From May to June, I found myself waking up with a view of the Arc de Triomphe only a street away from my host family’s home. I tookthe métro to class, passed teeming open markets, and stopped by a bakery for a warm pain au chocolat, or a chocolate croissant, evey morning.
In the spring, I decided to complete my French minor—not with a whimper, but with a bang—by studying abroad in Paris, France. I shopped around different France programs at the Study Abroad Fair, attending follow-up meetings, and ultimately chose UF in Paris, which took place in Summer A.
From picnicking beneath the Eiffel Tower to watching the sunset from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, there were so many incredible experiences that could not have happened any other way. It felt surreal to be able to speak French outside of a classroom for the first time in seven years—I spoke to vendors, people who needed help with directions, my host family, and many others in French. To waiters, I would often ask, “Je voudrais une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plait,” which means “I would like a pitcher of water, please,” in English. Paris was our classroom. We traveled daily to different museums for our art history class, and we were able to see sculptures and paintings, such as Leonardo DaVinci’s “La Jaconde” and Pablo Picasso’s “Le Mort de Casagenas,” with our very own eyes, instead of a Google image on a PowerPoint. These museums included Le Louvre, Le Musée d’Orsay, Centre Georges Pompidou, and various others. As for our linguistics class, we interacted with different individuals to distinguish the French of one place from another.
The academic portion of studying abroad is very unique. One can travel to countries at any point in one’s life, and one can even speak foreign languages whenever abroad, too. However, there is something distinct about being abroad with the purpose of earning college credits. These courses enable you to learn in a setting that facilitates the learning of the subject at hand. In Paris, we learned about French linguistic variations by actually visiting different parts of Paris with different cultural backgrounds and speaking to the inhabitants. Belleville, for example, is a neighborhood in Paris in which Edith Piaf, celebrated singer of “La Vie en Rose,” was born. The streets of Belleville did not have pastel-colored, tall buildings, as I had grown accustomed to, but were rather filled with crowded, graffiti-covered ones. There were heaps of trash in front of the schools. Many different languages could be heard, not only French.
Learning abroad is very different from learning in a classroom on campus in Gainesville—in a good way. One is not necessarily superior to the other, but the resources abroad are the ones that you will not find on campus. This distinction will diversify your learning experience in memorable ways, especially for programs focused upon foreign language acquisition. With UF in Paris, French was not only practiced in the classroom; it was practiced constantly. Each time I had to eat or speak to my host family, I had to speak in French. When I went shopping, I spoke French whenever I had any questions. Even at the Charles de Gaulle airport on the day I left Paris, I asked airport personnel for assistance to find my terminal.
Being abroad also means being outside of your comfort zone, and this is as good as everyone says. The University of Florida International Center (UFIC) provides every resource you can imagine, so that you feel that you have all the support while abroad. At the pre-departure meeting for this summer’s trips, one advisor shared stories of her own experiences with home sickness the first time she studied abroad. I myself did not feel homesick, but I was fairly nervous prior to the trip. The advisers showed us that they have been through the spectrum of emotions, both positive and negative, while abroad, so they can anticipate students’ needs.
You may feel that you must deter yourself from studying abroad because of the cost. Studying abroad is definitely not an inexpensive venture; it’s a fairly high investment, especially if you study abroad for an entire year. However, there is a plausible solution to this: scholarships. The UFIC offers a broad range of scholarships, and as a student in the Honors Program, you have access to a scholarship only for the Honors students. Since the University of Florida has such a vast student base, I imagined it would be difficult to receive a scholarship. The UFIC makes this process very easy because it’s one application for myriads of scholarships, and based on your merits, essays, and a recommendation letter, they decide which scholarship is best for you, if any. In spite of my low expectations, I applied and was granted the Wentworth Honors Scholarship, which is only available to students in the Honors Program and awards up to $1500. This scholarship helped me significantly, and it made me even more grateful to be an Honors student. The Honors website offers more detailed information about this scholarship. Several other students on the trip had earned scholarships as well.
I encourage you to study abroad, or at the very least, consider the idea. I highly recommend it for those who are majoring or minoring in a foreign language. Apply to scholarships, speak to study abroad advisers at the UFIC, and shop around different programs—you will likely find one that is suitable for someone in your financial situation and career path. This experience is unlike any other—one that could only happen in college. My study abroad experience was better than I had anticipated—and I had had high expectations. I could not help but often think of what Ernest Hemingway says in A Moveable Feast: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
Photography: Lindsay Narbeth