5 Ways that Studying Abroad is a Learned Skill

by Andrea Bouchaud on December 17, 2014


(photo by www.nerdfitness.com)

In life, some experiences are intuitive and some are not. What I didn’t realize during my study abroad planning is that studying abroad is one of those experiences that aren’t instinctual; it’s a learned skill. There is nothing about expat life that is intuitive but once you learn it, it seems like you could’ve known it all along. Transitioning into a new culture, language and college environment is like the first few months your grandparents who got a smart phone. Do you remember how they were so confused by all the apps and buttons? Or how they would get so frustrated when they couldn’t send a text or they got on the wrong setting in photos? Cultural/linguistic immersion in a study abroad is just like your grandparents learning the ins and outs of a new smart phone. It’s not intuitive for them as they have no prior experience with it. Then when they just start getting comfortable with the phone, there are still little things that come up from time to time that they don’t understand.

Instead of your grandparents going through the frustrating learning curve with their smart phone, wouldn’t it have been useful if the smart phone came with a guide? Or even better, what if they knew a smart phone user who could show them the ins and outs of the phone? That would make the learning curve less steep and help them to start using it more effectively much quicker. Studying abroad is just like your grandparents learning their new smart phone. But this time, there are guide books that exist and people who can show you tips and tricks to lessen your frustration. Just remember, there will always be little things that you’ll figure out on your own, even with someone showing you the main tips and tricks. What the guide (person, book or both) does is help you to avoid unnecessary confusion and frustration. It’s still up to you to become comfortable in your study abroad experience but having that guide as reference can make all the difference in the world. Now that we know studying abroad isn’t intuitive and that it is a learned skill, let’s take a look at some of the things you need to learn for your study abroad:

1-Doing Something New: Humans are creatures of habit. We have to teach ourselves to do something different because it doesn’t come natural to us. Studying abroad is all about doing something, heck, everything new! I can assure you that doing something new is a learned skill and one that should be learned before you go abroad; not when you already arrived.

learn-something-new(photo by www.lifestyleupdated.com)

2- Going back to the beginning: If you’re studying abroad and the host country has a different language, be prepared for your language skills to be below par. You’re going back to basics. Be prepared for every 5 year old to speak better than you and you reverting to hand signals and lots of pointing to get your opinion across. But it’s not just communication; you’ll also have to go back to basics for simple, every day tasks. Your way of doing things may not be normal to the host culture so you need to learn a new way of doing the same things.

3- Being wrong: This is similar to going back to the beginning. You’ll find out that you’re wrong or at least what you’re doing is perceived as wrong. It can be difficult to find out that things such as making pasta or smiling to a stranger is now a no-no and that the way you’ve done things for the past 20 years is no longer the norm.

being-wrong1-470x260(photo by realfoodmba.com)

4- A new way of learning: This onegoes with doing something new but it’s different because it deals with taking classes at a foreign university. You will have to learn in a new way. You’ll find yourself taking notes in a foreign language in which you have barely mastered its elementary basics on a topic that you barely understand due to language barrier. Talk about difficult!

5- Being independent: Being independent is really not intuitive. Even if you’re a loner or an introvert, being independent is not the same as being solo. Having to make decisions on your own without your parents’ input or direction is really scary. What if you make the wrong decision! Studying abroad is all about growing up and figuring out what it means to be independent. It’s the unknown and terrifying but we all must do it at some point. And trust me, it’s better sooner than later.

kids-growing-up-too-fast(photo by www.multiplemayhemmamma.com)



Alexa’s Study Abroad Journal: A Day in the Life

by Alexa Wybraniec on December 15, 2014


(All photos by Alexa)

I ricochet between indulging in the life of a little old French lady (you know, the one that spends an hour strolling through the arrondissement’s marché en plein air on Sunday to meet their little old lady friends, just before strolling home to a three-course déjeuner, followed by coffee, laundry and some light reading) and hitting the high notes of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” at expat bars (you know, Chez Georges).

This afternoon, I selected the former. The temperature has hovered around seven degrees with a slight drizzle for a week. My French friend told me she wears dresses in the summer, and the same dresses with tights in the winter. Inspired, I donned my fleece-lined stockings and purple lipstick and struck out to the street.

I was aimless. I thought of some research I did for my Theories of the Photographic Image course, re: Guy Debord. Debord was a member of the Situationist International in the 1960s, which is a puffed up version of Dadaism and Surrealism. He and his philosopher pals developed the idea of dérive, or drift, which is an unplanned tour through an urban environment. They basically wandered around in Paris in order to find patterns of emotional and atmospheric forcefields. Psychogeography. Mumbo jumbo, maybe, but there’s something malleable about Paris that makes the idea seem plausible, like the city’s been trapped in a slow-cooker for the past few hundred years.


(Detail on the Notre-Dame cathedral in Reims, taken on a day trip. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this church is where kings of France were crowned. The older church, destroyed by a fire in 1211, was the baptismal site of Clovis in 496. Before that, it was the site of Roman baths.)

 I ended up at the church next to metro Jourdain, the closest portal to transport me from my little mountain to the Seine. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Paris is made of castles and churches. This one, deemed Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville, is almost medieval-looking, or maybe just a bit unloved. The right side always smells like piss, but rain helps.

I had my reuseables with me, so I decided to head in the general direction of the Monoprix and look for a gift for Alessandro’s family, in return for shelter and copious amounts of pasta this upcoming holiday season. I didn’t get far before someone clutching flyers spotted me. I prepared my “Non, merci” and delivered it gracefully to the man. He responded by laughing, insisting, “Je ne vous attaque pas!” He had friends, some playing music, so I smiled politely and repeated my refusal.

