Hi everyone! Maybe it’s the winter weather, or my fear of losing track of my thoughts, but I finally managed to huddle inside and finish writing this post. Here it is: the “Why I Studied Abroad” post that you’ve been waiting for. Kind of.
Back in August, before I left Vermont for Paris, I jotted down a few questions in my very first post. Questions like: What will I learn abroad that Pomona can’t teach me? Why leave Pomona? Am I ready for study abroad? These questions definitely helped define my reasoning for studying abroad, and so what follows is essentially a recap of that reasoning, plus all of the ways it changed during my semester in Paris. Enjoy!
Reason 1: Language Immersion
Before leaving for Paris, I was fully prepared to dive headfirst into learning the French language and all its quirks and nuances. This was unrealistic for a few reasons (the first, and most obvious, being that grammar and vocabulary are not my strong points). I should have known that immersion would be very challenging. With an internship that requires lots of work in English, Skype calls back home to friends and family, and school with American students, I ended up speaking English quite a bit. Sometimes, if I was out in the city on a weekend, I wouldn’t actually speak a whole lot of French (museums aren’t very social) and speaking is crucial to language immersion. But, in reflection, I realize that I did not study abroad to achieve complete immersion as I had thought. Yes, my French improved tremendously, but I’m not sure I would even call my semester in France ‘immersion.’ Rather, I studied abroad to give myself the tools to continue developing my language abilities throughout my entire life. I have discovered how I learn languages, what works for me, and what definitely does not.
Reason 2: Explore new subjects
Before leaving, I definitely wanted to take my liberal arts education to another level and take classes like History of Paris and The Origins of Modern Art. These classes allowed me to go out and explore the very streets and museums we discussed in class, and this was, without question, an unbelievable experience. But my semester was also much more than that. I actually studied abroad to expose myself to learning in different contexts. I really missed the bulky headphones that I left at home, but I’m now a pro at concentrating in cramped spaced (a.k.a. the Paris metro). I’ve experienced learning economics and international relations in a French classroom, which has a style of rhetoric all its own. I’ve learned how the French university system often pushes students to specialize at an even earlier age than in the U.S., and how lucky I am to even have a liberal arts experience.
Reason 3: Discover life in the heart of a city
This reason for study abroad was actually pretty accurate. I achieved my goal of exploring what life in a city center like Paris actually entails: Long commutes, frequent protests and strikes that interrupt said commutes, and a level of anonymity that takes some getting used to (read my post on anonymity here). But then, one day, I had a frightening thought: Living in Paris for a semester is a test drive for what might become my primary mode of living after college. If I take my major in economics to an international company, I might end up living in a city like this for a long time. Maybe even a city more international than Paris. Just writing about this now is stressful, but this is why I studied abroad: Less to experience Paris, and more to inform my future decisions on where to live and work. Right on.
Reason 4: Take a break from Pomona
This was also some pretty solid reasoning. Believe it or not, perpetual sun was getting a bit old, and the cool Paris weather brought back that sense of coziness I find back at home. The miniature bubble of Claremont had also worn me out a bit, and taking a break from intense economics classes was definitely necessary as well. Now that the semester is over and my wanderlust is satisfied, I have a much better sense of my roots in the U.S., my desire to explore, and the limits of this desire. There is a balance between old and new experiences that I hadn’t given much thought to before. More than studying abroad to escape Claremont and explore, I studied abroad to discover this very important balance.
The Pomona Office of Study Abroad helped me form my initial reasoning for study abroad (though much of it changed). Their new space across from Frank is open and welcoming, and their publications (see the most recent one on their homepage) give students the chance to elaborate on their unique experiences. Their resources are so valuable, so use them! Not to tell you what your experience will be, but to prepare you to make that discovery for yourself.
À la prochaine,