As I write this final blog post from a hotel room in London, I am realizing how familiar Paris has come to feel over the past few weeks. From my daily commute on the metro to the streets around my host family’s apartment that I had memorized, I admit I was a little sad to say goodbye. Ultimately, I am so grateful that I had this opportunity to study abroad; it was one of the most enriching experiences I have ever had. I was able to thoroughly learn about a different culture, even some of the more subtle nuances. Because there were only two students from Pitt, we were placed in a group with other interns from UVA and Wake Forest, giving me the opportunity to make friends and expand my network to other schools. Over the course of my time abroad, I learned how to balance work and leisure. In the beginning, it was difficult to see and do everything that I wanted, while at the same time getting enough sleep to be alert and ready to work the next morning. However, over time, as my routine became more established, I figured out how to take in the culture and beauty of the city while also responsibly handling my responsibilities at work.
I would say one of the most pronounced growths that I have seen in myself is an increase in confidence. When I first arrived in Paris, as anyone would be, I was disoriented and a bit overwhelmed by the new setting. Any mishap that would occur, whether that was a malfunctioning metro pass or a mistake in speaking French, would stress me out for at least the next few hours. Though I knew that I was there to practice my French by speaking with local people, I found myself a bit petrified to speak for fear that I would make a mistake and get judged. To help me learn, my coworkers especially made sure to point out any mistakes I made and correct them, which I initially took personally. However, as time went on, I learned to become less self-conscious, and that even if I make mistakes, those could be the most efficient method of learning. I began speaking French with locals no matter what, and even if I spoke incorrectly or lost a word, I worked through it. I also became more adaptable in the face of challenges that came with living in a new city. There were numerous times where I had trouble with my metro pass, took the wrong train, or things simply did not go according to plan. In the beginning, these would essentially ruin my day, as I did not know how to deal with them immediately. With time, however, I learned to figure things out simply by staying calm, and soon navigating life in Paris became relatively easy.
Professionally, working in an international environment, especially a hotel, helped me lay a strong foundation for an international career, whether that means working with people from other cultures in the US, or working in another country altogether. For one, my supervisor’s style of coaching me was relatively different from what I experienced in the US, especially in the sense that it was much more direct and constructive. In the beginning, this was difficult for me to adapt to, as I interpreted it as harsh, but I soon became accustomed to it by opening my mind to the fact that it was simply a cultural difference. Because we worked with clients from around the world, including Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Poland, the Netherlands, Canada, and the US, to name a few, I began to pick up on general expectations and behaviors that each nationality had. This heightened level of cultural sensitivity helped me anticipate their needs and what to offer them, as well as how to interact with them. While some nationalities are more chatty, like Americans and Brazilians, others are more reserved, such as Germans and Japanese. Americans tend to like their rooms cleaned more often, but Europeans are okay with saving time and energy and skip it. Though it’s true that I won’t be encountering people in a hotel setting, I feel that this experience nonetheless has laid a good foundation for working with people of diverse backgrounds.
Overall, I believe that this experience has made me a more adaptable, open-minded person, which I find to be indispensable in this increasingly globalized world. I have developed a more proficient level of French and have also learned the cultural conventions of the workplace, which is something that I never learned in the classroom. This will be useful for my future career in that it will open doors for jobs and connections across Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. I can also see my cultural immersion helping me immensely with my French minor that I am pursuing at Pitt. Knowing the current language that locals use between themselves, as well as the cultural nuances that support the language, will provide a new dimension of learning to any French classes that I take in future semesters. Hopefully, I can ultimately use this experience to bring a more worldly and global perspective to my future, both academically and professionally. Again, I am so thankful to have completed this program, and look forward to seeing how I will use the skills I have acquired going forward!