Blog by Chelsea Boren, UW Bothell Global Studies Major, Study Abroad–France
Bonjour à tous! Welcome to the UWB study abroad blog. My name is Chelsea and I’m spending the year in Paris. After never having travelled outside of the country (other than Vancouver), I found myself as a sixteen year-old going to France. It was whirl wind trip – nine days, including travel. As a small group of six from the Lake Stevens High School French class, plus a rather large group of 20 or so Texan high school students, we took the North of France by storm: cheese, wine, monuments, museums, the countryside and the city.
Being in a truly foreign country for the first time was an experience like never before, and really, something I struggle to put into words. If you have had the experience of travelling outside of the country, remember that time when you first arrived on truly foreign ground. If not, imagine yourself in a place where all around you things sound different, look different, and often even taste different. The mind and body don’t know what to do! It’s like being a child, experiencing things from the first time, through all of the senses. I remember being in France for the first time – everything seemed amazing: the tiny cars, the people speaking French in the metro, the metro for that matter, the smell (ick!) of the cheese, the taste (yum!) of the cheese, and churches significantly older than our country. I can’t say I have ever lived as much in nine days as I did on that trip.
The end of August was the first time that I had travelled back to France, but the planning began two Novembers ago, at the beginning of my sophomore year. Wanting to travel again, especially to France, I saw study abroad as the perfect time to do so. I met with the UW International Programs and Exchanges office in Seattle to discuss possible study abroad opportunities. Ultimately, I narrowed my first choice to the direct-exchange program to Sciences Po in Paris for two reasons: the location and the program. The school, Sciences Po, is not only located in the heart of France, but the courses offered are perfectly aligned with my line of study: the social sciences. Further, the direct-exchange program means that tuition is paid directly to the UW, and remains the same (if you receive financial aid, it also applies). After being accepted to the program, one large challenge arose: how to finance studying in Paris. While tuition remains the same, Paris is among one of the most expensive cities in the world to live. After some thought, I had an idea: I knew of some friends who had “au paired” before – essentially, being a live-in nanny in a foreign country. Typically, Au Pairs receive full room and board, and often a small stipend. I posted my profile on aupair-world.net and took it from there. After interviewing with several families via Skype, I came upon the perfect situation: a family looking for a part-time, live-in au pair who would also be studying (most au pairs typically only au pair, and most families typically look for an au pair who can work full-time).
I was thrilled at the opportunity because I now had a way to finance studying abroad. At the same time, I was extremely nervous. What if the family is crazy? What if they don’t like me? What if the decide they don’t want me at the last minute? Questions and fears buzzed in my head. I had Skyped, e-mailed, seen photos, and had a contract so I was nearly positive it would be a safe, good situation; but of course, until I was there in person, everything was a little bizarre.
However, upon arriving in France, my initial fears were gone. Amazing food, incredible wine, and a sunny, beautiful Paris have a way of putting one at ease. The family was warm, kind, and welcoming. At Sciences Po, I participated in a welcome program that helped to orientate me to the University. Not only did I learn about the University, take tours, etc., but more importantly, I met a ton of other exchange students. The welcome group organized nights out; with beers in hands, as excited and nervous exchange students we talked amongst ourselves, becoming fast friends in the city of light. I started each day and ended each night not quite sure of what would come next.
I have now been in Paris for just over seven months, and still, each day is different. While the initial challenges have been overcome (setting up a bank account, a cell phone plan, registering for classes, etc), new and exciting things seem to take place all the time. I should note, upon coming to France, I hardly spoke any French. Still, my French is nowhere near fantastic, but after a while your brain becomes a bit like a sponge – soaking up vocab, verbs, and the like. Foreign language adds to the craziness and amazement of being in another country. And I wouldn’t have it any other way – it’s the new and challenging which makes study abroad an experience unlike any other.
On paper, I’m a Global Studies major from UWB studying topics ranging from political science, history, media studies, to international relations at Sciences Po Paris, but in reality, that doesn’t even begin to explain what it means to be an exchange student. Sure, I go to class, write papers, take tests, just like I would at UWB, but more than that, each day is a chance to interact with someone from a totally different culture, eat new food, go to a new museum, walk down a different street – see, hear, feel, smell, taste things new. I hope that through this blog, I can let you all in on some of the magic of this experience! À la prochaine!