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Why did you decide to study abroad?
I decided to study abroad in order to take a chance with my education and do something different. The very idea of being in another country for 5 months was actually terrifying to me at first, but I thought that that was more of a reason to do it because the opportunity would be much less accessible later in life. I wanted to take a risk in order to see what I was capable of.
How did you choose where to go?
I chose to go to France because I had studied a bit of French already and I have always dreamed of going there. I didn't want to go to an English speaking country because I thought that would be taking less of a risk. I chose to study somewhere that would give me a new cultural experience, but where I could also still feel comfortable.
Can you briefly describe your program while abroad?
I studied with the Columbia/Penn Program in Paris. This program was extremely independent and non-invasive. The orientation was about a week long and the entire program encouraged students to take the lead in their experience in France. However, all of the counselors were extremely helpful and available to answer any questions. I would recommend this program to anyone looking for an independent experience rather than a program with a long orientation and several guided tours. I personally loved the style of this program because I prefer to create my trips around my own interests.
What were some highlights or memorable moments of the experience for you?
Nearly every day in Paris was a highlight for me, but there are a few memories that will stick with me for the rest of my life. Some of these are: spending time with my host siblings and their friends at my family's country house, taking a tour of the city by motorcycle, traveling to Belgium, England, and Ireland with friends, having dinner on the Eiffel Tower, going to a French baking class, seeing the Swan Lake ballet on stage, making dinner with French friends, going to wine tastings, and plenty more...
What was your greatest challenge?
The greatest challenge for me was breaking out of my shell and learning to not be so self conscious about my French language skills. There were many times when I wouldn't take opportunities because I was nervous that I wouldn't understand or be able to communicate, but I realized that the only way to learn was to take those chances and just be honest with those around me while giving it my best shot.
How have you and/or your perspective changed after returning from study abroad?
I have changed immensely since returning from Paris. I am much more out-going and confident, I have greatly improved my French skills, and I have completely changed my plans for the future so that I will be able to return to France and hopefully live there for a few years. I have new goals for my life now that I have realized my potential and found a new sense of accomplishment. Going abroad was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
What advice would you give to prospective study abroad students?
To prospective study abroad students I would say: DO IT! Definitely go abroad, listen to your gut, take every opportunity that presents itself to you, and don't be afraid to take risks. Going abroad at this stage in your life is the perfect time to discover who you really are and what you are capable of. Believe in yourself and have fun!