Oswego State has a beautiful campus, but it doesn’t compare to Paris. When I studied abroad, the city itself was my school. The academic buildings were scattered around the Latin Quarter, frequented by artists, and cafés loved by Hemingway. Every day I had to cross through the Luxembourg Garden in order to get to school. Instead of stopping at the Lake Effect Café for a frappucino, I stopped at a pâtisserie (confectionary) for brioche chocolat (chocolate bread). I ate the cheese, drank the wine, wore the scarves, and breathed the nicotine-laced air. If the French really wore berets, I would’ve had one on 24/7. I spoke with people I didn’t understand, and had great, long conversations using very few words. I met a girl who spoke five languages and one who gave up a career in tennis in favor of her education. The only person I consistently spoke French with was from Turkey. I learned that while Parisian men are often slender and more effeminate, that doesn’t necessarily mean they practice proper hygiene or know how to talk to women. “Your hair smells bad,” one guy told a pretty friend of mine. After frantic investigation, another girl assured her that her hair smelled fine and in fact, “French guys will say anything in order to talk to you.”
The classes themselves were nothing special; while they certainly helped my French, I was far less academically engaged than I am here, because through every single class, I was thinking about getting out and seeing the city. One day I even cut class to visit the Louvre. As for my French, it could still stand to improve. The things I learned weren’t academic lessons, but life lessons as well.
It’s not always easy. You’ll arrive tired, maybe a little scared, possibly having lost your luggage, and you’ll return tired, maybe a little scared, praying that your luggage hasn’t gotten lost. But you’ll likely also feel grateful that at you’ll at least be able to talk to the airport attendant in English. You’ll have to work to make new friends. You’ll have to learn to budget, sometimes by trial and error. You’ll have to adjust to the customs and the schedule of the country in which you’re studying. For instance, Parisian nightlife is incredibly popular, but the métro (train station) closes at 1:30 am. If you don’t make it, you could be stuck on the other side of town until six in the morning. Needless to say, my friends and I did a lot of walking, discovered a lot of nearby bars and, more importantly, discovered cheap wine and Saturday nights by the Seine River.
No matter where you are, you’ll be surprised at what you learn. I never thought I’d fall in love with frozen yogurt in France, or that I’d read as much English literature by choice as I did. Who knew you could be homesick for a language? I became used to seeing homeless people and wearing an angry, indifferent sneer on my face (not because it was the French thing to do, but because it often deterred unwanted attention). I learned more British slang than I ever planned to, and because my roommate was both French and Muslim, I learned about how the French view religion.
Crazy things will happen, not because you’re in an abnormal place, but because you’re displaced from your accustomed surroundings. I saw spontaneous parades, a place called “Erotic Supermarket,” break-dancing on corners, Ben Affleck going for a casual stroll, and plenty of public urination. A friend went to see the film “Midnight in Paris,” and saw the theatre she was sitting in on-screen.
The world is becoming smaller every day, and seeing as much of it as we can is one of the best ways to improve it, along with ourselves. This alone is a great reason to study abroad. It also looks wonderful on a resumé and helps with making connections. But the best reason of all, the one that will last, are the stories you’ll always be able to tell.