To speak in completely informal terms, Parisians are just cool people and have some amazing swag. Their way of life is one that I could see myself living. There isn’t one specific experience that I can recall, but just in general their way of entertainment is worth noting. Parisians often grab a bottle of wine (vin in French) from the nearest supermarket, a baguette or sandwich from the closest boulangerie, call some friends and head to one of the city’s many beautiful parks to enjoy the day and their friends. This can be done either at a park in the daytime or right on the city’s famous river day or night. This was interesting to me because such a thing is not common practice in the US. Their attitude towards eating, gathering and drinking alcohol is completely different from the attitude of Americans. They drink and eat socially, unlike the American way of eating and drinking.
To be honest, I did not have any major concerns, because I had no expectations going in and I had an open mind. But one of the minor concerns I had was not being able to make any native French friends. I was afraid that I was going to be with my American peers the entire time, since I would be taking classes and living with them. I feared being in an American bubble in France. This completely changed a week or two into the trip. We were able to become friends with a group of very chic Parisians by putting ourselves in different social scenes and interacting with the locals as much as we could. Bars, the river, and different monuments around the city are good places to meet some young French people.
On a typical day, I would wake up rather late and run to my 9:30am French 1 class. The UC Center was about 10 mins or less walking from the apartment where we lived, so it was very easy getting to and from classes every day. After my class was over, some friends and I would normally stop by a market or restaurant to grab some food or groceries and head back to the residence. In this break between classes I would normally do some assigned reading before the start of my next class. At about 1:55pm I would head back to the Center for my Anthropology of Foods class (awesome class!). After learning about French wines and cheeses for an hour and half, I would return to the residence and meet up with some friends to discuss whether or not we would go out that night. Typically the discussion was short because we would always all agree that we should go out. Since I was there during the World Cup, (Europe loves their football!!) there was always a bar we could go to in order to watch the match. After being out for a while in the midst of the World Cup spirit we’d return home and call it a night; and I’d prepare for the next morning with a headache and more than likely running to class.
I took two classes that totaled 6 semester units. French 1 and Tastes of Paris (an Anthropology class). Unlike most classes at Berkeley, besides language courses, the courses met on consecutive days. French was Monday-Thursday; Anthro was Tuesday-Thursday. This was the most obvious difference between Berkeley classes. The French class was very similar to a Berkeley French class. For the Anthropology class I found the rigor to be easier and more manageable than an average Berkeley class. I was taking classes with people from different UC schools so for some of the others they found the class to be rather challenging. The teacher of the course was French so his teaching style and the way he handled his classroom was slightly different from the teachers I’ve experienced in the States. But the teacher’s way of teaching didn’t have a big impact on the course itself. Also interesting to note is that we went on weekly excursions and field trips in both my classes and the entire Center. They were cultural trips where you not only learned but ate good food and traveled to legendary landmarks, like VERSAILLES. Overall the course load was definitely manageable and I still had time to travel on some weekends and go out with friends throughout the week.
My most memorable moment while studying abroad was Bastille Day when we went to the Eiffel Tower and watched as they put on a spectacular show of fireworks on the Tower in only a way that the French could do. (Bastille Day is comparable to the 4th of July for America) It was amazing to see so many patriotic French people in a way that I had never seen before. It was one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever seen in my life. The fireworks were synced with the playing of some very beautifully composed songs like their national anthem and John Lennon. In that moment I thought about the fact that I was really around the world from my home and was experiencing something that most people could only dream of doing. I stood there and watched as the fireworks burst around one of the most famous sights in the world. There was even someone suspended from the tower swinging and dancing to the music. As corny as it may sound: It’s as if I was in someone’s dream that had come true. It was also one of the only times in my life that I actually felt in the moment. Nothing else mattered and nothing was on my mind. An unforgettable experience!
As I stated before, my view of the world completely expanded. My understanding of people and their views also grew. My appreciation and gratitude grew as a result of going abroad as well. I took for granted how heterogeneous the US is and what it is like to encounter so many different types of people. European countries are very homogenous so they don’t have to be culturally aware of others. This was interesting to see in the way that they spoke about others and interacted with someone like me who was not “like them”. Going abroad also confirmed to me that I would like to someday live in another country because you learn so much just by walking down the street of an unfamiliar place.
I recommend three very important things. First, have an open mind. Don’t be afraid or hesitant or go in with huge expectations. You don’t know what is going to happen when you get over there and there is no way to really predict it; there is beauty in that, embrace it. Secondly, pack light! Only bring stuff that you know for sure you will wear. You don’t wanna end up like me unpacking my clothes at every airport check-in because your luggage is overweight (every time!). And lastly, travel around while you are there. You never know when you will be back so travel and around to the nearby countries. Ask me how to do so, it’s cheap too!