I have been in France for just over three weeks. It’s still just the beginning of my time here, as my study abroad program runs until mid-May, but it’s incredible how much my life has changed in a few short weeks.
I have become friends with many of the people in my program (and even struck up conversations with a few locals!), made it through two weeks of taking all of my courses in French and began booking travel to other parts of Europe.
That said, it has been difficult to balance my priorities. I recognize how privileged I am to have the opportunity to spend my spring in Europe and am extremely thankful to be able to do so, but it has already become a delicate balancing act.
Weekends spent relaxing have started to feel like time wasted as I hear a new friend recount her quick getaway to Rome; it’s tricky to determine how to make the best of my four months here without burning out or falling behind on schoolwork.
My tentative strategy to manage this, thus far, has been focusing on traveling within France for the first two months of my program. Traveling within France allows me to use fairly inexpensive high-speed trains to reach a variety of destinations.
Plus, given that I did not know anyone in my program beforehand, it allows me the security of testing the waters of traveling with new friends rather than jumping right into a massive trip; one thing I would really like to avoid is finding myself far away from Paris and discovering a new friend’s true colors.
Accordingly, last week, I took a day trip to Rouen with a few other girls in my program. We all have Tuesdays off, so it was nice to take advantage of that by riding the train 90 minutes north to Rouen. This trip, to be perfectly honest, wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be.
The other girls and I seemed to have different ideas as to how to spend the day, but, overall, it was a nice time in the sense that I got to get to know them better, experience more French cuisine and see a few sites, such as Le Gros-Horloge (a 14th-century astronomical clock) and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen.
For the month of February, I have two trips planned: Strasbourg and Bordeaux. I will be going to Strasbourg for an overnight trip next week with one of the girls in my program that I have quickly become fairly good friends with.
Because the Rouen trip played out differently than I had expected, I am trying to be laxer with my expectations for Strasbourg and tell myself that I will have a good time regardless of how exactly the trip unfolds. Furthermore, I know that, at the end of the month, I have a definitively amazing trip to look forward to.
My friend, Anthony, from Hopkins, will be coming to visit me at the end of February before heading off to study in Berlin. The two of us will be hitting the major tourist sites in Paris (something I have neglected to do thus far) and then heading off to Bordeaux for a wine tour.
As much as I like the people I have met in Paris, I am incredibly excited to be able to spend time traveling with one of my best friends. I have a countdown to Anthony’s arrival date pinned to my Notion that makes me feel significantly better whenever I miss my friends from Hopkins.
Studying abroad — so far — has been very different than I expected. I have been lonelier than expected in many moments, but have also found renewed value in little moments of bonding between my new friends and I. I have been worried about being overzealous in my desire to travel or traveling with the wrong people, but things have been going fairly well for the most part.
This whole piece is somewhat contradictory: despite the pressure I feel to do as much as possible while I am in Europe because of the romanticization of study abroad, I suppose I’m contributing to that romanticization, too, by writing a piece about the trips I have already taken and those I have planned.
Madelyn Kye is a junior from Long Island, N.Y. majoring in Writing Seminars and International Studies. Her column reflects on her experience studying abroad.