(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:
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.
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…..