Guest blog post by Jhenifer L.
More often than not, I catch myself, tired, leaning my head against the train window on my way back home. When life falls into a routine, it's hard to see the beauty in these ordinary moments. It's not until I hear "Bastille" or when I come out of the station and see plenty of Haussmannien buildings that it hits me: I live in France now.
I still remember the day I stumbled across a YouTube vlog of a Brazilian exchange student in the U.S. I was fourteen and had just started my linguistic journey. Something about seeing someone only a couple of years older than me speaking English fluently and following high school classes in her second language made me realize I could do that, too. On that day, I decided that I would do anything in my power to live and study abroad.
Let me tell you that this plan didn't excite my family as much. But don't get me wrong. I imagine how shocking it must be for your teenage daughter to tell you she wants to go to another hemisphere by herself for as long as she possibly can. I was not about to change my mind, however; it felt too right to let it go. When I turned seventeen, I went to California, and that experience was everything I wished it would be. And, to my parents' dismay, it only made me want to visit more places, learn more languages, and consequently, spend more time away from my home country.
For years—five, to be exact—I planned where my next destination would be. It gave me enough time to prepare for my stay and, above all, to daydream about what the experience would be like this time. It's been two years since I moved to Paris, France to finish my degree in Modern Languages and Literature at Sorbonne Université, and I want to share with you the three most important lessons I've learned from living abroad.
HOW FAR SPEAKING THE COUNTRY'S LANGUAGE CAN TAKE YOU
I am passionate about language learning, and while I acknowledge my bias, I cannot stress enough how important it is to learn the language (or languages) spoken in the country where you are living. Besides making your daily communication easier, it shows people your respect and interest in their country and might open many unexpected doors.
Although Parisians are known for being impatient and cranky (even among the French), they have helped me countless times after realizing I could speak their language.
One situation that stands out was when my flight was about to take off and I was still going through a security check. The agents were talking about how weird it was that I had two passports. In French, I answered that the first was no longer valid, but still had my American visa in it. They were stunned that I understood them and said, "Hold on, you speak French? Why didn't you say anything earlier? Let me help you go through this quicker." That's how, two minutes later, I was already in my seat.
HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
Growing up, I wasn't particularly social. It took living alone, an ocean away from everyone I've ever known, to realize how important friendships are.
When you move to a new country, you have to build your support system from the ground up, and that can feel extremely lonely at first. However, you'll soon find yourself surrounded by incredible individuals who, slowly but surely, become like a family.
I can positively state that the friends I've made abroad are among the most incredible, resilient, and intelligent people I've ever met. They've made my life here a million times easier and more pleasant. They turn the most annoying situations, such as moving out, celebrating holidays away from home, and studying for hard exams, into fun and cherished memories.
HOW MUCH AN EXCHANGE CAN MAKE YOU GROW AS A PERSON
Personal growth is one of the main upsides of living abroad. The challenges of a new environment force you out of your comfort zone. Every experience becomes a lesson in resilience and adaptability, making you grow a lot as a person. You learn to embrace change, and not fear uncertainty.
It was especially true when I was looking for a new place to live. Just as in every big city, it can be very challenging to rent an apartment in Paris. When you finally find a place bigger than 97 square feet with its own private toilet that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, you then have to send in piles of documents and enter a waiting list.
The end of my contract was approaching and the best option available was a shared student apartment 200 euros over my budget. I wasn't exactly happy with it, but I had no other option. Right before signing the contract, however, I decided to take one last look at some other websites and sent my dossier to one more studio. Not even 10 minutes later, I get a call from the landlord saying she would like to offer me her apartment if I could move in that same week!
At another time, this situation would have made me extremely anxious. Now I know to do my part and what is meant to be, will be.
You also learn that you can love things and people that are far away from you— maybe even more because they are far away. You learn that every moment should be cherished and that every victory, no matter how small, should be celebrated.
You learn that our differences make us unique, and that our hearts bring us together.
Lastly, through living abroad, you learn how to love and celebrate yourself. You discover the power within you, and you see all the great things you are able to achieve. So go out there, meet new people, see new places, learn new languages. After all, the world is too big for us to spend our entire lives in only one place.