After years of planning and hours upon hours of packing, I am in Paris, France. I have been anticipating my study abroad experience for the past three years.
Even before then, for the longest time, it had been my dream to go abroad. My mother had studied in Ireland, which is where she met my father. Since hearing their story, I have always romanticized the idea of starting a new life in a different country. My mother talks about her time abroad with such a glimmer of excitement, it always seemed as if she was talking about an alter ego that I would never meet.
Last year, I finally had the opportunity to travel to Ireland and meet my aunts, cousins and grandparents for the first time. It was a trip that had always seemed out of grasp because of expenses, but on a random October afternoon, my mother booked a flight so we could visit the place where it all started. I got to see the places my mother loved and meet my family — and it reminded me of how special it is to leave a bubble. I loved the idea of going abroad and knew that I wanted to study in France whenever I could fit it into my school schedule.
I must admit, I knew it would be hard to leave my aforementioned bubble. I love my bubble! I am incredibly grateful to have a home, friends and an environment at The University of Texas at Austin that is so hard to say goodbye to. Every day, I feel so loved. I would never be able to put into words how much I love my friends, roommates and family.
I think it’s because I love my life at home so much that it was time for me to branch out and experience new cultures and people. I chose to study abroad so that I could continue to build upon the excitement of being so secure in my life.
Finally, after years of planning, I decided on a departure date. I had held two jobs all summer, working over 50 hours a week to save up for my expenses. I researched, watched travel blogs and picked up a French minor. I applied for a French visa and spent time with my friends and family. Thankfully, my advisor made the process clear and easy, especially when communicating between two countries. Finally, I was ready to go.
Landing was the most heart-racing and exciting moment of my life. I was alone in a new country with a 50-pound suitcase and a dream. Paris is gorgeous — a fact widely known and shown all over the world. But a city and its beauty are never what makes life beautiful; it is the people we surround ourselves with and the experiences we go through. This is why I am so excited about what this experience opens me up to.
I went through orientation with my program, Mission Interuniversitaire de Coordination des Echanges Franco-Américains (MICEFA), the following day. MICEFA is a nonprofit organization that matches you to a French university that best fits your needs and desires for studying in France, and also provides a three-week French intensive program at the start to acclimate everyone to the language. I am about an A1/A2 level of French (intermediate) so I had classes with those who were in a similar spot.
MICEFA also provides some welcoming activities and ongoing support throughout the entire time in France. It is the backbone that keeps all the students in the program afloat. My first week, I was able to go on a boat tour of the Seine, which was “trés cool.” I met all my fellow MICEFA peers and saw so many classic monuments.
Since then, I have made friends, tried new foods and even experienced getting a cold and having to see a French doctor. The girls here became my friends quickly. This was mostly due to circumstance, but it’s so wonderful how the universe brings people together. We were matched into the same hostel room, where we all stayed for the first week until our accommodations were ready.
Every day after our French class, we get what we call “girl lunch,” where we stop at a local boulangerie for sandwiches and then walk over to the Luxembourg Gardens, only a 10-minute walk away. It is almost surreal to be in such an architecturally beautiful place. The history is so imbued in the beauty of each café or apartment building.
It has been absolutely wonderful so far, and I am endlessly excited to see how I grow as time goes on. My French is already improving, the weather is gorgeous and the city has amazing transportation services. It is hard to leave a place you are so comfortable in, but it is worth it to push yourself. You never know what could happen.
This post was contributed by Lauren Haughey, a Global Ambassador for Fall 2023. Lauren is a senior radio-television-film studies major studying abroad in Paris, France.