This post was contributed by Zoe Howard, a Global Ambassador for fall 2020. Zoe is a French, English, and Rhetoric and Writing junior studying abroad in Paris, France. Stay tuned throughout the semester as Zoe shares her experiences abroad!
Before this semester, I thought I knew exactly what my time abroad would look like. I pictured myself strolling the streets of Paris with the many new friends I would make from all over the world—but then COVID hit, leaving potential study abroad students like myself feeling confused and uncertain. Many study abroad programs were canceled, but I was lucky enough to be given a choice: continue with my program or defer my admission to a later semester. The “better” choice here seems obvious. Why would I even consider deferring my admission if I was given the opportunity to continue with my program?
In normal circumstances, this choice would have been easy, but I was faced with circumstances that were anything but normal. Before I made my decision, I was told that there were only three students left in my program, including me. I was also told that my time in France would be shortened by a couple of weeks to accommodate for closed visa offices. On top of all of this, international travel restrictions were continually changing, so I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to travel to France when the time came.
As someone who generally likes the limits of their comfort zone, I was tempted to defer my admission. The idea of traveling to a foreign country alone and speaking in a language I wasn’t entirely comfortable with was daunting, and the uncertainty brought by COVID only added to this intimidation. However, I decided to continue with my program despite my hesitations—and I am so glad I did. I have been in Paris for about a month, and my experience has been amazing, even though it has looked a little different than anticipated.
When I started my classes, I felt strange sitting in a classroom every day with just two other students. Even with social distancing, we didn’t even take up half of the room. However, I quickly grew to love our unconventional class size. Because there are only three of us, everyone’s voice is heard, and we have been able to have many deep and meaningful conversations about the French language and culture. These conversations have also allowed me to form meaningful relationships with my classmates and professors.
Outside of the classroom, I have gotten the unique opportunity to experience daily life in Paris during a pandemic. The streets are essentially vacant of tourists, and many places are either closed or operating with restrictions, but the city remains full of life.
Over the past month, I have visited a vast array of different places in Paris, including the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Pantheon, the Bibliothèque nationale, and the Eiffel Tower, of course. I have also experienced the more common aspects of Parisian life, such as riding the metro and stopping by a boulangerie to buy a baguette on my way home from class. Because of COVID, I wear a mask when I am not in my apartment, and I follow precautions, including using hand sanitizer and maintaining social distancing in public spaces.
While these procedures are atypical, they have not hindered my experience in Paris in the slightest. They have become part of my daily routine, and most importantly, they have taught me to embrace adaptability and open-mindedness, which are more important now than ever. In only a month, I have experienced tremendous self-growth. My French skills have improved, and I have gained a deeper understanding of French culture. I have also learned to embrace unpredictability and to push myself out of my comfort zone daily.
Traveling to a foreign country and speaking a foreign language every day is hard. It can be exhausting and even scary at times. Most days over the past month have been good ones, filled with new experiences and laughter. A few days have been challenging, also filled with new experiences but not so much laughter. Regardless, every day has been a learning experience, and every day has shown me how lucky I am to experience studying abroad.
I have two months left in France, and I cannot wait to share more about my experiences in future blog posts. I would tell you what to expect in future posts, but as I am learning to embrace adaptability and unpredictability, I think you are just going to have to wait to find out!