It all started back a year ago in the 2011 fall semester: I decided I wanted to study abroad. With deciding where to go, sending applications, writing essays, and securing letters of recommendation I thought the hardest part of the process was done. The hardest part was the amount of time spent arguing with the French embassy. Just three days before leaving I was granted my student visa (with the added bonus of a working visa) to live in Paris, France. I looked around online and sent out emails looking for a place to stay in Paris and landed upon what I call a miracle; a friend of a friend was looking for an American female to live in an apartment with a woman and teenage daughter.
On January 28th I jumped onto American Airlines flight #120 with my passport, visa, one-way ticket to Paris and one suitcase that would contain my life for the next 7 months. And that’s when my freak out started. I was moving to another country with few connections. I spoke French, meaning at the very least I could ask where the bathroom was and order a meal at a restaurant. With that one-way ticket in my hand, there was no turning back.
Before leaving New York City the weather was unseasonably mild. During the first two months in Paris, the sky was a shade of cool grey number 2 (for those Parsons geeks out there) and the weather did not get any warmer than 40 degrees not including the wind chill. Did I mention that Paris is the most beautiful city in the world? The buildings are all shades of beige and cream with cast iron railings that look stunning in every season at every time of the day. I walked around my first few weeks just in awe, nearly frostbitten but loving every second of it.
My exchange university ENSCI Les Ateliers is a tiny school near the Bastille in Paris, right in the heart of it all. There were 9 of us in the undergraduate program. There were two Americans and everyone else’s first language was not English. It was a ton of fun speaking to everyone and trying to understand one another.
In the beginning I felt a bit like an idiot. I went from a very rigid learning structure at Parsons to a relaxed laissez faire method of learning in a language that I could not completely defend myself in. Parsons has its way of teaching, and ENSCI’s was the complete opposite.
Studying abroad isn’t only about the education system at the exchange university; it is also about meeting people and traveling. I did not have classes until 2:30 in the afternoon so I decided to start teaching private English lessons and having conversation partners in the mornings. I must tell you that people pay a lot to practice English with a native speaker (thank you work visa!). I saved the cash to travel within Europe. With a little coordination, planning in advance and missing a few classes (!!) I was able to purchase plane and train tickets every couple of weekends. Case in point: a round trip flight from Paris to Pisa, then Rome to Paris cost 45 Euros (around $65 dollars). I stayed in hostels and had my share of horror stories and amazing experiences. I met cool people and made new friends. I saw new sights and experienced some of the most incredible moments of my life. I went for wine tastings across Tuscany, threw coins into the Trevi fountain, walked across Brussels, biked in the rain in Amsterdam, went for a kilt fitting in Scotland, and had tapas in Barcelona. I got to ride a camel through the North African desert and hiked the Atlas Mountains.
In all honesty, I was a bit of a princess last semester. I lived out my childhood dream to study at a Parisian art school, backpacked through Europe, learned French and had experiences that I will cherish forever. Now I’m back at Parsons to finish my senior requirements completely inspired and refreshed. If you are considering study abroad I recommend it to you without any hesitation. It is worth all the frustration, all the time and all the applications. The encounters and the experiences you have are worth more than anything in the world.