Tag Archives: college

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Long Distance Romance- An Unnecessary Anchor For Studying Abroad

(photo courtesy of www.sodahead.com)

***Disclaimer: This is an editorial piece. The views expressed in this article are solely mine and do not reflect the opinions of guest bloggers or interviewees. My advice may not work for your individual situation. Please read with caution.

You’ve just got accepted into a study abroad program that is going to jump start your career and help you finish core major course requirements- woohoo! But then you remember that you have that special someone to whom you need to break the news that you are going to be in another country for 5 months or more (if going abroad for an academic year). Your first reaction will be to maintain the relationship à la long distance; weekly skyping on a pre-arranged date and time; sending texts and emails throughout the week; running out of class or leaving that social event early because you get that surprise phone call from your sweetie. These are just some of the more common ways that you will try to maintain a long distance romantic relationship with someone in a different time zone. I know this because I did it myself. When I made the decision to study abroad, I had been dating my ex, Peter, for a few years. I, too, had made the decision to embark on a long distance relationship. Looking back, I lost out on so many experiences abroad and also had more severe homesickness because I had a strong emotional anchor (aka Peter) that held me back. If you are going to study abroad for a semester or more, dump him (or her) before going abroad for the following reasons:

1) It’s not going to last: I know that sounds mean but it’s most likely true. The chances of you marrying or becoming the life partner of your 20 year old college sweetie are slim to none. This is completely normal. Over the course of the next few years you will grow and change the qualities that you seek in a mate as you become independent and start to carve out your life. Five to ten months is a long time to not see anyone and when the only thing holding you together is love (or lust) that’s not much to keep a relationship going.

2) Infidelity can be an issue (on either side): When you are away from that special someone for a long time, you will start to miss them and they, you. The missing of that special someone can become a longing for intimacy which may be fulfilled with another person aka cheating. The transition to studying abroad is hard enough without trying to maintain a long distance romance. I found in my study abroad experience that having a boyfriend back home emotionally restricted my involvement in the experience. This romantic connection kept me tied to the phone and email as well as to him instead of freeing up my mind with new experiences and people abroad. I was very committed to maintaining our relationship. When I couldn’t get in contact with Peter and when he expressed physical frustrations, I suspected the worse- and I was right. He was unfaithful; I’m just not sure how long. On your side, you will meet new people in your program and the activities you do (don’t be a hermit like I was- get out and go somewhere!). There is a very good chance that you might charm and be charmed by a native. The natural course of action would be for a relationship of sorts to ensue. If you are still attached, you could find yourself deep in temptation to cheat (and yes it counts).

3) It’s not time or cost effective. Communicating to that special someone back home via text or phone call is not cheap. Even with an international plan upgrade on your American cell phone, there are still additional service fees for every time you use data / send a text while abroad. If you are trying to message your sweetie a few times a day, this can add up quick. But money aside, staying in contact with a love interest in your home country is not time effective. Having to coordinate your schedule with his (and then getting disappointed when he doesn’t make your rendez-vous time) will hinder you from taking on spur of the moment excursions or experiences. And the same is true in reverse. As you spend your time abroad, your sweetie is still in college with his/her buddies. Spontaneous outings and other life events will come up and it’s not fair that either of you should have to miss out just to maintain a relationship that is most likely going to end anyway.

Don’t go abroad with a love anchor. It is not worth hindering this experience for something that is not meant to last. Studying abroad can be tough enough without the added pressure of doubt and frustration from not being able to connect with your sweetie at your scheduled time or have regular disagreements heightened by the gravity of the situation. Open the door to studying abroad by freeing your heart before you go abroad.

  
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Living in France, Part 3: My awakening

(photo by Chelsea of her and her bestie on their first day exploring Geneva)

I had two weeks of vacation to go home for Christmas during the winter of 2012, and it was magical. Even having been gone only a few months, I easily saw the differences in construction on the way home, and may I just add: God Bless American highways. I will always appreciate our highway system in the US now that I know how much they stink in Europe.

