Alexa’s Study Abroad Journal: How to keep your life in flux

 (Photo by Alexa-featured image is the view from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, overlooking the rainy Love Run yesterday morning)

Two things make me proud: running a good run and writing a good poem, story, article, whathaveyou.

My brain is confused. I don’t feel creative. Usually I can sit down and words just come pouring out of me, but lately I’ve been thinking too much, or maybe not thinking enough. I have amazing self-discipline in the sense that I wake up at 6:15 a.m. Monday through Friday, I’ve never missed a college class and I exercise seven days per week. Yet, when it comes to writing lately, I’ve had nothing to say.

Here is something I’ve been itching to write: Last semester, I enrolled in a Creative Writing course purely for fun. And I was all the better for it. My grandma was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the summer of 2013 and I was an anxious, depressed mess. The class helped me so much. Really, though, it was just a soundboard for my thoughts. Writing has always been an outlet for me, but I surprised myself with what I wrote. I wrote short stories for the first time. I won a literary prize for my poetry. When I read my poems out loud, I felt enormous weights lifted from my chest and my heart and my brain. When my grandma died, my classmates were the first to know.


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I wanted to change my major to English, I wanted to minor in Linguistics and I wanted a certificate in Creative Writing. I didn’t do any of that, though. I told myself I’d regret that English major, that I’d ruin my favorite subject, that I would never get a job with credentials like that. I kept riding the journalism track. The class ended, winter break happened, and some new classes started.

Spring break was great to me. I romped around in the mud and dirt and grass. I climbed rocks. I didn’t have anything on my mind except good exercise and good feels.

Now, I have this sinking feeling. I’m in the middle of my first required “math” course (okay, it’s an IT course, but still, I haven’t seen a logorithm since high school) and I’m floundering. I might not get straight A’s this semester. The perfectionist inside me is dying a little bit at the thought. I also haven’t written anything creatively in a month. The artist inside me is screaming. Plus, I’ve left my job at the newspaper. The realist inside me is worrying I’ll forget how to balance school and work.

But, I’ve been a journalism student since day one. You know that old saying, the one about not making decisions when you’re mad, sad or otherwise mentally unstable? Well, I started the study abroad process when I was in a pretty bad place, but I knew that I’d be able to pull the plug if I felt differently in a few months. I didn’t start the changing-my-major process then, because I knew that would be a more or less permanent switch.

I’m glad I stayed in journalism if only for one thing: my food class. It’s taught me that storytelling doesn’t have to be sensationalized, that journalism can still be smart, calculated and cool. Journalism doesn’t need to be working in a newsroom doing menial tasks at a desk in a sea of desks. It’s important in a different way, conflated with social media (for better or for worse). Just when I was losing hope in my major (because, let’s be honest, nobody has anything nice to say about media coverage), I learned that I have a growing interest in it. And, I’m glad I signed up for an advising meeting about studying abroad for more reasons than I can list here.

Basically, what I’ve learned is that it’s hard to live in the present. It’s really, really hard. Because schools in the U.S. teach you: Here’s this thing, learn it, there will be a test. But that’s not how life works. That’s not how the best thinkers think. Journalism forces you into the right-now moment. And I like that. That’s where I’d like to be.


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I’m working on going there in a more literal way, starting with Paris.

When it comes down to it, I do what makes me happy. And, at the risk of sounding like a cheeseball, opportunity is rampant. It is, it is, it is.

What I’m saying is: just because I majored in journalism doesn’t mean I’m not going to get a job. I’m also saying: just because someone else majored in computer science doesn’t mean they’re going to get a job, either. What I’m saying is that it matters who you are as a person, how you deal with things. I think that everyone should really try to live presently. Even if that means embracing your ignorance and making mistakes.

What I’m saying is that maybe studying abroad isn’t the right decision for everyone, but I’m willing to try it for me. Because, while applying may be a ton of work, and none of it seems real right now, Paris makes me excited. It will force me to be very mentally present; I want to have that childlike curiosity about things again. I will need to try harder, every day, because everything will be foreign. And that makes me excited.