Once I ducked inside the closest thing Paris has to an American supermarket, I found a bag of Révillon chocolates. Last year, when I lived in an off-campus apartment in New Brunswick, my Lyonnais-native flatmate was overjoyed when her family mailed her the candies and informed me that these were the quintessential French treat for New Years. Moving on, I couldn’t decide if dried fruits sprinkled with sugar screamed holiday cheer or bizarre gift, so I bought them for myself instead. I also bought dates. At certain Monoprix, you need to weigh your fruits and vegetables (and dates, if fresh) on the scale before you get to the register. I always, always, always almost forget to do this, and it has caused so many awkward jogs around the store.


(I really like candles. Especially in churches without an internal heating system.)

Back outside, I fished my receipt out of my bag and realized that the Christian-enthousiast had tucked his flyer inside as I passed. It was a home-made creation, featuring a drawing of the church on the front and wishing me “Joyeux Noël 2014”, followed by a quote from “Jn 3,16” about how God is everyone’s friend. On the back of the card, there was a program for upcoming weeks: confession, midnight mass, a weekend block party. I took not two more steps before reaching the front of the church.

A flock of Parisians congregated around the entrance, which is now dripping in white and blue lights. Nobody in France celebrates the religious aspect of Christmas (in fact, my host brother laughed out loud at the question) but Parisians really know how to deck out a city. I realize, now, the true origins of that infamous nickname.

A woman offered me fresh-baked chocolate cake, which melted in my mouth as I stood in a puddle between French chatter and costumed children caroling on the steps of the church, wondering how I’m going to study for my last final exam of the semester, pack my suitcase, and say goodbye to my friends who aren’t returning to Paris in January.

I finally feel like I’m settling in. Not in a total old-lady way. Only sometimes.



Alexa Wybraniec

Alexa studies journalism, media and French at Rutgers University. She is abroad at Sciences Po for her third year. Check back every other Monday for a new post, or connect on Twitter.


How to Sound Cooler in French with Damon & Jo

by Andrea Bouchaud on December 12, 2014


(Photo by pixgood.com)

My friends Damon & Jo are Paris study abroaders who offer awesome French tips for students. Check out this video on how to sounds cooler in French. These tips are Twenty in Paris approved!




5 Ways Loans Can Make or Break Your Study Abroad

by Andrea Bouchaud on December 8, 2014

Student Loan application Form with pen, calculator and writing h

(Photo by www.leidenandleiden.com)

I’ve been in Dallas for a little over 2 years now and have decided to make this awesome Texan town my permanent home. House shopping comes with so many decisions and giving away of all your personal information for various credit checks. I was pretty pampered during my college years in that my parents gave me an older car and helped out with paying for college so that I had minimal student loans. These were huge financial reliefs to a 22 year old student but it also didn’t give me the opportunity to build much credit. Here’s something that I’ve really learned after college- credit is EVERYTHING. It determines how much your credit card limit will be; what kind of apartment you can rent without a co-signer; what type of car you can buy; and how big a loan you can get for a home.

Set of color credit cards(photo by www.consumeraffairs.com)

The only real thing that has built up my credit is my student loans. I have a love/hate relationship with student loans. They have come back to bite me in the derrière a few times during my college career and afterwards. During college, I didn’t know to alert my student loan companies about my study abroad – a fun fact that would’ve been really useful to know. I figured that since my student loan companies wouldn’t cover my study abroad as it wasn’t federally accredited, I was in the clear. I found out about 6 months into it that my parents were receiving student loan bills. My home university un-enrolled me as I was going through an outside study abroad program. This new un-enrolled status was given to the loan companies who wanted their money back because they thought I was no longer in college. I didn’t know it then but this confusion with my enrollment status during my junior year of college would come back to bite me years later when looking for a home. I have very good credit but it isn’t as awesome as it could be. I never understood why my credit didn’t break the 700s threshold until house shopping. A potential lender ran an in-depth credit report and advised me that there is a negative hit against my credit from 2008 due to non-payment. This was the 2nd half of my year in France and it coincided perfectly with the student loan debacle. I had no idea that the mix-up with the loans during my time abroad would impact my credit and for this long! This news inspired me to write about the 5 ways loans can make (or break) your study abroad experience.


(photo by blog.ncarb.org)

1-     Loans can help pay for the tuition and the home stay living arrangement. That’s 10s of thousands of dollars that you don’t have to come up with sur le champ. Make

2-     If your study abroad program is not federally accredited, your US federal loan (which are a majority of loans) won’t cover your study abroad which means that you need to use a private loan (say hello to higher interest rates) or pay cash. Make and Break

3-     Your credit may be affected negatively in the future if you’re not able to use loans and forget to provide your loan companies proof of your study abroad. Break

4-     Loans don’t cover living expenses so you’ll still need to save up for your time abroad. Break

5-     Loans add an extra step in the study abroad process which when they cover your study abroad is a great help but it’s also an additional stress and element to coordinate for the preparation for this experience. Make and Break

loan4(Don’t let student loans break you! Photo by www.flickr.com)

Student loans are a very useful tool in helping to fund your study abroad experience. But they need extra consideration during the preparation stages to make sure that they are working for you and not against you. Your study abroad experience may not be as long as your entire college career but it’s enough to impact your credit and future purchases. Learn from my mistake and get your loan situation in order BEFORE you go abroad. Your future will appreciate it!