Looking back over these last three and a half months, it’s hard to sum up exactly what this experience has meant to me. It is safe to say, however, that my quarter abroad was not at all what I expected, for better and for worse.
Honestly, it wasn’t easy. Dealing with the language barrier, culture shock, and homesickness, there were times that I didn’t feel that being abroad was the “best few months of my life,” like some people will claim. At the risk of sounding too negative, I’d like to add that these feelings of frustration and loneliness had an ultimately positive impact on me.
My time abroad has shown me that it’s okay to not always be okay. Even if everyone else looks like they’re doing great on social media, everyone has their struggles, particularly when abroad. In a city like Paris, it’s easy to feel guilty for not seeing or doing more, but the fact of the matter is that Paris is a city like any other. People study and work and life carries on like anywhere else, except with prettier buildings and better bread. Studying abroad isn’t a vacation, it’s real life, and real life has its ups and downs. Ultimately, I learned to be more independent and to pay attention to and advocate for my own mental wellness.
Aside from the exposure I got to Paris’ culture and history, perhaps the most beneficial thing I got from being abroad was the ability to be more independent and to show my integrity even 5,000 miles from home. Even more than my first two years at Northwestern, traveling abroad forced me to become more mature and to rely on and take care of myself.