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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…..

  
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Europe: An American’s Cultural False Friend

Do you remember the lesson on false friends in English class? No, I’m not referring to the shady classmates who were pretending to be your friend but who really weren’t. False friends are words that look similar but have a different meaning. I also like to extend this terminology when comparing European and American culture. A quick glance at any American study abroad program shows that American students prefer to study abroad in western countries, aka Europe, just by the sheer volume of programs established in Europe by American universities. This is not to say that Europe doesn’t have great schools or great programs. They do. But so do many other non-European countries. So why is the demand so high to study abroad in Europe? I suspect because it is the belief that Europe and the United States share a similar way of living, students would have an easier adjustment. This is true – to a degree. Europe and the USA do share a scientific, political, historical, linguistic and cultural lineage. And certainly we are very politically and monetarily intertwined with our European brethren. However there are grand differences between the 2 continents.

Europe is a false friend in terms of culture because although the USA shares many similar traits, there are so many differences. These similar traits lured me into a false sense of security and belief that I did not have to prepare much for the differences as I could expect a very similar way of life. This false friend caught me off guard when I came into contact with things like strikes; French bureaucracy; the uncanny French ability to disagree with almost everything; the general union worker mentality; the inability to go against the grain; independent decisions discouraged in businesses; the customer is NOT in the right (try making a commotion at a French store when you are not pleased and see what doesn’t happen); the different relationship with government; the list does go on and on. These things are all in contrast to the American way of: money/business comes first before everything; the can-do attitude; live to work; the customer is ALWAYS right; workers being able to make autonomous decisions; unions mostly looked down upon; free market; independent spirit; no one is responsible for you but you. I am not here to assert that one way is better over the other. Merely, that they are different and that culture shock is real for American students who study in Europe. When choosing a study abroad program, make sure it is because it will have a beneficial impact on your major/career needs and goals and not because the culture resembles your own. You never know when you may encounter a false friend.

 

 

  
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Morgan’s Freshman Year in Paris: You’ve Been Accepted!

In a sense, I did not choose Paris, rather Paris chose me. Well, that’s what I like to believe considering it was not thoroughly planned out (and when things happen in my life that aren’t entirely planned out I assume that they are acts of fate).

First, let me say that I speak maybe 5 whole sentences in French, (those of which include ‘more bread please’ and ‘one glass of wine’) but I’d always felt a connection to the French culture. In fact, this past fall I hosted a French exchange student in hopes of picking up some of the French language. By the end of the month, I didn’t learn any French, but I did end up with an amazing friend and a place to call home at her house in Caen.

While Fleur, the exchange student, was in town, I began working on my application to my first choice school: New York University. While filling out my application I came across a question that was worded somewhere along the lines of ‘Would you like to be considered for the Liberal Core Global Learning Program?’ On a whim, I selected yes. As a result of selecting yes, a subsequent question popped up ‘And if you are to be selected, at which global NYU campus would you like to study?’ My choices were London, Florence, Paris, or New York City. I chuckled as I selected Paris. My rationale was ‘not in a million years would I actually be accepted into this program because who really gets to do stuff like this anyway, so why not choose something totally ridiculous?’

For the following couple of weeks as I waited for my NYU letter, I didn’t think once of that seemingly insignificant box I selected. That is, until I got my acceptance letter. On the night of December 13th, I received my acceptance email from NYU. All I needed to see was the ‘Congratulations!’ I didn’t think to read any further. When my mom sat down to read the email out loud in its entirety, she stopped when she approached the second paragraph. “What?” my dad and I said in unison. “‘We expect that you will be spending your freshman year at NYU’s Paris campus’” she read.

It’s shocking how drastically a person’s life can change in a matter of moments. I had never before dreamed of spending my first year at college in Paris. I am still dumbfounded today at the thought of one day (and very soon!) living in Paris. Since receiving that email, I’ve slowly been adjusting to the idea of and dreaming ferociously of my new life in Paris. I’ve been trying to add all the Parisian essentials to my wardrobe while preparing my long-term boyfriend for the inevitable separation. I’ve told my French exchange student, grandparents, teachers, and friends about the news. Every time someone finds out about my college plans they say, “Wow, Paris! Congratulations!” I can’t help but laugh at the fact that one extra click changed life as I know it.

(photo is screenshot of Morgan’s acceptance email- Congrats !)

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Morgan Liverman

Morgan is a high school senior in Nashville, Tennessee. She was accepted into NYU and will be studying abroad in Paris her first year of college starting in September 2014.

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Eleanor’s Paris Adventures: The Differences Between Peaches and Coconuts

I have now been in Paris for three weeks. It’s a crazy statement – wasn’t I just home packing and waiting for the moment the plane would touch down at Charles de Gaulle? Now I am in Paris, walking past Notre Dame each day on the way to class and taking photos of the Eiffel Tower every time I see it. I’ve figured out the cheapest place to buy crepes with Nutella and I’ve been to the movies (in French!) twice. It’s like a dream.

One of the most interesting parts of my time so far in Paris would have to be the metro. Oh, the Parisian metro. I love the metro because I can take it to basically anywhere in the city. It’s a bit confusing to figure it out, but once you do, you’re set to go anywhere. And what a cool feeling once you’ve mastered it! I feel so official when I swipe my Navigo card (monthly pass) and board the train with the rest of the Parisians.

What I don’t like about the metro is that there are a lot of homeless people in the stations, and it makes me sad. There are many homeless people all over Paris, really. I am from Boston and there are homeless people there, too, but nowhere near as many as I’ve seen here. Seeing people sleeping in the metro stations makes me realize that Paris is not just the rosy picture in the movies. The other issue with the metro is that it is often packed to the brim. Paris is a city of 2.2 million people, and many of them use the metro every day. At peak times, you can be squished in the car there with a hundred people you don’t know. For someone not used to it, it can be kind of uncomfortable!

Not everything about Paris is perfect, but it’s all about the attitude. At orientation, our professor told us that Americans are like peaches and French people are like coconuts. As Americans, we are friendly and smiley toward everyone. We let people get to know us quite easily. However, our hard inner center is not open to a lot of people. We let people in, but only to a point. French people are the opposite. They are like coconuts: hard to penetrate, but once you’re friends with a French person you’re always friends with them. French people are far more reserved than Americans. At home, I usually smile at people on the street, but here, that is considered strange. It’s not a bad change, it’s just an important cultural difference.

Paris is exactly as I expected in some ways, but in other ways there are aspects I just never thought about. I pictured the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and the churches and the beautiful architecture, because I’ve seen those images for years. But I never thought that the food would be so good and the beautiful architecture would be on literally every street. I had some expectations, but other than the ones I mentioned I didn’t really think about what my daily life would be like. I hadn’t anticipated that I would simultaneously remember more French than I expected to and that it is very difficult to converse with your host mother when you don’t speak her language that well. I hadn’t anticipated that I would make really great American friends in my program but also easily become friends with people of other nationalities just by going to a few events.

Paris thus far has been a study in contrast, but I am really loving my time here. All this to say, it is even better than I expected it to be in almost every single way!

(Beautiful photos taken by Eleanor)

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Eleanor Harte

Eleanor is currently studying abroad in Paris at the Sorbonne where she is taking Political Science and French classes through CEA for her junior year. Back in the USA, she goes to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she's studying Journalism and Political Science. Follow her on twitter @eleanormharte and Instagram www.instagram.com/eleanormharte.