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Regretting Going Abroad

(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.

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The touchy business of touching (French vs. American style)

(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

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

(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 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.

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I Regret Study Abroad

(featured image by columbialion.com)

That phrase, along with study abroad regrets, is one of the most popular search terms for the Twenty in Paris blog. Every time I see that phrase, I get a little sad and frustrated. Why does this keep happening? Why are students regretting their study abroad? Even with my extremely tough first semester in Paris (caused by my lack of preparations, unrealistic expectations and overall bad attitude), I never regretted studying abroad. Sure, I can say that I wish I had saved more money and kept to a budget so that I could have traveled more or done things differently. But regret? No way! So when I see that someone is having study abroad regrets, it saddens and frustrates me because I know from my personal experience how avoidable it is and I don’t want any student to have study abroad regrets.

What causes it?

“I regret study abroad” and “study abroad regrets” are simple, short phrases which do not shed any insight on why that student regrets their study abroad experience. I can only go off of my own as well as other students’ experiences that I know of. For us, our study abroad “regrets” came from expecting a dream experience abroad only to be faced with reality. Guest blogger Cindy put it perfectly when she said “In my head, I knew it wasn’t going to be all pretty sidewalk cafés and cute French boys and rainy cobblestoned alleys. But when you’re getting ready to pack up your life and move halfway across the world it’s hard not to have that feeling of wanderlust, to not feel that thrill of excitement for the unknown and to stop yourself from romanticizing it all anyway. Maybe not the country itself, but definitely the whole experience of [studying abroad].”

It’s not that students who choose to study abroad think that the host country is a perfect, peaceful paradise (well, I did but that’s another story). As college students, you are all too familiar with stress, disappointment, disagreeing with others, and overall bad days. What happens is that studying abroad is often sold as a dream instead of a practical and interesting way of increasing/obtaining skills and knowledge that will benefit your career. As a result, students are not always instructed to investigate the reality of cultural differences; improve language skills outside of the classroom; challenge him/herself to leave the comfort zone; adopt an accepting attitude; develop ways to cope with a bad day alone (without family and friends); how to get along with strangers who don’t speak your language or understand your culture. Maybe it’s assumed that students know to do further research. You are in college after all.

But sometimes, it’s nice to have your hand held and be told exactly what you need to do/ should expect, especially for something as monumental as moving to another country. I don’t know if there is some deep rooted princess fantasy at play but once I was officially enrolled in my study abroad program, the dreams just flowed. Dreams can be great- they foster innovation and creativity but they can be detrimental if not kept in check.

money-1(Budget issues – photo by: mikefinnsfiction.wordpress.com)

But what if the study abroad regret didn’t come from broken dreams? What if it came from not being able to do everything you wanted due to lack of funds? I experienced a bit of this well. My first introduction to the word budget came while I was in Paris. Before going abroad, I lived in my own apartment but my mother helped me a lot with living expenses. When you only have to pay a few bills staying within your means is simple, especially when you have a part time job. Now imagine being overseas with no income to replenish your account and having to pay for food, laundry, metro passes, and everything you want to see or do. It’s easy to see how money can go pretty quickly. At 20 years old, most of us have never had to make a budget. I can definitely understand a student regretting not being able to see every museum because of lack of funds. But the whole experience? That would be unfortunate.

Why does it matter?

95881-92425(study abroad regrets ARE avoidable – photo by: www.psychologytoday.com)

It matters because you are spending a lot of time, money, and effort for this experience. Studying abroad is too expensive and monumental an experience to spend regretting it. This experience should be the highlight of your twenties, not that thing you did in college that you really wished you didn’t. It’s also really important because study abroad regrets are COMPLETELY avoidable! How do you avoid them? By doing in- depth preparations (link back to Twenty in Paris) as soon as you are thinking about studying abroad. Don’t wait to start preparing until you applied to a program. It’s never too soon to start readying yourself for studying abroad to avoid study abroad regrets.

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 Think you’re ready to handle the monumental task of leaving behind family and friends for the first time to go study abroad for a semester or more? La vie parisienne is a beautiful one but not always an easy one! Don’t go abroad to be met with unpleasant surprises- find out what it’s like to transition to Paris and life abroad with new book The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored