One of the biggest tropes of preparing to study abroad is having incredibly lofty expectations about your time in another country. I had romantic visions of myself riding a bike with a baguette in the basket and picnicking in a different country every weekend.
Me as I imagined myself, very French.
When I got here, I remembered that first of all, Paris is incredibly dangerous for bikers. And while they may look have a nice aesthetic for photos, berets are generally a very unflattering hat. So this expectation was never going to come true. Here’s a list of some other expectations and reality checks I’ve had since coming here!
Expectation: I was going to live in a foyer with the other French students and make a ton of French friends.
Reality: After a month in my foyer, I decided it just wasn’t for me. It was hard to cook since the only kitchen in the building was down five flights of stairs, with no elevator. I didn’t have a mini-fridge so I was keeping my milk and cheese on the windowsill, and they blew off during a storm one night. And most French students weren’t that interested in befriending an American student who was only going to be there for a few months. The only friends I made in the foyer were exchange students from Minnesota (A true expectation: Minnesotan friendliness!). I had decided not to live with a host family since my aunt and my cousin lived in Paris, and it seemed weird to live with another family while my family was already there. Lucky for me, my family was very generous and let me come live with them! Living with my family has been excellent. Perks of living with them: a small dog named Garbi, a 10-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower, and a cousin who will let me pose her for pictures with the Galentines Day cake I baked.
Expectation: I was going to speak French all the time with my awesome French friends.
Reality: This one goes hand-in-hand with my first expectation. I spend most of my time out and about with American friends from APA, and when we’re together we speak English. At home with my family, we speak English and Spanish, so going to Paris for the semester is improving my Spanish a lot too. At first I felt like maybe I was cheating myself out of the true abroad experience — you hear stories of overachievers who didn’t speak English for the entire time they were abroad, and who came back totally immersed in a new culture. But I also realized that speaking English makes sense. It’s how we’re used to communicating with each other, and after a long day of French classes, it’s nice not to have to be “on.”
Me with APA friends walking across the Seine after a trip to the Assemblée Nationale.
Expectation: I would travel to a new country every weekend and see all of Europe!
Reality: Travel is expensive! Some people make entire careers of blogging about how they travelled to 15 countries for $100, but I’m not one of those people. I’m unwilling to give up my daily croissant, even if that means not being able to afford that 10-hour bus ticket to Vienna. Maybe it’s hypocritical to write this from my first weekend away in Prague (Czech me out!), but Paris is excellent. And it’d be hard to get the full study abroad experience of the city if I was constantly leaving to go somewhere else.
Who would want to leave a city that looks so pretty sous la neige?
Off to czech out some Czech cuisine! (And how many times I can repeat the same pun before Caroline leaves me here).