Study Abroad in Paris- My reflection

PHOTO courtesy of | Emily Kowalik ’18 reflects on her experiences at Smith’s Paris study abroad program this year.

PHOTO courtesy of | Emily Kowalik ’18 reflects on her experiences at Smith’s Paris study abroad program this year.

Emily Kowalik ’18
Assistant Opinions Editor

It’s been a little over a month since I moved to Paris, and I’m starting to uncover all the challenges that come with study abroad.

Gone are the days of waking up 15 minutes before class starts and still being able to grab breakfast, run across Elm Street and get in my seat on time. Now that I’m in Paris, my life is scheduled around how long it will take me to get somewhere by the metro. Getting to class now habitually involves sprinting into a metro car before the doors slam behind me and grabbing onto one of the poles so that I don’t fall onto one of the couple dozen people wedged in beside me as the train swerves along the tracks.

Trying to understand the complex issues of French government when it’s being explained in rapid French by my professor at Sciences Po is just one of the many challenges I face in attending French universities. Others include having libraries that only stay open until 9p.m., dealing with a grading system that’s on a scale of 20, (but in which it is rare to get a score above a 16) and trying to get a grip on completely new academic methodology while simultaneously having my work graded based on that methodology.

The language barrier is also a fact that cannot easily be ignored. For me, daily frustrations involve my attempts to converse to the clerk at the Monoprix being shot down when she responds back to me in English and daily triumphs involve people assuming I’m from a French-speaking portion of Canada. It can also be eminently disheartening to find myself unable to accurately articulate my opinions, express my feelings or even tell a joke without having to stumble around to find the right words.

Another challenge is the heartache that comes with being so far from my family. The two and a half hour flight in between Massachusetts and Indiana are nothing compared to the ocean that lies between France and my home. And then there’s the problem of the six hour time difference—interaction with my friends and family has now turned into a complicated web of figuring out schedules, time zones and Skype.

But these challenges are pale in comparison to the steady stream of benefits. In the morning, I walk through the crowded metro tunnels to the sounds of the people busking. On my way to buy lunch, I walk by streets lined with historic apartment buildings and monuments. In the afternoon, there’s an endless supply of shops, museums, galleries and world-renowned sites for me to visit. Come evening, I join my host family for dinner and talk about my day. On Friday nights, I go salsa dancing at clubs in Montparnasse, and on Sunday afternoons , I picnic with friends in the Luxembourg gardens. Living abroad has advantages I never could have found in Northampton or my hometown of Carmel, Indiana. In moving abroad I’ve been able to step into someone else’s life and live their daily experiences. While it’s undeniable that I’ve found and will continue to find difficulties during my time abroad, such challenges pale in comparison to wonderful privilege I have been granted by this immersion into Parisian life.

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