For as long as I can remember, studying abroad was at the very top of my college checklist. I knew without a doubt that I was going to take advantage of the opportunity to study in Paris for a semester during my college career, and I thoroughly researched study abroad opportunities as I was applying to colleges during high school. Once I began attending Princeton, I started to plan it all out, and I was so excited.
But about a month or so before I was going to head to Paris for the fall semester, I realized that I actually had absolutely no idea what my life would be like in Paris. My nerves started to kick in and make me question my choice to go abroad. The thing is that I am totally a routine person — I’m that person who eats the same thing for breakfast every day and never gets tired of it, and I love nothing more than a checklist and a plan! So, a few weeks before I left, knowing that I already had a whole life and routine and friends I love at Princeton made me really start to wonder if a semester in Paris was such a good idea...
Well, even just a week into my semester here, I was truly so glad that I followed through with studying abroad and that I am here. It’s been a great learning experience for me both in my classes and beyond the academics, and I thought that I’d share a few reasons why I can say that.
1. First of all, studying abroad has shown me the benefits of keeping an open mind. As I mentioned, I began the semester with some reservations, but I knew I had to begin the fall with an open mind, in spite of my fears. I love the fact that each school year is a fresh start, and I realized that this semester abroad could truly be a new beginning. In a new country, complete with an introductory orientation program, I essentially had the opportunity to be a freshman again, and I realized that was pretty exciting (as I’m always wishing that I could eternally be a freshman at Princeton and have four years ahead of me forever). In short, not being at Princeton gave me a unique opportunity to create a new routine. It still involves classes, time with friends, fun food and exploration (and yes, pretty much the same breakfast every day!) — but in different places in an amazing city. It has shown me that I can build a life I love no matter where I am and can learn a lot when I choose to focus on the positive in new situations.
2. I’ve also learned to define success more broadly. At Princeton, I’ve tended to measure the success of my semester primarily by the grades I’ve earned and by how much I’ve learned in my courses. But here, I’ve gained an expanded view of success. Now, things like figuring out the metro system in Paris (all 14 lines, I might add!), having a really fluent French conversation with a new acquaintance, learning how to cook French crepes (Nutella and apple maple compote, anyone?), and independently finding a doctor in Paris when I got sick have become big accomplishments that I take pride in, along with my school work. So, I think that being off campus for a while has helped me acquire a more balanced view of my studies and my personal goals.
3. It has also been very rewarding to be in Paris because for several months I am experiencing life in the French university system. I hadn’t realized before coming here how much universities vary from country to country, and this experience has forced me to push myself as a student in new ways. Not only are all of my classes entirely in French, but the type of homework here emphasizes oral presentations (we call them exposés) and very precise, organized writing, so it is helping me become a stronger student in these areas. I’ll be able to bring this new knowledge back to Princeton with me in the spring, and although it is sometimes quite challenging, I know I’ll be proud of my hard work at the end of the semester.
4. And finally, time just flies. I now see that I will be back at Princeton before I know it, so it motivates me to see and embrace this time in Paris while I am here. During these 15 weeks, I have been able to visit the very places that my French classes at Princeton have focused on for the past two years, and this has been such an amazing experience. Knowing that I have had two fall semesters at Princeton — and knowing that I still have one more to enjoy ahead of me — makes me certain that I made the right decision in choosing to spend this fall abroad in France!