Yesterday, I ran my first half-marathon. I want to surprise myself like that way more often, because even though crossing the finish line was the best earthly feeling I’ve ever had, I know that it was just the beginning.

Paris will help me practice.

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Alexa Wybraniec

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

Twenty in Paris Approved Study Abroad Blogs

I have come across some great student study abroad blogs these past few weeks that are honest, funny, and show the whole study abroad picture; not just the dream parts. These blogs are great resources for students who are looking to live or study abroad. I am happy to give the official Twenty in Paris seal of approval. Enjoy!


Blog name: Parole Passport


Who: Chelsea Fairless

What: Chelsea Fairless is an American student who first was an au pair in France, then  Switzerland and is now studying at a university in Geneva. Her detailed accounts of au pair family life shed an important light on the difficulties that can arise when living with a native family due to generation gap, cultural difference and language barrier. She shows the au pair experience like never before as well as the good life in Geneva. I am also happy to say that she is a weekly blogger on the Twenty in Paris website.


Blog: Tammy Does Paris


Who: Tammy Olobo

What: Tammy Olobo is a black British student who is currently studying in Paris at the Sorbonne. She beautifully details the roller coaster ride it has been for her to immerse into French culture as an Anglophone as well as be accepted as she does not fit the definition of French due to her beautiful dark skin and the difficulties she has encountered in internships due to this. Refreshing, witty and relatable, this blog is a must read for any student interested in going to France, especially students who are non-Caucasian.




Blog: The Second Page


Who: Eleanor Harte

What: Eleanor Harte is an American student studying abroad in Paris at the Sorbonne. She should look familiar- she has guest posted for Twenty in Paris. Eleanor shares her story on moving in with a host family, getting used to Paris and speaking French full time. A delightful read for any student interested in studying abroad.




Blog: Discover Spain


Who: Filipina

What: Filipina is an American student from the Philippines who is studying abroad in Spain. I came across the post in the website photo above and knew that I had to feature this blog. This blog is a great read for any student interested in Spain and general study abroad.


I hope you enjoy these blogs as much as I do. They really open the door on the study abroad experience and how non-linear it is.

Bon weekend à tous and forget to enter in the WSA Europe – Twenty in Paris pre-release book giveaway of The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored! Check out more details here



Being Aware

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Reading Andrea’s recent post on staying safe while traveling, it reminded me of the biggest safety lesson I’ve learned while living abroad: being aware of your surroundings. This seems extremely obvious, and I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid trouble, but both observant and clueless people can slip up, which can be dangerous.


(Watch out for your belongings! Photo by

For one thing, no matter where you go in a country that “doesn’t speak English,” keep in mind that you have no idea who actually speaks English around you, so don’t think you can gossip about someone smelly in front of you and assume they won’t understand. In a story I’ll recount next, I made the mistake of telling a joke about an attack on random people while walking behind some French-speaking people and they consequently started walking faster because they assumed the wrong thing. Don’t let your personal conversation get you into trouble, especially because English is so commonly spoken these days!

My funniest story is the encounter my friends and I had with some drug dealers. We were trying to find the meeting place for a couchsurfing group, but we didn’t know the area and were walking around in circles for awhile. My brave friend decided to ask a young man sitting on a motorcycle if he knew the place, but he basically completely ignored us. We were a bit shocked at that, but after crossing the street and us being yelled down by cops, we quickly realized he was waiting to finish a deal and we accidentally got him busted. But somehow, the other dealers who witnessed the exchange thought we were really trying to buy, so when we kept walking, they tried approaching us. My “brave” friend somehow thought it wouldn’t be a problem to strike up a normal conversation with one of them, which meant that in a three block radius, we had at least a half dozen dealers vaguely circling us, thinking we were good customers. It was at this point when we started walking closely behind a random couple to help distance ourselves and I made my untimely joke. Needless to say, we decided the meeting wasn’t worth it anymore, no matter how calm those guys were.

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(Unfortunately, not every area announces the dangers- look it up before you go there! Photo by

And going back to Andrea’s 8th point about knowing where dangerous areas are, it would have helped us a lot to have known that the area was dangerous beforehand, so that’s definitely a valid point. Now I know the two neighborhoods where the drug dealers and prostitutes gather in my city, so I know to not walk there at night. Otherwise, I’m happy to report that Geneva is extremely safe. Actually, I had one local friend laugh at me when I recounted the drug dealers story, because apparently they are safe and harmless, too.

