Confessions of a Study Abroad Student

Sitting in an American classroom with a French textbook can only do so much.  Sure, it provides the base to succeed once abroad, but touching down on French soil is an entirely different experience.  I worked in Toulouse, France last summer and love learning to travel deeper, but have never experienced a traditional study abroad experience.

I reached out to Instagram friend, fellow French lover and the blogger behind Girl With A Planner Abigail Nowell who is living in Lille, France this summer to work on her French minor – quelle rêve !  She is taking an intensive French class at L’Université Catholique de Lille where she works on oral comprehension, speaking practice and communication.  This five-week program also sets up field trips and cultural experiences for students during the week.  I asked her a few questions on what study abroad is really like:confessions of a study abroad student round trip travel.png

Q: What are some of the best ways to prepare for study abroad?

A: I would say that there is honestly no way to truly prepare completely for studying abroad (and that was hard for me as I’m someone who loves to be prepared!). My school had a pre-departure meeting, where students who had previously studied abroad came and gave advice about culture shock, packing tips, etc. I learned the most from a friend who had studied in the same city during the previous summer, and I also emailed questions to my program coordinator. But, there are always going to be things you aren’t expecting while abroad—just receive them with open arms! Sometimes the most spontaneous experiences make the best memories. 

Q: What’s been the coolest experience?

A: Visiting sites with significant history has been the coolest thing so far. Seeing the abbey on Mont St. Michel and standing on the beaches of Normandy were two experiences that almost felt like I was in a movie. Processed with VSCO with f2 presetQ: What’s been hard about living abroad?

A: The language has been the overall most challenging for me, but it’s influenced other difficulties as well. I can understand a decent amount of French here, but conversational speaking is so different than the “proper” way we learn in America. So, simple tasks like trying to find the right bus or checking out at the grocery store were a bit challenging at first.  And, as much as I love a good crêpe, I do miss the variety of food choices we have in America. Lille France Study Abroad French Abigail NowellQ: Why is studying abroad important?

A: Wow, I have so many things I could say about this. Studying abroad allows you see the world in a different way than if you were to just visit for ten days with your family. More than that, it truly fosters a sense of independence! Sure, there are other students along with you that don’t know what they’re doing either, but most of the time you have to figure it on your own. Studying abroad broadens your horizons and gives you a glimpse outside of your small personal world, as well as gives you an appreciation for other cultures and ways of life. Processed with VSCO with c1 presetQ: What are the best ways to maximize your study abroad experience?

A: This is kind of basic, but I would definitely be prepared to spend more money than you think. That way, when an incredible opportunity to go to Spain for the weekend presents itself, you have adequate funds for that trip. Also, take advantage of the resources that are provided to you! Say yes to things that are outside of your comfort zone. Take a day to adventure around your host city without a map. Do be sure to take time to rest, though. I was so excited to experience Lille and see everything in the first few days that I wore myself out and became really over exhausted. Processed with VSCO with c1 presetQ: Tell me what a day in the life of a study abroad student looks like.

A: During the week, I typically wake up around 7 (unfortunately), get ready for the day and eat a quick breakfast in my apartment. Then, I walk to the bus in time to make it to school for my first class at 9. We have a quick break around 10:30, and then we get a longer break at noon for lunch. At 1, our second class stars, and we stay there until around 4. Then, some nights, our program will have a movie night or a dinner at a local arranged, otherwise we are free to explore on our own. I typically will use that time to walk around the city, shop, or work on homework. Lille France Study Abroad Program Abigail Nowell Travel

Q: What has surprised you?  Is there anything you didn’t expect for your study abroad experience?

A: I am actually very surprised by how kind and gracious the French people are here. Most Parisians definitely fit the stereotype that the French are rude, but those in my city are very patient about trying to navigate the language barrier. I was also surprised about the city itself—for some reason I pictured a small, quaint, country town, but the city is actually decadently-sized and there are countless things to do. Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Q: How is learning French in France different from learning in a college classroom?

A: The level of intensity here is much different than my school back home. I take six hours of French each day here, which is a little more than the three hours a week I take in the U.S.! My French education thus far has mainly been grammar and writing-based, but here it is more focused on oral comprehension and speaking, which has been a bit of a challenge for me. The main method of teaching here is using articles and videos that discuss things like political, medical and ecological issues. I can honestly say that I am more tired now at the end of the day than I have ever been in college. 

Her final piece of advice: “Do things on your own! Sometimes there won’t be anyone else who wants to do the same thing as you, but that’s ok. Also, be sure to take plenty of pictures, but make sure to put your camera away sometimes and soak it all in.”

{Have you studied abroad?  What are your pro tips?}

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