Adventures in Study Abroad by Julie L. Parenteau, Ph.D.
Fifteen years ago, I embarked on a journey that would forever change my life. I left home to study abroad as part of an exchange program coordinated between my home university and one in Rouen, France. As I look back on that period, I see how that experience shaped my career decisions, personality, and values. This month I will reflect on some of those experiences. I will start with my departure from Wisconsin.
With enough luggage to provide for an entire family, I left for O’Hare airport in Chicago on that brilliant August day. I don’t recall being nervous, but as a 20-year old college kid from a small farm town in Wisconsin who had never lived away from home, I must have been.
Into the Brave New World
All I remember is that I was incredibly excited to go back to France and to visit with my best friend. I achieved a life-long dream of visiting France two years earlier with my high school French class, but this was different. This time I would be on my own, forced to fend for myself without the security of a bilingual teacher to translate if needed. I was fully independent.
After a roughly eight-hour flight, I arrived in Amsterdam, my first stop. Outside the baggage claim I was greeted by my dear friend who had been an exchange student at my high school during our senior year. Occasional phone calls and Christmas cards kept us in touch, but seeing her waiting for me warmed my heart. It also made managing all my luggage much easier! Thank goodness her father had invested in an American-made car or we may not have fit the passengers and luggage in the car. (Yes, I have since learned to pack MUCH differently!)
Along the drive, I looked around at everything through a jet-lag induced haze. From what I could see, The Netherlands looked a lot like Wisconsin. Lots of farm land and vibrant green vegetation as far as the eye could see.
After we arrived, her family sat down with me to inquire about my trip over coffee and snacks. It didn’t take long for them to see how tired I was and offered to let me sleep for a bit. I accepted.
Clogging around The Netherlands
The next day our adventure began. Before we even left the house, I managed to short circuit their entire home when I used the wrong adapter for my hair dryer. I was mortified!
The rest of the week was filled with trips to fishing villages in the north, museums in the south, a late night bike ride to a pub with her friends, and wandering the streets of Amsterdam. It was just the kind of welcome I needed to ease into the idea of spending four months away from home. It also allowed me to overcome the jetlag before heading into the classroom.
At the end of the week, all of my luggage and I got on a train in Utrecht headed to Paris. As the train pulled into the train station, the nervousness began to creep into my mind. Here I was with an impossibly large suitcase, a duffel bag, a shoulder bag, and a backpack and no idea where I had to go to get my train to Rouen. A young woman stopped to help me, explaining that I had to take a bus to Gare St. Lazarre.
I don’t think I will ever forget the looks on the driver’s or other passengers’ faces as I maneuvered my bags onto the bus. I was every bit the American tourist. My jeans, t-shirt, tennis shoes and incredible amount of luggage screamed AMERICAN! I was mortified once again!
Thankfully, the other passengers helped me navigate the stops to get off at Gare St. Lazarre and I boarded the train for Rouen. It had already been quite a day and I was tired. A woman noticed and started to speak with me. I explained that I would be studying there, which
My Study Abroad Home
excited her so much that she offered to give me a ride to my university once we got off. Once again all of my bags were loaded up into a European compact, leaving barely enough room for me to sit.
Pulling up to the university gave me a sense of relief. At last, I had made it. This is where I would live for the next four months. This is where I would learn to count on my own ingenuity and become resourceful. This is where I would gain independence and strength of character. This is where I would get lost and find myself. This is where my world would open up and where I would come to numerous realizations about who I was and where I wanted to go in life. Of course I was blissfully unaware of the overall impact of this trip until much later, but as I reflect on the course my life has taken over the past 15 years, I am fully cognizant as to why I am where I am and how I got here. That is a humbling feeling.
Please tell me how your study abroad experience has impacted your life by leaving a comment! I would love to hear from you!
For more information on how I have applied my study abroad experience in my own life, visit www.global-perceptions.com.
“Linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com” – See more at: http://www.smallplanetstudio.com/2014/02/28/february-mygloallife-link-up/#sthash.LHzXs3QW.dpuf