Reflections on a year abroad in Paris

Photo Courtesy Of | Emily Kowalik ’18 reflects on her year abroad in Paris and how it has changed her perspective.


Emily Kowalik ’18
Opinions Editor

As my year abroad draws to a close, I have begun to reflect on whether I will be returning to Smith this fall with the same perspectives as when I left. By the time I return to the United States, I will have been abroad almost 10 months. I have grown a lot since the day I set off for my study abroad adventure in Paris. In so many ways, I will be forever grateful to Smith for giving me the opportunity to spend my junior year abroad.

Here are a few of the things that I learned:

I have changed. My time abroad has given me greater confidence. The more time you spend abroad, the more you realize that studying at a different school in a different country is only one small part of it.

I can deal with many different situations. I can open a bank account in a different language. I can handle real life situations, such as sickness and emergencies. I can navigate travel by bus, train and metro.

I made some great new friends.  After I was deprived of American Netflix (and given the vastly inferior French Netflix instead), I began to spend more time interacting with others. I discussed the intricacies of French politics with French citizens, and fielded questions about how Americans were reacting to President Trump. I began to step away from my more insular view of the world and began to view things from a more global, as opposed to solely American, perspective.

I can navigate through the mundane and the complicated. I developed a good balance between school and travel opportunities, putting in enough time and effort to do a great job at both. I had the chance to do quite a bit of globetrotting and visited six countries, thanks to the comprehensive network of trains, budget airlines and Airbnbs in Europe. I wonder if I will find Northampton confining or comforting when I return.

I learned to enjoy—or at least endure—the atmosphere of a big city like Paris. The city has all of the amenities that make an urban place vibrant and exciting; Paris is abundant with museums, parks, cultural institutions, highly regarded universities and historical monuments. On the other hand, I miss the coziness of living on campus. In Northampton, I love that I can’t go a day without running into a dozen people who know me.

I worked very hard to embrace life in Paris. I attempted to be more friendly and outgoing, eager to meet and befriend new people and seek out as many opportunities as possible. Whether this meant small things such as going for picnics along the Seine, asking my friends over for movie night at my host family’s apartment, or finding places to go dancing, these all represented the kinds of things I was always wanting to do in Northampton, but didn’t often get around to.

All of the opportunities and experiences I seized while in Paris drive home to me the point that life is what you make it. This is the lesson that I hope to carry home with me.

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