It was fall semester of my junior year when I decided to go on the Painting in Southern France study abroad trip. It was only for one month in May, but I was very nervous to go. I had never been out of the country for one and secondly, I had never flown on a plane. I was afraid I’d get there and be completely homesick… but I actually wasn’t. Everyday we we’re constantly going somewhere or doing new things and I never had a chance to really sit down and be sad. On the weekdays, we would have class and on the weekends we would usually go somewhere such as a castle, an underground cavern… you know just the usual. Even on the weekdays, we had time to go to the market and buy local foods, eat at local restaurants, and just explore the town. We had class, yes, but our instructor understood that part of this experience is interacting with the culture and she gave us ample time to do so.
After my trip, I met up with my mom, who had always wanted to go to France and we road tripped from Southern France to the eastern part of France to finally, Paris. My advice is if you’re in the country already and there are still places you want to explore, grab a buddy or meet with someone and go for it! A big chunk of the cost is the initial plane ticket so explore while you can.
I will warn you that going to a different country is a culture shock. I went to France, which isn’t too different from America… but still very different. For example, good luck finding a public restroom! There are limited free Wi-Fi spots. There’s no free re-fills! And the washing machines are teeny tiny! Come on France, you know I only do my laundry once every two weeks.
Overall, it’s an experience you really won’t forget (as cliché as that sounds). It will not always be easy and you will have moments of homesickness, but the moments of pure happiness and joy from all the new experiences will make it all worth it! Finally, I leave you with a few tips for traveling abroad. Enjoy and au revoir!
My Tips for Traveling Abroad:
- Pack light!
I just brought a carry-on and a personal bag and it was so much easier that way. No worries about loosing your luggage, it’s cheaper, and it’s less to haul across the country. I promise that dress, pair of shorts, or shirt you have to bring will be okay at home! Find pieces that can have multiple uses or that will go with a variety of different clothes.
- Bring one extra bag or leave room in your suitcase.
So you fill your suitcase up to the point where your zipper is crying for relief and you go to “X” country. And let’s say you buy, I don’t know, a souvenir… where are you going to put it? You can mail things back home, but that can get expensive. If you have extra room in your suitcase or only take a carry-on, you’ll either have plenty of room in your bag or can bring an extra bag and put any souvenirs in a checked bag.
- “I’m scared I’m not going to like the food.”
From the Queen of Picky Eaters, I promise you’ll be ok. There will inevitably be food you don’t like, but try new things! I tried escargot (aka snails) and actually really liked it. If you’re worried about it, ask your instructor what kind of food you’ll be eating or where you’ll be eating so you know what to expect.
- Put down the camera!!!
Most people are going to tell you, “Take lots of pictures!” But, I’m going to tell you don’t. Take pictures of major things or pictures with your friends once in awhile. If you take pictures of the airport, your food, the door, the sky, that tree, you’re going to miss out on what’s really happening around you. It’s also been proven that people who take less pictures, remember the actual event better.
Keep in contact with your family and friends from back home! I loved going to France, but I also dreaded the thought of not talking to my family for a whole month. If you have WiFi and an iPhone, you can use iMessage for free. There are also similar texting services that only run on WiFi.
- Learn the language.
Or at least brush up on it. Of course, I had taken Spanish for 8 years of my life and didn’t know anything in French. Learning just a few basic words and phrases will make it easier and more fun to interact with the culture. I wish I had studied the language a little before I left.
- “How the heck am I going to know what plane to get on or where to go in the airport?! Ahhhhhhh!!”
Ok, breathe. Tell your instructor you’re nervous and ask for help! Also email people who are going on your trip and ask if you can meet with them. Two heads are better than one.
To learn more about the program, Painting in Southern France, click here.
Have a question about my experience? Shoot me a comment below!