By: Rebekah Glick (Politics and French, Class of 2016)
During the spring of 2015, as a sophomore, I studied abroad in Paris, France. I gained so much academically through the experience; more importantly, I grew as a person.
Study abroad taught me a lot. I mean, I learned the typical things, like how to master a public transit system, how to navigate foreign cuisine, how to assimilate to a new culture, etc. But there were also things that I learned about myself that I could only have learned through going on an experience that was so completely new, where I could only rely on myself.
Of everything I learned about myself, most important were the hidden independence and competence that studying abroad brought out in me. Things as simple as using public transport or as complex as trying to buy a phone and set up a plan all in French forced me to think on my feet and taught me the meaning of “fake it ’til you make it.” I grew up in Lancaster County, and before studying abroad, had ridden the subway a total of maybe five times in my life. The first week in Paris, I barely went near the metro unless someone was there to explain it: a week later, I was cruising around the city armed with my pocket-metro map, trying to get lost so I could figure out my way back. When I went home, I confidently boarded the RER train out of Paris with my luggage and braved the public transport to get to the airport instead of nervously waiting for someone to help me. Going from being completely clueless about the crowded, hectic public transport system to blending in with the rest of the hurried Parisians gave me a lot of confidence and pride in myself as I saw myself transform from an intimidated small-town girl to a self-assured city-dweller who found out she could keep up just as well as the rest of them.
Studying abroad fro a semester also opened up my mind to things I never would have experienced otherwise. I loved the trip to Normandy that my program planned for us–one day, we got to visit Mont St. Michel, an ancient abbey off the Northern coast of France that becomes an island when the high tide comes in. The next day, we visited the American Cemetary, Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc, and the D-Day Museum. I knew my great-grandfather had fought in Normandy during World War II, so seeing the beaches was incredibly sobering. I also had the opportunity to visit Nuremburg, Germany, for a few days, wehere I got to visit the Nazi Rally Grounds where Hitler planned to base his new government. Contrasting the different remnants of World War II in both France and Germany with the relative ease and friendship that they enjoy today had a great impact on both a personal and an intellectual level. Because of these experiences, I decided to base my senior honors project off of the relationship between France and Germany, using them as an example to show the peace that political and economic integration can bring.
I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to study abroad. There were very challenging times as I adjusted to being alone and independent for the first time in my life. However, after having gone through it, I can say without a doubt that I am a much stronger and more confident person than before. I learned things that have brought out a lot of positive attributes in myself, and I was certainly shown how academic study can further my understanding of the world. At the risk of over-romanticizing a city that’s already been titled the “city of love,” Paris does have a certain je ne sais quoi that makes you fell like you’re in this great convergence of famous writers, thinkers, artists, and rulers from the past millennium. From the Romans to Charles de Gaulle, from the Napoleonic conquests to the German occupation, the things that these bridges and streets have seen are too big for me to imagine. It would be an understatement to call studying abroad in Paris as a Politics and French major the best decision of my undergrad years.