I got to see all of my family and many of my friends, and I ate my beloved Tex-Mex and traditional Christmas goodies, and was tremendously happy. It was upon being so happy that I began to realize that there really was a serious problem in my life in France. For why would I feel so blissfully different after only a few months away if I had been well-treated? It was, in fact, because I was not so well-treated, but had originally dismissed it as a different way of life. But I realized that, with or without family around, there are still basic good ways to treat people, and that I wasn’t necessarily given those in my life.

However, I took my refreshment of spirit and my continued hope to become fluent in French back to France to complete my dream of living in France, and I would make the best of it. Maybe I should have taken it as a sign that things wouldn’t go well when my host family made sure I made my own arrangements instead of picking me up at the airport, and that they were not particularly joyful to see me. But the new semester started and I was more comfortable than before, as my job was fairly clearly established.

But then my initial realization grew deeper and deeper each day, with both my situation and that of my friends. We au pairs were definitely not a part of the family and we were feeling it more than ever. My host father, bless him, was frequently very kind and sympathetic to me when his wife was being, well, a bitch. But that didn’t resolve awkward situations. It also became obvious that my friend’s host father down the street had some ancient beliefs of a patriarchal society and home life and thought our jobs were laughably easy, which didn’t help our spirits.

 

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(photo by Chelsea- small organ inside main cathedral in Geneva)

In short, a good number of us became more and more frustrated as we tried to stand up for ourselves, failed in doing so, and gave up hopelessly. Our families were not going to change and we just had to live with it, dreaming of home and better wages. So, the next six and a half months passed very slowly and painfully. The best part was that we were in the fight together, and we always had many ears to complain to with their perfect empathy. Our non-au pair friends even wished they could start an au pair union to improve our conditions, and they helped us forget our troubles with much-appreciated laughter and cheap drinks.

And of course, there was the essential factor of a gorgeous country and cheap travel opportunities to sweeten the pot. My bestie benefitted from more vacation time than I, but I got enough travel in to keep me excited and to fuel my later decision to stay in Geneva. So no, our life was not without positive aspects. We weren’t in danger of dying and we were living in a breathtaking valley. And there’s no greater spirit-lifter than the hope for liberation, and liberated we would be in mid-July 2013. So that summer I finished what I then thought would be the most stressful job I had ever had, and looked forward to a summer full of travel, both to new destinations and back home. And I continue to agree with the old adage: home is where the heart is.

 

  

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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Living in France, Part 2: The First Semester

(photos by Chelsea- Jura Mountains looking down Geneva Valley)

My first four months living abroad with my host family were the most positive, but I didn’t know it at the time. At first, my social life wasn’t as positive, because it wasn’t until my return after Christmas break that I finally made more close friends and ventured to Geneva regularly. However, I did make instant friends with a girl down the street on our first day in France (the one who came on the same plane), and through her found a friend in her classmate from college who arrived a few weeks after us. We met dozens of other au pairs through bi-monthly club meetings as well. The leaders of the group became my personal heroes, as they encouraged me through hard times as an au pair and as a Christian. The work they do to help the hundreds of au pairs in the area is truly remarkable.

As for relations with my host family, they improved from the strangeness of the first few days, but never became warm or close. I got along with the children fairly well, but my relationship with the parents was always business-like and strained. The only time I bonded with them, or at least one of them, was when I talked to the father about superheroes and action movies. The kids loved superheroes as well, and we had so much fun as I taught them well-known comic cartoon music, but their mother always remained impassive and seemingly resentful on the subject.

My bestie and I did our best to learn French quickly, watching a few movies, attending church in French, and working hard in class. But it was more necessary for me to excel quickly, as my kids only spoke French and she was teaching English to her little one. So, as the year progressed, I had more enthusiasm for going to language exchanges and other French-filled activities; but while we both equally wished to advance, we found it difficult.

