Regretting Going Abroad

by Chelsea Fairless on April 24, 2014

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(photo by: www.gapyear.com)

Last week, Andrea talked about how it’s important to prepare in many ways before studying abroad so that you don’t run the risk of regretting your time abroad for one reason or another. It can be because of lack of finances, dreams not matching reality, language failures, etc. She assures that with preparation, there should be no reason to regret your experience. I am in agreement, and I would like to share why.

It’s true that my experience was a bit different from the typical study abroad, as I was going to work for a French family and only take four hours of French classes per week. However, they are the same experience for the most important aspects: living with a host family, learning a new language, living in a new culture and environment, etc. I was definitely outside of my element, and my fellow au pairs (nannies) were as well- no matter where in the world they were from! That was certainly a comforting notion- that even girls from other places in Europe had difficulty adapting to life in this region. The U.S. just happens to be farther away!

Learning French was a challenge and always frustrating no matter how much I improved, but not impossible. The same thing for the region; one just has to adapt to a new way of life. The most difficult part for me in my first year was my host family. To live with them was, pardon my French, absolute shit. I could never relax because I felt like I was always at work while living with them. They didn’t treat me like a friend or even an equal; it was clear that I was the hired help, and they thought very little of me. They only did the minimum necessary to help me adapt- the rest was for me to learn on my own. Everything started ok at the beginning, but I soon learned that I couldn’t count on them for very much.

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(photo by: brightdrops.com)

Two of my closest friends were Americans who had similar problems with their own families, and their experiences were sour enough that they were extremely happy to return home and swear off ever living with a host family abroad again. But for me, no matter how awful my host family experience was, I decided to try again and hope that the second time around would be better. I applied to a regular university and moved directly to Geneva. However, the family I then went to work for in the fall of 2013 was worse than the first! So after a month and a half, I started with a third family, who I’ve just finished working for in another fail.
I have had some awful experiences in terms of host families, but I still have not let those experiences ruin my entire time abroad. I have improved my French enormously, I’ve learned about new ways of doing things in daily life, and I have met some truly incredible people. It’s primarily the people who have got me through all the hard times, and it’s for such people that I stay. I refuse to let greedy and selfish families prevent me from learning, growing, and discovering new things. There are definitely realities that need to be faced in order to prepare to go abroad, but no matter what, there’s no reason you should totally regret the time spent. There’s always an important lesson to learn, and always people you have met that have changed you for the better.

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Did you attend all your university’s study abroad info sessions but still have questions about Paris? See exactly what the experience of living and going to college is like before you go abroad to avoid any surprises with book The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored. Looking for something more technical like exactly how many and which documents do you need to get your French visa? Check out Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris.

  

Chelsea Fairless

Chelsea is a home-bred Texan currently living in Geneva, Switzerland and studying French at the University of Geneva, while living and working with a family as a part-time nanny. She has been living in the Geneva area since August 2012. You can follow more of her story on her blog http://parolepassport.blogspot.com/ and other social media sites.

Why Study Abroad Books Are the Wave of the Future

by Andrea Bouchaud on April 23, 2014

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(photo by: deepbluehome.blogspot.com)

When I interact with students, they always seem perplexed by the concept of a study abroad book. Do they really exist? How do I find them? What is it exactly? Do I really need one? The answers to these commonly asked questions are simple: Yes!; On Amazon (who isn’t there already shopping?); A book that discusses and details the specifics on the study abroad process and experience to help you prepare for this awesome adventure; Sure do!

Raise your hand if you hate running around to different stores trying to find that one item (both of mine are raised :p). The fact that you are on this website, reading these posts means that you are here for information. You’re here because you’re going to be studying (or living) abroad and you thirst for more knowledge. You’ve gone to your university’s study abroad info sessions and are vigorously soaking up every study abroad blog Google can find. That’s great! But are you still feeling like you could use more information? Like you wish someone would just tell you what you need to know in one location so that you don’t have to spend hours Googling and checking out every study abroad blog? Who wouldn’t want to have a “one stop shop” when it came to studying abroad information? Well, look no farther, study abroad books are here!

From 2 recent polls for Twenty in Paris conducted by my super awesome college friends, Tammy and Chris, over 57% of college study abroad students wished they had known more about the experience of living/studying abroad before going abroad despite having read blogs and attending study abroad info sessions at their college. So what does this all mean? It means that you recognize the hugeness of this experience and want to be prepared as possible. So why are study abroad books the wave of the future as an additional resource to your study abroad office? To answer that, let’s take a look at what blogs and your university’s study abroad office do (and don’t) offer.

 

University Study Abroad Office

Do

  • Convenience- they’re right on campus!
  • No cost; I caution to use the word “free” for college because any service you receive at your university has already been paid for in your tuition
  • In person interaction- nothing beats it; also allows for live question and answers
  • Your study abroad office are pros- they know the latest issues, laws, concerns and everything about how to study abroad
  • They’ve done it before (themselves and helped students)

 

Don’t Do

  • Due to the large amount of students they help prepare as well as programs they organize, study abroad offices may focus on legal process and general information/prep
  • Tend to promote the dream of study abroad instead of practical everyday life scenarios
  • May not cover (or cover in depth) the actual transition /experience to life abroad
  • May not provide any information on the school system/ what it’s like to go to college in the host country

 

But that’s ok. This is where study abroad blogs come in…or do they?

 

Do

  • Shows emotional roller coaster of study abroad experience through students’ own words
  • Get advice from current students
  • Can access anywhere, anytime
  • Can interact with other students

 

Don’t Do

  • They are all over the internet- no one central location / source
  • Student bloggers get busy with school and may not always consistently blog (ex: days-weeks-even months may pass between updates); not good if this is your only other resource outside of your university’s study abroad office
  • Posts are in the moment- no reflection; This is a great as gives a “live” feeling when reading posts but you don’t get the self reflection that can provide wonderful and practical advice/tips from someone who finished their study abroad and has had time to think about it

 

After attending ALL of your university’s study abroad info sessions and checking out online blogs, it’s good to have that one go-to source which can answer all of your questions whenever you want, wherever you want. Here are 6 reasons why study abroad books are the essential item every international student must have:

 

  • Central location
  • Different perspectives of the study abroad experience: before going, while abroad and once back home to provide a comprehensive look
  • Combine technical how-to with funny, personal anecdotes
  • As e-books, they don’t take up any space in your dorm and you can even take them overseas for reference
  • Most students who read one say they wish they would have read it BEFORE going abroad
  • Study abroad blogs tend to stop once the student returns home. Don’t you want to know what to expect of your life post study abroad? Most blogs won’t cover this

 

I have only come across a handful of study abroad books in my travels – most of which are about Paris! That alone shows that studying abroad in the beautiful City of Light isn’t as easy as it looks but with our help (we were here, too) you can maximize your success for this once in a life time opportunity!

 

  

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(featured photo by www.socalpaincenter.com)

In recent interviews for The Paris Diaries book tour, I’ve said that Americans are more touchy than our French friends when speaking of cultural differences students will notice when studying abroad in France. However, a few nights ago I experienced something to the contrary when going out with some French colleagues. At work, my colleagues and I never do les bises, the French custom of planting a kiss on either side of the cheek when greeting someone. Fun fact: not everyone gives an actual kiss; some people do a mere brushing of a person’s cheek with their cheek and others do not even come in contact with the skin. Anyhoo, at an American office, les bises would be inappropriate as Americans believe in 2 things: 1- The concept of (a lot) of personal space; 2- No touching in public or at work. This American touching policy is ingrained in me (I am American, after all) so it’s weird to turn it off at these after-work social gatherings. I always find myself having a few seconds hesitation when I see a French person I know- do I lean in for les bises? Do I just say hello like I would at work? This led me to re-evaluate my prior assumption that Americans are touchier than French people.

So what exactly did I mean when I said that Americans are more touchy? I think I was referring to the fact that it is common in the USA for someone to touch your arm when speaking to you to emphasize a point, show compassion or some other emotional element in a conversation. But thinking about it a little more, this is where the touchiness starts and stops for Americans. I cannot recall one time in all my friendships over the years where I hugged a friend when I saw them or met them in public. Although I wasn’t touchy with my friends (except for the arm touch- I’m guilty of that), I am a big bear hugger with my loved ones. And this is one area where Americans are touchier than our French friends. When I lived in Paris, I went to a few family gatherings. Not once can I recall someone giving another family relative a big bear hug. It usually was just les bises. But does lack of bear hugging make a people less touchy or dare I say, less affectionate or vice versa? And what does the relationship with touch say about the 2 cultures?

 cheetahshugging(photo by: my.englishclub.com)

A few months ago, guest blogger Eleanor wrote a post about the differences between French and American personalities as described by coconuts and peaches. She showed us how Americans are like peaches- we are easy to get to know like the soft skin of a peach but you can only get so deep until you hit our emotional peach pit. French people are like coconuts-it is difficult to break into their emotional shell but once you do, it’s all there for the taking in liquidy smoothness. Touch comes into play with these metaphors as Americans are more willing to do friendly touches (like the arm thing in conversation) due to our soft outer layer; but try to get closer and that tough center will not allow any further touching or affection unless you are a loved one. For our French friends, they do not do bear hugs but after you establish yourself as a friend, be prepared to do les bises at every interaction, public or private. But the boundaries of touch only scratch the surface of cultural differences and attitudes towards affection.

