How to Make the Most of Your Time Abroad



This post was contributed by Tracey Crosby.

When you think of studying abroad in Europe, you probably imagine traveling to different cities and countries every weekend. I mean, why not? Everything is so close that spending Oktoberfest in Germany is as easy as booking a flight for 60€ and hopping on a plane for an hour. Why not spend a few nights in Portugal and the next week in Switzerland? I’ll tell ya’ why. Now that I am at the halfway point of my semester abroad in Paris, I don’t ever want to leave. Like, ever. Before embarking on this wild adventure, I viewed myself solo traveling every weekend to anywhere and everywhere. But the truth is, I’ve been lacking in the ‘abroad’ part of ‘studying abroad’; this is because I’ve been investing all my time in making this city my home as much as possible. Now, before you start thinking I’m a loser who is wasting her time abroad doing nothing all day, let me explain. 

I think it’s great that people travel every weekend to see new cities. My sister is abroad in Rome at the moment, and she is the definition of ‘abroad’. She has gone away almost every weekend to the south of Italy, Spain, Germany, France – you get the picture… but she’s not the only one with this idea. A girl in my program told me that this upcoming weekend was going to be her first one actually spent in Paris.

My jaw literally dropped to the floor. I couldn’t believe that she had gone almost nine weeks living in Paris, yet hasn’t even spent a single weekend in Paris! This goes the same for plenty of other people in my program. Every week, I hear something about someone spending a weekend somewhere in Barcelona, Prague, Stockholm, Venice, Berlin – you name it, someone’s going. Sure, they’ve all been to a ton of beautiful places during the semester, but how much are they actually seeing of the place they’re currently living in?

Are they merging with the culture or living as a visitor?

I feel like this is the case with a lot of people studying abroad. They book trips as soon and as often as possible that they’re gone almost half of the week from the place they’re supposed to be living in. I’ll admit, I used to get a little jealous of people traveling to see a new city every weekend. It felt like I was going about the whole ‘study abroad’ thing all wrong. So many of my friends would be traveling while I stayed in Paris – yet again. But the reason I stay every weekend is simply that I love it so much. Now after all these weeks, I know Paris like the back of my hand- sorta. When I say it’s important to put the ‘study’ in ‘study abroad’, I don’t necessarily mean with school. In fact, I mean the opposite of school. What I mean is you should get to know your neighborhood, the language, cultural habits – heck, get to know the locals. My friends and I go to this ramen place called Hokkaido every Thursday after our language class, and we wait outside in a line to get in because it’s just that good. We always see this woman there (bless her hardworking self), and I order the same damn thing every time.

My order is a little complicated because I’m a vegetarian, but this woman always knows, without fail, what I’m about to say. One time, this guy was taking our order and I was having trouble explaining what I wanted (in French of course), and I was certain that my food was about to come out wrong. But the heavens opened up, and the woman literally came out of left field to explain my order to him.

That’s when I knew I was a regular there.

Every morning before class, I stop at the Franprix by my house before hopping on the metro and I buy a single green apple and it’s always the same man who cashes me out and I make sure to wish him a “bonne journée!” After French class, my friends and I get paninis for lunch at this place by my school because their paninis are no joke. You’d be mistaken if you think I’d pass up a panini for 3,50€. But, not everything I do in Paris involves food believe it or not. I’ve even pushed myself to interact with people at the post office to send letters to family back home in the States. My first attempt I accidentally spent 20€ on the wrong stamps, but hey, now I know.

I’ve made it a point to be home every night for my dinners with my host mom because it’s an opportunity to practice my french for an hour and get to know her and her customs a little better (plus it’s free food, so that’s a bonus). It’s these interactions that make studying abroad so special. Anyone can go to a city and see the big tourist attractions. But to completely adjust and immerse yourself into another culture is something else. Since being here, I’ve completely changed. I dress differently, I speak differently, I metro everywhere, I eat different foods on a different schedule, I tell time differently, I count money differently, yadda yadda yadda.

During the few excursions where I have left Paris, I find myself seriously missing the city. It genuinely feels like home now, instead of some way of life separate from my own.

The life I had back in the States seems so foreign to me now.

The habits I had no longer apply to my life in Paris. I had to say goodbye to English, large coffees, early dinners, driving, makeup, long showers, fresh air (if you know, you know). Sacrificing these things wasn’t the end of the world, because I know I’m gonna be back in the states in no time. But you only have so many opportunities to truly adopt another way of life.

I’ve gotten to know amazing places here hidden in the streets of Paris and connect with people on a personal level whom I might never have met. There is so much to see if you let yourself veer off the typical route to school and just explore for the hell of it. You could potentially find your new favorite bakery or garden or monument or book store.

The possibilities are endless.

Yeah, I’ll admit a small part of me wishes I took the opportunity to travel more around Europe. But, there is no right or wrong way to do study abroad. Some people simply just want to travel more than others. It doesn’t mean their experience is necessarily better or worse, it’s just different for different reasons. Of course, I dream of traveling to many more countries and cities in the future.

But for now, I still have a lot more to learn in Paris.         

Meet Tracey: I’m Tracey and I’m a Fashion Photographer from Massachusetts. I love anything and everything to do with the French language and culture- especially the pain au chocolats. I’m always either reading, writing, editing, or all of the above. But no matter what, I’m always living my best life. Keep up with me on IG.

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