With a combination of smarts and luck, I’ve avoided any problems, but that doesn’t mean I can let my guard down, no matter how long I live in this city. So, above all, my biggest advice is to simply always stay on your toes.


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 and other social media sites.


8 Ways to Stay Safe When Traveling or Studying Abroad

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When I talk to college students about study abroad, safety is one concern that never comes up. However, when I speak with their parents, safety is one of the first few things that they worry about. Many parents have expressed concern that their college aged student (especially daughter) will have an experience abroad like in the movie Taken. Although the chances of this are slim, it is important to understand that large international cities like Paris do have crime networks and practicing safe travels in and outside the city should be a priority.

Staying safe is important for every traveler no matter their age or how long they’re staying abroad. Taking certain, quick precautions can help you to be prepared for any situation in any country. Let’s take a look at 8 ways to stay safe when traveling or studying abroad.


(photo by – don’t leave Mom & Dad a note like this! Just follow the below easy steps)

  • Register your trip/study abroad with the US Department of State. No one goes on a trip expecting to encounter any sort of legal or disaster issue. However, it’s a good idea to have a back up plan in the event something does arise. Having your trip recorded with the US Department of State helps you get the assistance you need wherever you are in the world and no matter the situation. The US Department of State would be able to help you coordinate with the closet US Embassy and can help you connect with your family. To register your trip go to
  • Look up current safety issues of the country. Every country has its own unique set of safety concerns. Reading up on these specific issues will help you to know what to watch out for when you’re abroad. The US Department of State’s website lists every country’s current safety issues as well as advice on how to stay safe there.
  • Get up to date vaccinations and confirm health insurance before leaving. If you’re traveling to Europe, the U.S. Department of State ( does not list any required vaccines but it’s a good idea to be up to date on Meningitis, HPV, Tetanus, Hepatitus A and B and Rabies vaccines. Don’t forget to make sure that your American health insurance will cover you abroad. If it doesn’t, check out the list at to set up medical insurance for your time abroad.
  • Put all foreign emergency numbers in your phone. 911 is not a universal number. In the event of an emergency, you don’t want to be stuck not knowing the country’s emergency numbers. You can obtain these numbers from the U.S. Department of State’s website. Make sure to have these numbers in your phone before leaving. For example, in France dial 18 for les pompiers and 17 for the police.
  • Give someone back home a copy of your itinerary and passport. Even with registering your trip with the US Department of State, you should give someone in your family a copy of your itinerary and your passport. It is extra security for you to have someone close to you also know your whereabouts and how to help the closest US Embassy find you in the event of an incident.
  • Respect the local culture. Before going abroad, read up on the culture so that you can respect the cultural traditions and not offend anyone or worse, end up in legal trouble. Societal expectations vary from country to country. Respecting the local culture will not only help you have a better, authentic experience, it will help you to avoid cultural misunderstandings.
  • Establish and maintain communication with family. If you are going to be staying abroad for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to keep in contact with family. Set a day, time and method that you’re going to use to keep in touch and stick to it. Establishing communication with family is a great way to stay safe and connected while abroad. It’s important to maintain this contact so that you’re family knows that if they don’t hear from you, something has gone wrong and they can get you help.
  • Research the areas to stay away from before you go. Having an itinerary before you go lets you research areas to stay away from in your travels. As a non-native person, you don’t always know which areas are safe and which ones aren’t. Research these areas on your itinerary by reading guide books, talking to people who have traveled there and internet searches before leaving. It’s best to avoid dangerous areas abroad and researching these places in advance will help you to avoid them and stay safe.

Studying abroad and traveling are great experiences that can open so many doors in your life. Please take these few extra precautions (in addition to common sense precautions – ex: put your bag across your shoulder and in front of you; wallets in front pocket or in travel necklace, etc…) to protect yourself so that you have can have the safest and best time abroad. They don’t take much time and are free to do!