"Far and away the most memorable and meaningful aspect of my time abroad was the friends I made. It's actually really hard to put into words how amazing this was. Since we didn't know many people, we hung out almost every day – exploring the city, discovering parks and cafés we'd grow fond of, visiting museums and historical sites, but most of all getting to know each other better each day. By the end of the program, I felt as close to those few friends as I do to lifelong friends I grew up with."
Probably the main reason I initially chose to study abroad was to put off looking for a summer internship for a year. I also wanted to be immersed in a different culture for a time and either learn a new language or improve my Spanish. I ended up narrowing down my preferred countries to Spain and France. I ultimately chose France because I reasoned it would be better to try to learn a new language at a younger age with the help of a professor and simply improve my Spanish with future independent traveling in Spanish-speaking countries. Little did I know, my study abroad experience would become much more than an endeavor to learn French.
I don't want to claim this as the single most interesting cultural experience, but one interesting experience was the whole café culture there. French people love to just sit at cafés people-watching and talking to their friends for hours. In the U.S., the culture is so "go, go, go" and people don't often take the time to just sit and hang out like that. I was a huge fan of this cultural practice, and I spent many many hours sitting at cafés both people-watching by myself and chatting with my friends.
My biggest concern going in was honestly making friends. I was kind of afraid it would be tough and I'd end up spending a lot of time by myself. But, by the end of my first full day there, I had already made a friend and my fears vanished. It wasn't hard either, all I did was introduce myself to a guy in my program and ask if he was interested in finding a bar to watch the World Cup match that night.
I'll describe a typical weekday since there were more of those. I would wake up around 10am, shower, grab a piece of fruit from my host mom's kitchen, and head out by 10:50. Then I'd walk 50ft to the street corner, buy a café and a pan au chocolate for a total of €2,30, and go down into the metro at Porte d'Italie. I transferred lines at Place d'Italie and got off at Bastille. I'd speed walk down Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine and arrive at my language class at 11:30. After the hour and a half class, my friends and I would get lunch somewhere close by during our hourlong break, usually just at a market. Then I'd have class for another 2 hours. Afterwards, I'd often go to a café somewhere and drink a noisette (espresso and a splash of milk) while doing my homework for the evening. When I finished, I'd head home, maybe have a baguette and cheese for dinner, sometimes take another shower because it was so hot and humid, then meet up with my friends at a bar somewhere either to watch the World Cup or just hang out. After the match and/or a few drinks, we'd call it a night and take our respective metros back home.
I took an intro French language course and a French history course. The history course was definitely a bit easier than comparable courses here, and I was very grateful for that; it gave me more time to explore Paris and immerse myself. I'm only this semester starting to take French language classes here at Cal so I can't compare the language courses very reliably beyond saying that even my class of 20 here seems huge compared to the 6-person class I had in Paris.
Far and away the most memorable and meaningful aspect of my time abroad was the friends I made. It's actually really hard to put into words how amazing this was. Since we didn't know many people, we hung out almost every day – exploring the city, discovering parks and cafés we'd grow fond of, visiting museums and historical sites, but most of all getting to know each other better each day. By the end of the program, I felt as close to those few friends as I do to lifelong friends I grew up with. I miss them like crazy now, but I knew the summer wouldn't last forever and we'd have to go our separate ways. All the more reason to truly cherish every moment of a study abroad experience and not take any of it for granted.
This is super cliché, but studying abroad really was a life-changing experience. After two years in college learning about myself and the world and being exposed to so many new ideas, I was primed for a transformative experience. In Paris, I found myself in a place where not a single person knew anything about me. Without the often pretty intense social norms and standards we are subjected to in familiar places, I could just be exactly who I wanted to be. And it was incredible. There were many aspects of myself I had sort of downplayed or been afraid to embrace at home, and in Paris there was no fear. In this way, I was able to find friends I could really connect with (probably partly why we all got so close so quickly), and I refined central aspects of my identity. Perhaps the most surprising thing was that this effect persisted upon my return home. Sure, it has been harder here to stick to the philosophy of always truly being myself and allowing myself to grow and change regardless of social pressures, but I feel equipped to tackle the challenge in a way I never did before studying abroad.
Do it!! Though I can only speak accurately to how studying abroad affected me, I think I can confidently say that you won't regret seizing the opportunity to live and learn in another place and culture. Beyond that, once you've made the decision to participate in a study abroad program, I would just say be open to whatever happens, roll with it, learn from it, and cherish every moment you're there because it will be over before you know it and you'll wish you could go back and experience it all again.