In the television show “30 Rock,” there is a scene in which Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) has to get rid of her favorite sandwich before going through airport security, so she shoves it all in her mouth and shouts, “I can have it all!” I was reminded of this scene while traveling through Greece, and it quickly became an analogy for study abroad that I just couldn’t shake. The relevance that this scene holds for my life abroad takes two forms: First, I have also consumed my fair share of salami and Brie sandwiches on baguettes, and second, “I can have it all!” has become the theme of my semester. I constantly find myself trying to bite off as much as I can, as fast I can, all while it steadily feels like I’m running out of time.
This semester I have been studying abroad in Strasbourg, France. Although Strasbourg has become my home away from home, it took a while to get comfortable with the culture. France can be very bureaucratic, especially academically. For example, registering for classes was a bit of a nightmare since only limited information can be found online. My first few weeks abroad were spent trekking around Strasbourg looking for people who could help me address my scheduling issues.
It also took a while to get adjusted to the academics themselves. Instead of reading outside of class, students copy down, word-for-word, everything that the professor says and use their notes as a textbook. Since all of my classes are in French and it can be hard to understand everything, I’ve had to ask French students to send me their notes, which is incredibly useful for comparative purposes. Still, my French has been improving, and one of the highlights of my time has been people mistaking me for a French woman. My efforts at speaking the language have also helped me to make French friends. All of the students from Georgetown tend to hang out together, but branching out is important too. I had to be NSO-Rachel at first, but it was worth it to meet people who are not only from France, but all over Europe.
I have been particularly lucky with my host family. There are so many stories of host-families-gone-wrong, but my family has exceeded all of my expectations. This is critical, especially because the French are very family oriented and have formal lunches and dinners together every day. My host father has taken me to an interesting work event, my host mom has taught me to make Quiche Lorraine and my 16-year-old host brother frequently discusses “Breaking Bad” and the Black Keys with me while helping me bake cookies. My host family has gone above and beyond to make sure that I am living at home, not in someone else’s.
Strasbourg is a small city centered around a main cathedral with the city center itself circumvented by the Ill, a river. Known also for Petite-France – a beautiful area along the river – Strasbourg is composed of winding cobblestone roads and colorful buildings with exposed beams. While I’ve been here, I have spent most of my time wandering around and drinking cafe. The Georgetown students have all become regulars at Taverne FranÃ§aise, our favorite cafe and study spot. I’ve been able to indulge in some of the cultural opportunities as well, such as seeing a ballet at the local opera house, where everyone wore polar bear suits while dancing. I’ve picked up biking since I’ve been here because the city is very bike friendly. Although I am not the planet’s worst biker, I seem to have a knack for getting yelled at – an old woman once actually whacked me with her purse on purpose. But regardless of the slightly hostile locals, I’ve been able to casually bike to Germany, and on other days, have taken trips to nearby villages, chateaus and mountains.
Being in Europe has provided me with a panoply of opportunities to travel to nearby countries over the weekends. Highlights include a hot air balloon ride in the Cappadocia region of Turkey and a hike to the tops of the mountains by the Norwegian fjords. Now that winter is coming, however, I’m looking forward to just settling into Strasbourg and waiting for the highly anticipated Christmas markets. The lights, booths and enormous tree have begun to appear, and soon enough the famed markets will bring more good food and interesting trinkets to the city.
The stories of the almost magical study abroad experience are true for me, but going away for a semester has also taught me not to take many aspects of Georgetown for granted. I appreciate things like having a campus community with a great variety of clubs and activities, taking classes in my major and minor field areas, having class discussions, getting to know the professors and receiving the support from the administration are even more appreciated after my time abroad. I miss Georgetown and the people there every day, and yet I have trouble imagining myself leaving France to go back. I’m torn.
I have enjoyed every minute of this study abroad experience, and I do feel like I was able to have it all, at least as much as I could possibly have over the course of four months. While France has been an experience to devour, it has also taught me to treasure even more all that Georgetown has to offer, and all that it has given me thus far.
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