5 Lessons Living Abroad Taught Me

It was when I got lost in the Paris, France, Metro tunnels that I realized I was so happy to be abroad albeit lost in a city so beautiful (well, above ground). For four weeks I was free from the stresses of home, school, work and swimming, which gave me ample time to explore a city where I always wanted to live. 

My situation was unique; I had obligations to swim and train on the American University swim team and did not want to take a semester away from school in DC to lose out on a season. I went abroad this summer for the month of July in Paris, while I had off from training. I took a French language course through the MICEFA program offered by AU and refined my skills from high school French class. I also refined my skills in ordering chocolate croissants and finding the most beautiful gardens. 

After a month away from DC, I expected to return with a different perspective on my life going into my senior year. My mini study abroad experience provided me with everything I wanted plus some unexpected lessons. Here are some things I took home with me besides a second suitcase full of new clothes and shoes.

1. Do things alone. Take time to do things you want to do. This is your abroad experience, so break away from the group if you need to. No one knows who you are or where you're from, so order two desserts and an espresso and sprawl out in a café, whatever.

2. Get over yourself. If you’re shy like me, take time abroad to let your guard down. Talk to people you might not talk to at home and care a little less about how you look to others. 

3. Realize your strengths and weaknesses. Being in a foreign place and speaking another language can be mentally exhausting. So can be using public transportation (without air conditioning) and navigating all day. You can't accomplish everything in one day, so plan your days abroad by doing research so you can see everything you want.

4. Don’t stress about “things you can do at home” versus abroad. I went and saw Magic Mike XXL alone, unabashed. The familiar movie theather atmosphere reminded me of home and the film was even better with French subtitles.

5. Be aware of your surroundings. It’s fun being in Europe where you can party pretty much anywhere at any time, but you should be alert. Europeans love Americans and will want to get to know you. They may look nice but may not have the best intentions.

(But still, go to the disco!!)

Even just for a month-long class, think about study abroad. There are many ways to study abroad through American University and have a fantastic learning experience. It is one that many students from AU are fortunate enough to have in their four years. Many programs take financial aid and offer classes at foreign universities that go toward your majors, minors or electives.

Check out my abroad photo blog of Paris and Cannes, France, at 5 Weeks in France. Here's a peak below!

Image Credit: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5