Do you aspire to study abroad during your junior year? Then, boy, am I here like a sad storm cloud to rain on your beautiful dreams. Just kidding. Please don’t be discouraged by my whining. Yes, this article is going to be me complaining about my JYA experience in Paris so far, but don’t worry too much. I’m barely a month in. Classes haven’t even started. (No classes yet? Why are you complaining again, Tanya?)
I merely want to give you a few insights and realistic words of advice, lest you still naively have your head in the clouds about how amazing studying abroad is going to be. Being an international student, my mindset before coming to Paris was “Pffff I’m already abroad at Vassar. I got this.” Man, was I wrong. If you think it’s all alcohol and parties with cute European dudes, travelling and using #wanderlust, there’s a chance you’re being unrealistic. I mean, that’s my opinion. If you’re one of those cool, outgoing people (to whom I look up in awe) who leave home every morning with a skip in their step, a twinkle in their eye, no meticulous plans and ready for a brand new day, then there’s a 75 percent chance you’ll have a more interesting time than I. There’s also a 95 percent chance you’ll use cheesy phrases like “I’m just going with the JYA flow” and “I’m trying to find myself” and “Abroad changed me. I belong abroad. I feel it in my soul.” Now I’ll start complaining for real.
1) If you like amusement parks, go study abroad, because JYA can be an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes new places excite you, but sometimes you are incredibly homesick (Vassar-sick, in my case). Sometimes you feel good about meeting new people and making friends. But then it hits you that your closest friends are what a million miles away. You feel truly lonely. You start dramatically gazing out windows on subway rides. Your life becomes a music video. You start contemplating why humans have an innate need for companionship. You become a philosopher. However, you can benefit from your sadness and become an artist. The other day I wrote a free-verse poem on sadness. It was garbage, but I could feel every word. Uh-oh. I’m turning emo.
2) Saving money? You have a better chance of saving the country from the unskilled orange hands of Donald Trump. You heard me right. Your lunch can be a boring baguette sandwich that costs a decent €4. Sometimes it can cost a kidney, a piece of your soul and your first-born child (maybe even your second-born). Plus, dollar-to-euro conversions are harder than you think. If you’re someone like me, who has the need to control every penny of spending, well, you can’t. It’s too much math. Just give up and go eat a baguette.
3) Speaking of food, a warning: You’ll probably start missing the Deece. No, I’m not high. You’ll realize you don’t know how to cook, but you have to cook anyway. Sometimes your pasta turns out lumpy. You’ll eat eggs for dinner because that’s all you can cook. Sometimes you have to give up and eat a raw tomato and a baguette. You see why I miss the Deece? I’m filled with Deece-pair. (Side note: One of my main JYA gains so far is all of the puns I’ve made. Seek and I shall share!)
4) Language is another obvious hurdle. If you’re in a non–English speaking place and trying to learn a language, prepare to be embarrassed. Some strangers will judge your language and accent. It happens. Ignore them. If, like me, you know any other languages, yell out in those instead. Scare them off. One day I’ll snap at someone in Hindi and walk away. I should, however, watch it. Rich countries just need an excuse to deport me, as I’m a POC with a visa. Hard-hitting humor aside, some- times not being fluent in a language is helpful. No one can ever harass or catcall me, because I usually don’t understand all the words. A convenient situation, really! To all the women out there: If you ever get catcalled, it’s obviously your fault because you’re too good at language. Be linguistically incompetent, stay safe!
5) The last insight I want to mention is culture shock. It happens to everyone. As an international student from India, I thought I had it covered. I mean, when I came to America, I totally mastered using phrases like “How’s it going?,” smiling at strangers and making small talk with cashiers (Fun fact: We don’t do that in India. If a stranger smiles at you in India, run away!). Well, American culture certainly didn’t prepare me for French unfriendliness. You’ll realize there’s a lot of things that don’t make sense. People are rude in general, but they also come and kiss each other on the cheek (in a very unholy exchange of germs that I prefer to avoid). Speaking of kissing, you’ll see PDA wherever you go! It’s cute, but also gross. Just don’t rudely yell at Europeans to get a room. And there’s also the endless smoking. If you’re a non-smoker, your lungs will feel personally victimized in Europe.
And there you have it. A snippet of my first four weeks in France. I don’t mean to scare anyone away from JYA. Studying abroad can be an fun experience if you’re prepared for difficulties, and if you take the time to adjust. Self-care is essential, and so is accepting that it’s okay to not be okay! It helps to talk to the people you love! It took me a while, but I think I’m getting the hang of it! Au revoir. I gotta get back to eating my stale baguette.