I’m typing this report while I’m on my flight back from Paris to Montreal, and I can’t help but to think of all the things and people I’m leaving behind (for now, I hope). In the past 4 months, I learned a lot of things that I would never have a chance to encounter back at home. When I applied for the study abroad program, I said the goal of this opportunity is to challenge myself. The challenge is to put myself outside of my comfort zone by putting myself in a country I’ve never been to, that have a language I don’t speak, and a culture I’ve never experienced. Challenge myself I have, and I left it behind with the fondest memory one could ask for.
I’m going through some of the pictures I took earlier on the trip, and I realized how clueless I was around the country, around my city, and in my host institute. As if those pictures were taken by a little boy with a camera going to school for the first time. A lot of those pictures lack intimacy and direction because I simply did not know anyone in the program nor do I really know where I was (I still blame the long flight over and little to no sleep before the big first day). As the semester goes on, I got to know everybody and became good friends with most if not all of my Erasmus program students. I truly believe that’s the greatest gift and experience out of this opportunity to study abroad.
Trust me, 4 months is a very short time. It is only roughly 120 days, or 2880 hours. I really wish at least 2000 of those hours of which I’m awake and enjoying Europe fully. So let me say this up front and direct – Don’t sleep, and go out with your friends as much as possible. Academically, that is the worst possible advice to give but then who said knowledge has to be learned academically. I learned a little German and Hungarian in terms of language; I learned how to make some Spanish dishes; and certainly learned a lot of do’s and don’ts in variety of cultures. No offense to any multicultural instructors, but I simply can’t learn this in a classroom. I really wish I had more time to learn just a little more from each and every one of my friends.
Another thing I recommend is to leave your old life behind. It sounds absurd in some way, but to some extent, it is the only way to experience the foreign culture. I didn’t exactly plan it to be this way, as I treasure my habits and routines from home. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as financially prepared as I anticipated and I soon find out I have to stop living my Vancouver life. Eating out in France was quite an experience, both good and bad, but certainly didn’t last long until it became a luxury. And soon, I start bringing home a loaf of baguette and a bottle of wine home every other day. As cliché as it sounds, it makes perfect sense. The locals would not spend a fortune on dinning everyday, as they don’t need to explore the art of French cuisine – though French cuisine isn’t all that fascinating I soon find out. I’m actually living the life a local would and nothing gives me better pleasure than that. Aside from my physical appearance and pardon my French, I wasn’t much different in daily routine than some of my French classmates. By that point, I’m pretty sure I got over my cultural shock and I love the way I live. It was that fresh breath of air away from home.
With all that said, I’ve only skimmed the surface of the experiences of my trip. The biggest advice I was given and I would pass on is to enjoy every single moment, and don’t regret that chance to do something. I’m glad I became good friends with a bunch of wonderful people scattered around the world, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again one day.