Before last week, I’d never been to France. In fact, I’d never even been to Europe. Regardless for the past two years, I’ve been planning (and hoping!) to live abroad in ce merveilleux pays for the year of my exchange.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the reasons I decided to come to Glendon College was because of the international Bachelor of Arts programs, which, among other things, do require you to participate in an exchange. The idea of studying in a foreign country, while perfecting my french, and experiencing la vie within a new cultural setting (and with that, the FOOD along the way…) has been a truly driving force for me since I began here at Glendon.
However, though I was working towards such a goal, I was entirely convinced that I would not get the chance to actually see the land to which I planned on moving before I began my year abroad. And, “Why not?” people would ask me.
“It’s too expensive.”
“I don’t have time.”
“I’ll probably end up there eventually anyways…”
And I was right! It is expensive to travel across the world on a student budget, when you’re short on time between studying throughout the year and working throughout the summer. And then of course, why waste both time and money on a trip you should be doing for your exchange anyways?
This is why! (Rather, this is me, with a bike, in a small town called Lion-sur-mer in Normandy… But you get the picture)
The answer is : Because life doesn’t always pan out the way we think it will. Because sometimes knowing cultural details about a country is NOT the same as experiencing them. Because if, like me, you want to spend this much time and money investing in a year abroad, you’ll want to enjoy it.
So, how did this come to pass?
Well, the opportunity so arose that I would be able to stay with a close friend (who I met while he was on exchange at Glendon last year), who both lived in the centre of Paris and whose grandmother had a house in Normandy, during Co-Curricular Week (also known as Reading Week). This made the trip much less expensive than it could have been and the timing was perfect for me to go on a vacation.
I realized on my trip that though I “knew” France, I didn’t KNOW France, and I am now, more than ever, anticipating my exchange! I was able to spend my time there, not necessarily as a tourist (though, naturally, I did the touristy things), but also in the company of those who had been born and raised in Paris, and who helped me to experience the culture in an organic way. I still don’t think I’ve realized how lucky I am to have had this experience.
I took this photo on the last night there!
Please, don’t get me wrong. I am absolutely not saying that you MUST visit the country you want to study in beforehand. As I said in the response to a formspring question
it is sometimes a good idea to take advantage of the time that is given to you, and in this case, I did and used it as “preview of coming attractions” if you will.
As for my exchange? Just before I left for Paris, I completed my interview at Glendon to be accepted into the program. The interview was a discussion on why I wanted to go, how I would pay for it, why would an exchange benefit me, and so on and so forth. While I was in Paris, I got an email response declaring my acceptance into the program!
However, there was a catch…
I was not accepted into my first choice of Paris! I was disappointed, I will admit, but I do realize now how good it was that I had seen the city and enjoyed it so much. I should be studying in a city called Rennes next year instead and am ecstatic for the opportunity. While in Paris, I spoke to several people who had gone on exchange before. One had gone to a school in Maryland which was situated outside of any town or city! And another had gotten rejected from his first 4 choices, and though he was disappointed, he says that the year spent at his 5th choice was one of the best of his life.
I realized that it wasn’t the city, the school, or even the country that will make it a success. It’s you. I fell for Paris, I know that, and I can’t wait to return. Now, however, I’m ready to fall in love with Brittany (the region in which Rennes is situated) and go to a school that shares characteristics with the school I love here at home, Glendon. Both smaller schools with friendly and helpful atmospheres. It may not be what I at first wanted, but I know now, that it’s probably what I needed.
Me, standing guard at the Jardin du Luxembourg (garden of the Palais du Luxembourg, which houses the French Senate)
For further reading about getting oot and aboot, I read this after coming back from France and really wish I had linked to it from my Formspring answer I mentioned above!