How Not to Study Abroad

Alise's Writing

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(^^the first/best time that I was in Paris)

In the fall of 2012, I studied abroad in Paris. I loved traveling in Europe but, to be honest, I didn’t really like the program that I was in. If you are looking to study abroad, learn from my mistakes on what not to do!

1. Know the climate of the place in which you will be living.

I sort of didn’t realize that Paris is really cold and cloudy in the fall… I had been there once before at the end of September, and the weather was sunny and perfect. However, living there in October and November was basically like living in Seattle, and we all know how I feel about that. To summarize, I’m physically incapable of dressing properly for cold weather, and the grey days punctuated by 4:30 PM sunsets were not so fun. I wish that I would have…

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A Year Later

Holy shit. One year ago today, my mommy and daddy dropped me off at LAX, and I ended up in Istanbul. Well, I landed in Paris and had 20 minutes to go through security and sprint to my connecting flight, somehow accomplished that task, and then landed in Istanbul. I’m also 98% sure that I saw Harry Styles from One Direction at LAX.

Anyhow, I remember feeling weirdly disconnected from the whole experience. Any other time that I have been at the airport, about to embark on an exciting trip to a new, exotic place, I had felt, well, excited; this time, though, it just felt hazy and surreal.

I had spent the past several months of my life feeling hazy and surreal.

My weekdays were spent studying literature- an endeavor that was increasingly becoming more pointless in my eyes- that were punctuated by weekends of underage getting-as-drunk-as-possible at house parties or, when I was “dragged” to them, frat parties. I spiced things up by salsa dancing and serial dating.

I was afraid of being alone; my growing distaste for alcohol was trumpeted by my fear of being alone on a Friday night while all my friends went out to parties. I always, always had to have a guy in my life- even if he only treated me well half of the time; even if he was an ex-boy whom I chose to forgive; even if, deep down, I knew we were wrong for each other. Having someone, even if that someone didn’t make me feel like a Goddess, seemed better than having no one.

Here I was, twenty years young, releasing my own power to be at the whim of others’. My parents, peers, and society at large were telling me that I had to be in school because that’s what you’re supposed to do and if you take time off you’ll never go back- even though I was growing more and more discontent. I was releasing control over my own actions every time that I drank way more than my lanky frame could handle, all in the name of wanting to fit in with my friends. I released control of my self-esteem to the mercy of flaky, hormonal college boys.

This didn’t all cease the moment that I saw minarets intermingling with trendy shopping in Istanbul.

Everyone who read my travel blog and saw my pictures marveled at how much fun I was having and how adventurous I was being. It honestly was very fun, but in the name of not wanting to reveal my personal business to all my Facebook friends, my mom’s entire email list, and some random people on the Internet who found my blog somehow, I hid the difficult stuff. Sure, I would reveal getting sick of being in hostels or finding Athens to be uninteresting and not pretty, but I wouldn’t reveal learning unpleasant things about my personality or having one of the worst days of my life.

More so than being “fun,” traveling was both difficult and important for me, with those two concepts inseparably intwined.

I learned that traveling with a friend sucks.

I have a pretty calm, “go-along-get-along” type of personality. This can be great for traveling, given traveling’s knack for throwing unpredicted events your way. It’s not great, though, when you let your friend make all of the decisions, and you end up disappointed that you didn’t see something that you wanted to see, that you spent more money than you wanted to, that you hung out in the hostel bar more times than you wanted to, etc. In traveling, and in life, I learned that I need to speak up. And travel alone.

Because I also learned that I LOVE traveling alone, and that I am independent and resourceful enough to do so. I can do what I want, when I want. I can easily meet people in a hostel or via Couch Surfing; I can hang out/sightsee with them if I want, and if there’s something that I want to see but they don’t, or vice versa, I do my own thing without worrying about abandoning someone.

I learned that getting very drunk in foreign countries is not a good idea. I also learned that it’s possible to have a couple of drinks or, gasp, no drinks, and still have a very fun night out.

I learned that taking back ex-boys is never, ever, a good idea, particularly right before you leave the country.

I learned how spoiled I was. It had to take me missing a train from Nice to Paris- which wasn’t the first train that I had missed- and subsequently getting very, very mad at myself to learn this. I learned just how entitled I felt, how expendable money seemed to me, and how little responsibility I truly had for myself.

I learned that learning doesn’t always come from a textbook or a classroom lecture.

And I learned all of this the hard way.

It’s now one year later- a lifetime later. I look back at that twenty-year-old girl, and I see someone very young and not in control of her own self. The past year, both from traveling and from other life circumstances, has forced me to grow up- not just, “Oh, I’ve been thinking about this and that, and I think it’s time for me to start acting differently in regards to it.” It’s more like growing up has been shoved into my face, and I’ve been forced to eat it. So here I am, a human still evolving, yet a human who is so much stronger and finally feeling in touch with inner power.

Traveling is like life sped up, amplified, and looked at with a magnifying glass.