Before I packed my bags and set off on my semester-long Parisian adventure, I did what almost every student who is about to go abroad does: I read a Buzzfeed article about studying abroad.
In my case, the post was titled, “43 Reasons Studying Abroad In Paris Destroys You For Life.” Contrary to how the headline sounds, the post aimed to highlight all of the amazing things about studying abroad in Paris, from its incredible cuisine to its picturesque city streets, and how such things make it almost impossible to ever live life the same way again. In short, it set some pretty high expectations for the city of lights, and it was only until after I arrived in Paris in late January that I was able to realize how on-point the post really was. With Paris’s rich history and unmatched beauty (rain or shine — though mostly rain), it didn’t take long to fall in love with the city.
But in all the ways the post is right about life in Paris, there were some things about the Parisian experience that it fails to capture.
1. You’re not a perpetual tourist.
Don’t let your friends’ Instagram and Snapchat posts fool you — study abroad isn’t all fun and games. Behind all the captured moments of touristy excursions, delicious meals and well-timed selfies, there is some serious cultural immersion taking place. For some students, this means adapting to living alone in a new city. For others, this means adjusting to life as the newest member of your host family. Whether it’s figuring out how to best maneuver around your new city or simply becoming a regular at your local patisserie, achieving a daily routine is the ultimate mark of an immersed study abroad student.
2. Despite all the fun and traveling, it’s still study abroad.
Studying in a foreign country definitely takes on a different form than what one might be used to. Just as one still has to attend class (the only difference, of course, being that sometimes your classes are held in museums — c’est la vie), you still have to account for midterms, projects and final papers.
What’s more, the learning doesn’t stop once you leave the classroom. In fact, I’ve found that some of my most challenging lessons of study abroad have appeared in places where I’d least expect them to, such as on the streets of Paris. Every metro ride becomes a lesson in French social norms (Lesson one: You should be quiet on the metro), every purchase is a lesson on handling European currency, and every dinner with my French family is a pop quiz on the news of the day. It’s a perpetual learning process.
3. Study abroad is more than just transferring one’s studies to a foreign country — it’s a cultural sabbatical.
Regardless of where you choose to study abroad, you’re ultimately going to find yourself facing a culture completely foreign to your own. Though some things like language barriers and different eating habits are easier to anticipate, other more subtle cultural differences — such as how to tip at a restaurant or even something as simple as finding cafes that offer coffee to-go — can be a bit more challenging.