I recently went to Paris to study abroad. I’m an architecture student in my fourth year, and for the Fall 2013 semester I packed my bags (clothes, archie supplies, and the bare essentials) and hopped on the nine hour flight from Chicago to Paris, France.
Was I scared? Yes.
Did I know French? No.
But was the experience one I would never trade in a million years? Yes.
Not only did I learn about how another part of the world lives, but I also changed as a person. I grew more worldly and got more of a backbone. I learned that my awkwardness isn’t as crippling in meeting new people as I thought. And even though I didn’t know the language of many people who I talked to, I still held conversations (with lots of dramatic arm movements). And when I ran into people around Paris who needed help finding their way around? I could help! I got stopped numerous times by people who spoke English (and some who didn’t) and was able to point them in the direction that they wanted to go.
I really became a part of the atmosphere and population of Paris in my four months studying there and living in a Parisian apartment on the hill of the Sacre Coeur in the North of Paris.
I also was able to practice my languages! I speak Spanish, and our week-long class trip to Barcelona helped me polish up on what I had forgotten. I also learned many French words, even though when I first went I only knew how to say ‘cheese omelette’ ‘butterfly’ ‘hello’ ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m very sorry, but I don’t speak French.’ I ended up being able to order food without hassle (though watch out for the McDonald’s there. 13 bucks for a meal.) And really, don’t worry if you don’t know the language. In my experience, as long as you try, people will always help you. English is a very widely known language, but that doesn’t mean that you can just default to it. You’ll be met with annoyance if you do so. Try to speak the language of the place that you are going to, and you’ll get really far and people will always be open to helping you.
I didn’t only see Paris, either. We went on class trips to Barcelona and Amsterdam and I also went solo to Mannheim and London. Doing those two trips by myself took a lot of planning and finding my own hostels and getting the bravery up in order to hop a train alone, but they were truly life-changing and amazing. I gave my all to make the best and the most of those four months, even battling my way through hangovers and horrible throat colds. I saw so much architecture and culture and so many interesting people; people from all over Europe speaking all kinds of different languages and dressing in so many different ways. And when you end up meeting another American in your journeys, it’s amazing to be able to talk about Chicago and IIT.
I met lots of new people in my travels, ate SO MUCH AMAZING FOOD, and got closer with the rest of my 18-person architecture studio who I was traveling with. I have memories that I never ever want to lose, and probably never will. Some parts were difficult, but that’s the price you have to pay in order to have an amazing experience that will change your life. The world is an amazing place, and it can’t be seen only through pictures and video. You’ll never know what is out there until you pack your bags and go!
And don’t worry. Chicago will still be here when you get back.