Guest post by Kelly Nealson, junior and Certificate of International Studies in Business student
When the clock struck midnight on January 1, I found myself ringing in 2013 somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on a one way flight to Montpellier, France. Despite the fact that I had been planning to study abroad before I knew which university I was going to attend, I was nervous. Would six years of French, countless hours in the UW International Programs and Exchanges office, and months of mental preparation be enough to survive six months of living and learning in a foreign country? Would I ever be able to feel at home where I was headed? I can remember sitting on that plane, alone and a bundle of apprehension.
Now, over two months into my study abroad experience, I can say with confidence, while I doubt I could have ever been fully prepared for what awaited me, I could not be having a more incredible experience abroad. I can’t say it’s been easy to jump into taking five classes entirely in French or that navigating the French university and government administrations has been simple for me. I can say, however, that I have made so much progress with my French, made great friends, and most of all, made this city my home. Living in Montpellier has given me the chance to improve my language skills, expand my horizons, and ultimately have a much better perspective on what I want to do in the global business world.
Learning and living my day to day life in French has given me the opportunity to see and experience the world in a different way. The French way of life is slower and calmer than the American style I am used to. It is much more focused on taking time to enjoy the little things, like starting the day with petit dejeuner (breakfast) in a café or sitting in a park in the sun with friends in the afternoon. At this point in my experience, I am surprised now and then how everyday life in France has become so normal. The four of us UW students who are here for spring semester all live in the student dorms, cook our own meals and live and go to school like any other French student. Though dorm life is not exactly glamorous, living so independently in France has really helped me feel like I can more fully integrate into the culture. We have had the opportunity to travel around France during so many of our long weekends and, most recently, spent our break traveling around Spain.
I cannot emphasize enough how glad I am that I took advantage of the study abroad experiences UW provides. Being a part of the Certificate of International Studies in Business Program (CISB) gave me the opportunity to more easily build studying abroad into my academic plans and I am grateful for it. Spending the second half of my junior year abroad has turned out to be just what I needed to take a step back from the UW business environment and gain some perspective by spending some time in other cultures. It has shown me I ultimately want to steer my career path so I can work abroad someday. I’ve definitely come a long way since getting on the plane to come to France, and I can’t wait to see what the next few months have in store.