As I rode through the rolling hills of southeast France, I reflected on my adventures abroad. I packed up and moved halfway across the world to Berlin, Germany, almost 11 months ago. A lot has happened in the past 11 months. I’ve moved four times, met incredible friends, traveled to beautiful places, tried delicious new foods (and new foods I realized I could do without), and said way too many goodbyes. It’s crazy to think about all that has happened to be abroad- mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and physically. So much has changed. Yet, so much remains the same.
Each place has brought its own set of blessings and challenges. In January, I moved to Berlin, where I lived with seven other international young adults, took some courses, and interned with Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023. I had always dreamt of getting involved in the Disability Rights Movement abroad, and then it came true. I was finally able to get a taste of what it was like working cross-culturally in an environment with different policies, procedures, and practices. I thoroughly enjoyed it and realized I would love to work in a similar environment in the future.
In March, I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland. I continued taking courses and working virtually. Much of my stepfamily resides in Scotland, but outside of them, I knew nobody my age, which left me with lots of time by myself to explore the city, read, and plan for additional opportunities abroad. That’s when I applied to study at Sciences Po in France after my semester in Germany finished.
In April, I moved back to Germany, but this time to beautiful Bavaria! I started my semester abroad at the University of Augsburg and quickly got involved in their Erasmus program, where I met most of my friends. Most of my time in Augsburg was spent hanging out with friends and traveling. Of course, I had classes alongside all the fun, but I had so much more free time than I was used to. In my opinion, the US education system is much more intense with constant assignments, essays, presentations, exams, and loads of busy work. In Augsburg, there were only one or two graded assessments per class. No busy work. For studying abroad, I definitely preferred this method! The five months I spent in Augsburg was the best few months of my life, and it was very (very!) difficult to say goodbye.
In late August, I boarded a bus with tears in my eyes as I headed to the location of my next semester abroad. I didn’t want to leave Germany, but I was still very excited… After all, I was moving to France!! How cool! I was really looking forward to immersing myself in French culture, eating all the pastries, meeting new friends, and exploring more places. A day after my arrival, I met other exchange students from all around the world. We took part in the fun orientation events together and prepared for the semester. Shortly thereafter, my classes started, and reality hit… I was back to doing loads of schoolwork. It’s crazy how different this exchange is from my last one, and oftentimes, it’s hard for me not to compare the two. I had so much free time in Germany and so many opportunities to meet people, hang out, and travel. It’s not the same case here in France. I’m studying at Sciences Po, one of the top Political Sciences Institutions in the world, and am taking courses that are constantly challenging me. I don’t think I’ve ever been in an environment that has fueled more intellectual growth than the one I’m currently in. It’s been great for me academically, but at points, it’s been hard for me emotionally. First, I’ve never been in an environment where everybody around me is a genius. Maybe not actual geniuses, but the students around me (and of course the Professors) sure are intelligent and incredibly well-informed about so many different topics. Second, I don’t have many deep friendships or people I am very close with. Before moving abroad, I remember fearing this. I didn’t want to move away from all my close friends and end up being "isolated" in another country; I didn’t want to experience being lonely. It’s quite funny looking back at that fear now after experiencing loneliness on and off throughout the duration of my time abroad. It’s just a reminder that we create fears in our heads that are so minuscule when actually played out in reality.
I only have about a month left of being abroad, and I am beginning to experience all the emotions. I don’t want to leave, but at the same time I miss my family, doggies, friends, and “old life.” I also miss hearing English and the ease that comes with not having to translate everything or think about words and sentences before saying them!