Gratitude, independence, wanderlust – just a few words that come to mind when I reflect on my past 3 months in France. When I first arrived here, I tried my best to have little to no expectations of how the semester would look, so that I could remain open minded to the possibilities of what it could become. After 3 months, I never could have imagined all the places I would visit, people I would meet, and experiences I would have during my semester abroad.
It is difficult to describe my experience without writing a 5-page essay, but I can try to sum it up. While living abroad, it hasn’t taken monumental experiences to become special memories in my mind. In 5 years from now, I will remember the woman at the bakery I visited every week, the urgency of Parisians on the TGV, and the magic of having a conversation in French without the other person switching to English. Of course, I will also remember the rich museums, lively cities, and beautiful architecture, but I know that I will hold the day-to-day experiences closer. My favorite aspect of study abroad was that everyday presented new experiences, opportunities, and challenges. Everyday was an opportunity to grow.
During my time here I have experienced a lot of “firsts”. It was my first time living on my own. My first time traveling solo. My first time relying on my French to get me through my day. My first time navigating a new city to live in. And many more first experiences. Studying abroad has been so formative for me because it forced me out of my comfort zone and into real life situations so that there was no way for me not to grow and learn. Although I have learned a lot about European cultural norms, cheap travel hacks, and useful slang words, the most valuable lesson that I’ve learned has been to be ambitious and take advantage of every moment because time goes by much faster than you could expect it to. For me, this has meant saying yes to last minute plans, visiting cities that I didn’t originally plan to, and initiating conversations with whomever I could.
When I return to Pitt and for the rest of my academic and professional journey, I will take advantage of opportunities when they become available, seek out diverse perspectives because I know how valuable they can be, and communicate effectively to connect with the people around me because I know the value of community. As beautiful as a city can be, it really is the people who make the place. Although I will be itching to travel again once I get back home, I am excited to bring my experiences back to my friends and family and continue to learn and grow.