A few days ago, I came across this great study abroad blog on tumblr. It is written by an American student in Italy. “Vittoria” talks about the sincerity between American interactions and Italian interactions, especially when it comes to asking “How are you?”. To sum up, she noticed that in Italy, people care about meaningful interaction, not meaningless niceties. However, in the USA we are all about the menial niceties with strangers but not so keen on the deep, truthful conversations even with our colleagues and friends. Do Americans use more overt body language (like the touching of an arm in conversation or even that big bear hug) to convey a more caring tone? Does that make us touchier or more affectionate than our European cousins who are less enthused about arm touching and bear hugs but desire meaningful, genuine conversation and greetings with friends? The concept of touch and affection in different cultures are not so cut and dry and it seems that doing one does not guarantee the other and vice versa.

All I know is that cultural differences and attitudes towards touch and affection run much deeper than I initially thought.

32c347b0ecfadfbf8ac6913563d2932aAre you getting ready to be in Paris- dreaming of a new life, a new you and nothing but awesome language skills? Are you a big dreamer who often gets let down when your dream scenario does not happen? Don’t go abroad to be disappointed by reality! Find out what Parisian life as a student is really like to make dreams that really can come true with book The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored – out on Amazon Kindle

  

Alexa’s Study Abroad Journal: Are You Excited Yet?

by Alexa Wybraniec on April 21, 2014

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(photo by Alexa — I wish someone would give me a medal for finishing 500 study abroad applications, but this will do.)

People keep asking me if I’m excited yet. Even my dentist bombarded me with questions, and it was really hard to sound appropriately thrilled as a dental explorer scraped my teeth. (Yes, that’s seriously what that hooked probe thing is called.)

No, I’m not excited yet. And if you knew me, you wouldn’t be surprised. I just don’t get easily worked up over things – externally, that is. That bothers people. Others feel good when they see someone going vigorously gaga over something they love. Why isn’t getting ready synonymous with getting excited? I’m passionate about Paris, but nobody else sees the myriad of applications, documents, and instructions that I sift through. I have to blog about it just to get it straight in my head. Everyone, it seems, has delusions of Eiffel-tower-sized grandeur – which, in retrospect, is exactly what I try to avoid. I’m just focused on finishing my sophomore year of college right now, so could my excitement please take a backburner here?

The feeling that’s been washing over me in waves ever since I got my final acceptance is actually relief. All of my efforts weren’t in vain. I made the things happen! I’m officially enrolled into the program, which begins on August 21st. I officially need to start worrying about getting a visa, and eventually get those course-equivalency forms checked out by the journalism and French departments here at Rutgers. I mean, I have a LOT of things I need to start worrying about, but I can’t think 100% coherently until finals are over.

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(trying to get here between finals and preparing to go to Paris- Photo by: veryverygoodtimesahead.blogspot.com)

Now, I have a Sciences Po email address. I spent a few hours this weekend lusting over photos of the beautiful campus. On the site, there’s a “tour” feature. It’s adorable! A computer-generated map, made to look like it’s scribbled on the back of a napkin, guides you around the school. This place looks fit for royalty. It’s also “housed primarily in 17th- and 18th-century mansions located on the Left Bank” so it actually kind of is fit for royalty. My mom and grandma, especially, like to remind me of how close I am to the Seine River and the Louvre. Nobody wastes any time telling me that they’re going to be visiting. My usual response goes something like, “Okay, but I have no idea where I’ll be living, what I’ll be doing, or where I’ll be going!”

I also have a list of other Rutgers students studying abroad, and their email addresses. I guess they have mine, too, but I haven’t heard anything. There’s something weird about it. I almost wish I hadn’t gotten the email, because it feels violating. Maybe we mutually agree, and maybe that’s why none of us have reached out. I’d much rather place them on the backburner, along with most everything else I’ve found in New Brunswick, N.J. After summer, I’ll fly to Paris, alone, and meet people the authentic way. Just a preference.

And, I ALSO have a pre-departure orientation to attend on May 2. There, I’ll meet students who have been accepted to schools in Ireland, France, Germany, and Italy. The day will consist of lunch, an informational fair, and program-specific sessions and a general session. I’m bringing my parents and passing off each of their questions to the nearest study abroad ambassador I can find. Funny enough, I’m running a 10-mile race down Broad Street in Philadelphia the following day. Such has become my life. I really hope I can find some races in Paris (can you imagine how beautiful?) – or start training for the Marathon de Paris (LOL).

In a weird turn of events, I have a new French professor. She’s my professor from last semester. She wrote one of my letters of recommendation for Paris. She rules. I feel much more prepared and motivated in class, now, because she speaks and teaches in a much clearer way. I worry, though, how I’ll fare in Paris. If my last professor was any indication, the French take no prisoners. Wish me luck?

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Is excitement overshadowing preparation for your up-coming Paris study abroad experience? This is a big mistake! Find out how dreams set you up for disappointment but how you can create realistic dreams worth getting excited about with new book The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncenosred

 

  

Alexa Wybraniec

Alexa is a journalism major at Rutgers University who blogs at New Jersey Food Journal. She is going to be studying abroad in Paris at SciencesPo for a year starting in the fall semester of 2014. Check back every Monday for a new post from Alexa. You can connect with her via Twitter and Google+.