My friends and I struggled with varying levels of stress and depression as we battled home-sickness, but we stuck it out at the beginning fairly well with each others’ help. As with me, they didn’t find things to be unbearable until the year progressed after Christmas. Honestly, I never really thought there could be a serious problem until the week before I was to go home for Christmas for two weeks. My host mother approached me and asked if I intended to return after Christmas, so she could arrange herself accordingly. I was shocked by her question and affirmed I indeed intended to return. Her response was a request, then, that I grow closer to the children, as it seemed that I never really bonded with them. (It was only months later that I would realize the strangeness of that request, in proportion to her attitude towards me personally.) I had always held back in my affection, it was true, but because I didn’t know my role in the family and how welcome I really was. So this seemed to be a positive sign to me. So I went home, weary from being challenged in French and being stressed in my complicated job, but hopeful that things would only get better from there. Home was an enormous relief, but it woke me up to the situation at hand when I returned to France, and it was not a pleasant awakening.

swiss2 (view from her first house)

  

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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Is 20 too young to study abroad?

(that’s me at 20 years old- yikes!)

I am in the wonderful throes of writing The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored (out April 11, 2014- Amazon).  The Paris Diaries is the transcription of the black, leather bound journal that I wrote in while a student in Paris. That journal perfectly captured the emotional roller coaster and all the unexpected experiences (which don’t really have to be unexpected) that was studying abroad in Paris due to my lack of preparedness and an unpleasant living situation with long, lost French family. As I read about my former daily struggles to understand not only my new, temporary living arrangements but also to figure out what future lied ahead for me after college graduation, I can’t help but wonder if 20 years old is really too young to study abroad?

The Argument for Yes

Reading the thoughts of 20 year old Andrea, I have come to the conclusion that, in many respects, I was not emotionally ready for the experience of studying abroad for year. Indecisive; insecure and with a lack of confidence; uncertain; stubborn; rebellious; unwilling- these are all adjectives that described me very well at 20 years old. It just so happens that these are qualities that do not foster acceptance, patience, understanding, or growth which are essential for a successful and less stressful study abroad experience. Nirvana may have made the angst-ridden twenties sound cool but it’s really not. I eventually came around (5 months into my stay) and ended up having a good time but that first semester angst was very difficult to overcome. Although I do recognize that I needed the negative first semester to grow and mature in the second semester, I can’t help but think I was not emotionally ready to take on the monumental challenge of moving to a foreign country with a new culture, a new language, new college system and staying with someone who didn’t like me very much. But then I thought that maybe it’s just me. That is before I remembered Alain.

Alain was a French student who was doing an internship at the company I work for. He is also 20 years old. He is a nice boy but had his head where the sun don’t shine when it came to so many things. Punctuality; preparedness; taking care of his own business; overall autonomy and independence- these qualities were lost on Alain.  Some of my colleagues who also helped him out on one thing or another also expressed this frustration but the consensus seemed to be “Well, he’s 20. What do you expect?”

Most people at twenty years old are not their most mature. This is due to hormones still raging; lack of life experience which can foster a lack of confidence and uncertainty about oneself; lack of understanding of how society works; still in the “fun first, work later” mentality. I know I certainly suffered from these and more and that is why I was I feel I was too young to study abroad.

 

The Argument for No

Most study abroad programs are in the 3rd or junior year of a Bachelor’s degree program. The third year of college is not only a perfect time in college to study abroad but it is a perfect age- 20 years old. A student’s junior year of college can be a time of great personal development. It is the year in college when you really start to think about your future and career. It is when you start to take on the responsibility of fast approaching adulthood. Twenty years old is a great age to study abroad because it can be a perfect balance of youth and maturity. It is also an ideal age to study abroad because you don’t have the following three things:

1)     Children

2)     A house

3)     Full time job

These three things, although wonderful in their own respect, require lots of time, money and energy. At 20 years old, you’re free from these commitments and can be foot loose and fancy-free in the experiences you choose to engage in, like studying abroad.

 

Final Conclusion:

The choice is yours. Studying abroad is a great experience and only you (and your career goals) can determine if you are ready for it. I recognize that I wouldn’t be the woman I am today or learned the important life lessons I learned, had I been a mature 20 year old college student. However, I still sometimes wonder…..