Study Abroad in Retrospect

Studying abroad is full of clichés. I can laugh about how pretentious I must sounds when I recall the best cheese I ate along the Seine and the sigh from my friends as I begin yet another sentence with, when I was in Paris. Many of these clichés take the form of expectations. When I was deciding to apply to study abroad in Paris, I heard countless times how it would be the best few months of my life. I would form lifelong friendships. My language skills would rapidly improve.

I am proud to admit that these hopes did come true and (here’s yet another cliché) I truly did have the most transformational experiences that I know will affect me for the rest of my life. The one thing though that no one really talks about is that studying abroad is hard. The word difficult has too negative of a connotation, so it is best to say that my experience was challenging. The most obvious challenge I faced was the language barrier. Although I could express my basic needs, I could not always represent my feelings or my personally the way I could in English. There were also the normal adjustments of moving to a new place: having to commute on the metro, getting lost constantly, and having to make new friends. The last challenge I had been warned about by every study abroad officer I had met with, but didn’t fully came to terms with until I got to Paris, but I also experiences culture shock.

Over the course of four months, I experienced the cultural differences between France and the United States that are impossible to fully comprehend as a tourist. For example, the culture of being a college student is completely different. In France, the best universities are public ones and tuition is covered by the State. However, college is also meant to weed students out of the system and the idea of liberal arts does not exist.

Overall, I have returned back to Penn as a more independent and open-minded person. My last cliché is this: through my exposure to French culture, I have not only seen ways our country can improve, but I also have a deeper appreciation of American culture that I took for granted before.     

-Hannah F. '17