As our current global economy and job market grows more competitive with each passing day, it becomes ever more demanding and necessary for college students to capitalize on any significant opportunity to gain a degree of international experience within their respective fields and understand how their disciplines are practiced across multiple settings and at different levels on the world stage. After returning from studying abroad in France for a semester, I want to share my experiences in studying abroad and my perspective on how to get the most out of academics, traveling, and cultural/language enrichment while abroad.
It was during the last spring of 2012 when I got accepted to study abroad at Georgia Tech Lorraine, the European campus of Georgia Institute of Technology located in Metz, France and in the province of Lorraine. For over six months, I was looking forward primarily to just the idea of studying in France, a country I have been waiting for a long time to visit since I had begun studying French back in high school and developed basic proficiency for the language. I was interested in finally getting to utilize some of the French I knew and explore more on the culture of France as well. While the study abroad program was faculty-led and taught in English, I was also concerned on how my academic progress would fare while staying in a new country over 4,000 miles away.
Once I came across the ocean and landed in France, I noticed that all the faculty and advisors there encouraged students to do more than just focus on school work for the upcoming four months. They informed us of many social events which allow us to get to know some local French college students as well as students from other countries in Europe all studying abroad in France. These events would usually take place on the evenings of weekdays as faculty and advisors also wanted students to travel during weekends. When Georgia Tech Lorraine was laid out for construction, it was strategically chosen in Metz because from there one could approximately travel to four different neighboring countries of France in the span of two hours or less by train. The institution also handed Fridays off for all students in order to promote traveling and seeing the contents of an entire continent rich in culture, history, and developed infrastructure.
I decided to take all of these recommendations of making the study abroad experience worth its fullest by traveling nearly every weekend, participating in a couple of social events throughout the week, and studying hard for all my classes. Since the course load was not easier than it was back at Georgia Tech due to the fact that I was taking major-related classes which put me on track to graduation, the familiar challenge of balancing your time in college re-emerged, except this time in a different and unique context.
However, I must say that this time-management challenge was one of which I was prepared to take on and have been a veteran of in many previous circumstances. I did whatever it would take to get my homework done during the weekdays and brought a fair amount along with me on long train rides as I hopped from country to country in Europe. Throughout the four months in Europe, I saw my French language skills and awareness of French culture improve incrementally but also significantly. I also befriended several French students who had similar career goals and aspirations to those of my own. Traveling also opened up wonders for me. To each of the ten countries I managed to visit during my stay in Europe, I did my best to take tours of the larger cities and understand both the history and culture of these areas as well as discovering and familiarizing myself with the cutting edge research being conducted, recent technological advances, and business opportunities available in these places. I feel as if the faculty and advisors wanted us to travel because of this very reason of opening our eyes to potential opportunities outside of the United States and help us become the next social, economical, and political leaders of tomorrow and make a global impact.
In the end, the act of balancing my time between the continuing harsh demands of school, eye-opening travels, and growing more accustomed to my host country’s customs all worked out well for me. I learned so much more in that semester abroad than I feel I have in any other semester in school. My strong recommendation goes out and challenges all students to at least study abroad for one semester when you are in college. If there are any financial issues keeping you from pursuing this experience, I am happy to announce that there are many resources and support out there to assist diligent students in financing their study abroad experience, including the Di Yerbury International Scholar Awards provided by NSHSS – which actually helped finance me for my experience this past fall in France. Now, there are no excuses left but to find a place in the world you would love to live for a few months (or more) and set your heart free for knowledge and adventure.