(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.
(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.
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.