My experience abroad was an absolutely life-changing one. Pau was a small, beautiful city in southeastern France. Almost everywhere you went, there was an incredible view of the Pyrenees mountains. There was always something to do, and always a new place to explore. My friends and I took many weekend trips to other French cities like Paris, Bordeaux, and Toulouse. Pau’s close proximity to Spain made it easy to also take weekend trips to places like Madrid and San Sebastien. I even got to go to Rome with my mom for fall break, which will forever be one of the best experiences of my life. There was a tremendous amount of freedom in being able to travel so easily. I grew more as a person in the four short months I was in Pau, than in my two previous years of college.
Before living in Pau, I had never lived anywhere other than my childhood home. I had never even lived in the dorms at UTC, so I chose to live in the dorms while studying abroad. This was a somewhat unconventional decision since most people recommend living with a host family. Though it is true that living with a host family has been shown to help a student when it comes to learning a language, I knew that having my own space to go home to whenever I needed to would be a better fit for me. I had a room completely to myself which included my own bathroom and kitchen. I even learned how to cook for myself since I had my own kitchen. Though I did not get the constant interaction with French speakers that living with a host family would have given me, I did live in a building with French students. This gave me an opportunity to make plenty of French friends my age, which I did. Most of my French friends actually lived in the dorms with me. This made it easy for us to all hang out frequently. There was a sense of freedom in living alone that I had never experienced before and learned how to be self-sufficient.
My classes were some of the best I have ever taken. There was never a dull moment. In my class, there were students from almost ten different countries. Now I not only have friends from America and France, but friends from China, Iran, Turkey, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Singapore, India, and Honduras. I expected to learn plenty about French culture, but I never expect to learn so much about so many others. One of my favorite memories was when my French professor went around my class and asked everyone to play a holiday song from their native country. It was so amazing to see all of these people from different cultures come together and share a little part of home. My fellow Americans and I chose to play “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey. Almost everyone in the room knew the song. We all sang it together, even our professor! It was just a really wholesome moment that made me feel like I had really done something wonderful by studying abroad.
Of course, I learned plenty in my classes, like how to speak French, but I learned even more outside of my classes, like how to speak with the French. I made lifelong friendships with people despite obvious language barriers. I made friends that I have already made plans with to see again this summer. People showed me a kindness and understanding that I had not experienced before. I traveled to places I never thought I would be able to. I learned how to adapt in a way that only living in a new country can teach. I believe one hundred percent that I am a better person because of my experience. Studying abroad was absolutely the best experience I have had in my life thus far.
Side note: I wanted to explain my title! The people in my program and I had a groupchat called “Pau-ing Out” from the very beginning of the program. We discussed everything from questions about paperwork to plans for going out, which is where we got the name. I just thought it was a cute title for summarizing my experience.
Olivia Buchanan is majoring in Philosophy and spent the Fall 2019 semester studying abroad in Pau, France through USAC. Olivia had the following to say about studying abroad, “My advice to anyone thinking about studying abroad is to just do it. You will most likely never get an opportunity to do something like this ever again. It’s going to be a lot of work getting everything together to be able to go abroad, but it is so worth it.”
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