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    Posted March 17, 2014 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Why study abroad? Ask Michelle Obama

    The Reality of Studying Abroad

    When you tell one of your friends or family members that you're going to be studying abroad for a semester, what's their first reaction? "That's amazing! You're going to have such an amazing time and get to travel to so many places!"

    Yes, well some of that may be true, or maybe all of it, but no one ever seems to think about what's really most important here. You're going to "study" abroad and depending on your program or school, your classes may be a breeze and you may feel like you're on vacation for five months, but they may also be ten times more challenging because not only do you realize you're the only exchange student in a classroom taught in a foreign language, you also don't quite understand what is being presented to you. In my case, it's more like the latter.

    Ever since taking a trip to Paris in high school, I told myself that one day I will come back here, live here, and study here. And for once, I actually did exactly what I planned. It's my junior year, second semester of college, and I'm in France (not Paris exactly because my school didn't have any exchange programs with schools there) but either way, I am living the French life and speaking the language. Well, I'm still getting to that part. The one thing I hadn’t really considered in high school though, was where I would be in my life at age 20/21. I didn't think about the close friends I would make in college and now have to leave behind, or my family, or my boyfriend.The timing for all this wasn't the greatest. But I thought to myself, is it ever ever going to be? So I figured it was now or never.

    It's been almost two months and so far it's been pretty great. I had the opportunity to travel to Spain and Italy and I have met lots of wonderful people here. And although I'm enjoying myself, living on my own, creating new experiences that no one back home will relate to, there's just one problem. I'm still trying to figure out my classes. Did I mention I've been here almost two months?

    I received an email from the host university a couple weeks before my departure to France that the Mechanical Engineering Exchange program had been closed due to an insufficient amount of students. Great. So three weeks into the semester at my home university and two weeks before moving 5,000 mi away to a foreign country, I was told that I probably shouldn't even go. But I'm not quitter. Plus I also just paid $1,000 for my ticket there and couldn’t exactly go back to my university since classes had started so I was definitely not changing my plans now.

    I arrived to campus on a Thursday afternoon and was glad that someone eventually spoke English and helped me with all the necessary documents, forms, getting the key to my room, etc. What came to me a surprise however, was that there were only two classes that I could take, and half of them were taught completely in French! This is not what I signed up for and definitely not what I agreed to pay $30,000 for. The school took my money and now I am two months into the French semester, still trying to transfer two more classes for credits. And because with six credits, I am considered a part time student, financial aid is also threatening to take away whatever money was granted to me. And on top of that, the semester back home is slowly coming to a close so now I don’t know if I will still be able to register for the remaining two classes. I don’t think anyone has this in mind when applying for a semester abroad, but I know I surely didn’t.

    So for those of you in high school or college, thinking about going somewhere abroad to study, I’m not trying to discourage you from going. It's an opportunity that you may never have again. You'll learn how to be independent and that it's okay to see the world on your own. You'll experience new foods and cultures and get to know people from parts of the world that you didn't know existed. And most importantly, no matter how cliché, you will be that much closer to figuring out what you want out of life and what kind of person you want to become. Because after you survive the culture shock and step outside your comfort zone, you will realize that to decide who you want to be, you must get a little lost in the unknown and accept that sometimes life will take you places that will challenge your every move.

    So if you are considering going abroad, all I'm asking is that you keep in mind what you may be getting yourself into. If you don’t really care about graduating on time or if money isn’t an issue, then you’ll be just fine. But for those of you that want to take the same classes as you would back home but in another country, make sure your schedule is setup before buying your plane ticket and planning the next six months of your life.

    Good luck to you all and I hope you can take away a thing or two from my experience.

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