Bonjour à tous! These past few weeks in Dijon have been nothing more than a constant repetition of school work, teaching au collège Saint-Joseph (at my middle school), and preparing for my trip to Eastern Europe. Tonight, as I sit struggling to think of something worthy to write about, I remember that it was around this time last year that I was approved to study abroad! With this in mind, I couldn’t help but wonder : what would I want to know as a student faced with the decision of committing to étudier à l’étranger (studying abroad) or staying at home? So, I’ve compiled a list to help those seeking some guidance with their decision!
10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Studying Abroad
1.The French taught in class is not the same French that is spoken by natives *This probably works for any country that speaks a language other than English*
When I arrived in France, I thought that my seven years of French class had taught me all that I needed to know to get by. However, getting off the plane and immediately hearing new versions of French words like “chais pas” instead of “je ne sais pas” as the translation of ” I don’t know,” or the use of “on” in place of “nous” as the translation of “we” really threw me for a spin during my first few weeks in France. It’s difficult to speak and understand a language that you have been taught, let alone a language that you have NOT been taught. Luckily, being surrounded by native speakers who want to help you learn their language creates a environment where it is easy to ask for explanations of a new words like these without feeling dumb.
2. Studying abroad is definitely not cheap
When promoting study abroad, Holy Cross heavily focuses on how much money studying abroad will “save” you in your tuition and airfare stipend. What HC doesn’t tell you, however, is how much it will cost to do all the traveling that you will inevitably want to do while outside of the US. I talk on my blog about all the trips that I take, but never really the costs. I would suggest to anyone wanting to travel while abroad to have at least $5,000/$6,000 saved up . With this, a student can live comfortably with a host family, travel occasionally, and have a little extra money left over as long as they are conscious about their spending and cut corners where they can.
3. The fear of missing out is almost non-existent while abroad
One of my biggest fears about studying abroad for the whole year was that I would be missing two entire semesters back at home. The reality is that you will be way too occupied to be worrying about what you are missing back home. While I was running around exploring the streets of Florence and Rome I nearly forgot that it was Halloweekend back home. I have also been told by many sources that Holy Cross is not the same during Junior Year because of the amount of people who are not on campus. I’d gladly take a weekend in Paris with my friends over Catalina any day.
4. It’s super easy to keep in contact with friends and family
One thing I could not live without during my time in Europe is my phone. Having the ability to facetime my friends and family back home is essential, and is honestly a main factor of how I manage to live in a foreign city by myself. This leisure of talking face to face with someone thousands of miles away is an easy cure for any traces homesickness instantly. It’s also very useful for keeping up with happenings at home, and to see who makes the effort to keep in contact during my long year away. I don’t know how anyone could move out of the country before video chatting.
5. Studying abroad comes with the highest highs and the lowest lows
Never in my life have I experienced such drastic mood swings as I have here. I can go from being on cloud nine while exploring a new city with friends, to being in the depths of despair while waiting for a train in Charles De Gaulle. But yet the highs always outshine the lows. I can be simply walking through the streets of Dijon looking at the ancient buildings and the strange tiny cars and be flooded with a sense of accomplishment just for acknowledging the fact that I am where I am, something that would never happen to me while walking through the suburbs of New York.
6. This year is not just for external discovery, but of internal discovery as well
Yes, I’ve traveled to more places this year than I ever have in my life. Studying abroad has given me the opportunity to experience new cultures and meet new kinds of people that I had never before been exposed to. While these discoveries have truly changed my outlook on the world, my biggest breakthroughs have been my newfound independence and confidence. Through my time in Dijon, I have been forced to rely on myself and to fine tune my instincts and intuition, all qualities that have proven to be invaluable during my day to day life. And I can’t wait to see what these skills will bring me back at home.
7. The U.S. is weird, and Europeans have very strong opinions of Americans
It did not occur to me how strange America is until I left the country. Why we have unnecessarily big cars, how we drink iced coffee in the winter, or how we don’t include sales tax in our prices are all questions that I have found myself also questioning when others asked me. American culture is bizarre once you see how the rest of the world lives. We are a very interesting people, and the reactions of Europeans when they hear that I’m from the States shows that. One thing is for certain, when a professor outs me to a lecture hall of a hundred students as being “un étudiant américan,” dozens of heads are bound to turn, and people are sure to come up to me after class and ask me more about who I am/what my thoughts on Trump are.(It has happened to me quite a few times.) The same thing goes for when people hear me speaking English on public transportation, but the excited students are usually replaced by angry old drunk men who yell at me for allowing Trump to get elected.
8. The amount of walking is unbearable at first, but you get used to it
This one is more of a cautionary tip. The amount of walking while in Europe is insane, especially during trips. Public transportation here is pretty good, but not always reliable. Walking 15 miles in a day has been standard during my trips, so bring some good walking shoes!
9. Awkward interactions are inevitable
A true abroad experience is not complete with out the many cringeworthy interactions that are exchanged. Whether it is due to the language barrier, missed cultural cues, or just Europeans being weird, these uncomfortable exchanges are bound to happen and you kinda just have to laugh them off.
10. Remember that your experience will not last forever
I seriously cannot believe that I am only in France for three more months. I try to savor every moment whether while I’m eating dinner with my host family, hanging out with all the English/Irish/Scottish friends that I’ve made here, or even when I am sitting in my bed scrolling through photos on my phone. I am loving every second of my experience and am trying to make it last as long as I can, because I know that the end is slowly creeping closer.
To those sophomores who just found out that they are going to study abroad: congratulations and I hope this list was utile (useful)!
Leçon du jour
Emploie bien ton temps, ne perd pas un moment, le présent passe en un instant. –Proverbe de Maxalexis
“Use your times wisely, don’t loose a moment, the present passes in an instant”
4 Replies to “10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Studying Abroad”
Dear Sean, You have reached that bittersweet moment when one chapter is winding down, like a good book that you don’t want to end … but end it will . You have given excellent advice to those who will come after you, and I know when you come back State side you will have a strong opinion, some the same , some different about the world around you. And I predict you will do much with that information for the better of all.
Enjoy these last few months and I see you in New York love Maria💕💕
Hi Sean! I’ve never been to Europe and I think the time has past for me to study abroad, HOWEVER, your blog was filled with such good advice that I found my own fear of traveling dissipate a bit. This is a nice feeling. Thank you, Sean.
What a truly magnificent adventure you’ve been on! What a blessing! How it will shape you and your future! I am excited for you, Sean. I wish you all the best as you enjoy the last few months there and for all the many future adventures you are sure to have. God bless!
Sean, I hope you continue to write/blog. Your posts have been so educational, entertaining, heartwarming and chock full of information. I believe that every American should leave the country at least once in their lifetime. I know this won’t be your only journey and I’m excited about your future endeavors. Looking forward to your future posts! Mad love, Sony ; )
Sean this a wonderful reflection! As someone who spent the year in strasbourg my junior year, I resonate with all of these points and congratulate you on making it through and enjoying your year abroad. It’s a year unlike any other and this blog is helpful not only for those deciding to go abroad but also for those abroad to know they’re not alone in experiencing these things! Enjoy the last few months!