Staying in Strasbourg for an entire month through has probably been the healthiest thing I’ve done for myself since arriving.
What I mean is, I’ve learned more about myself and this city in this one month than I have in the few weeks I’ve had here in September and October between traveling to other cities/countries.
While I’m in love with traveling and exploring every new place I have the opportunity to discover, it’s almost been restorative to stay in one place and truly make it your home. I know in my last blog I said I was homesick for most of October, and now since the start of November, I’ve come to feel as though I truly belong here in every respect. Whether it be with friends, school, or just making my way around Strasbourg, I genuinely feel at home.
With that said, November has definitely been busy: all of my classes have culminated with presentations and reports due one right after the other, some of my classes have ended completely (yay!!), I went to see Flume in concert with practically EVERYONE in Erasmus, I had 1000 questions thrown at me about my thoughts on the election results, we put together and celebrated our own Thanksgiving, the Christmas Markets have officially opened!!, I had an awful fever in the midst of my busiest week, my friend group has changed a bit, I’ve gone out almost every weekend to keep having as much fun possible with the little time I have left, and like I mentioned earlier, I’ve learned more about myself than ever before.
To talk about a few things specifically, let’s start with the election. Being American, obviously, my opinion was sought after by literalllllyyyy everyone. From professors to other European students, from the days leading up to the election to the moment I walked into class the day after the election results, I was met with the same concerned looks full of worry and pity. Like I mentioned in my last blog, Europeans are not very fond of Donald Trump. At all. So when they asked who I voted for and found out that I did not vote for him, they were more than relieved. So, in the days before the election, mostly everyone here was convinced that the majority of Americans would vote for Hillary Clinton. … How confident they were in their assumptions. Well, like we all know, things didn’t turn out the way I and most Europeans hoped they would and once I walked into my Experiential Marketing class after the elections results came out, all I heard all day was, “Carmen. I am so sorry. How could this happen?” Or other comments along those lines. Now, truthfully, I was disappointed and genuinely sad for my country and friends back home, so I was pretty down for most of that morning. “God Bless the USA” was on repeat for me all day, in fact. Because although I was disheartened by the results of the election, I still have faith in my country and the love that we have for it. I still have hope that things will be okay. Time will only tell, I guess.
On another note, now that most of my classes are over, I’ve comprised a list of tips to keep in mind for anyone who reads this and is interested in or preparing to study abroad:
1. Know how to manage your free time wisely. After speaking with friends who have studied abroad before, I came to France knowing that the courses offered to exchange students are much easier compared to what I’m used to at Texas A&M. And since classes are only for a few hours once a week with the entire course being graded on a few assignments or one exam and/or presentation, the weeks fly by in the blink of an eye, especially with all of the extra time you spend not studying every minute of every day for multiple rounds of tests, quizzes, essays, etc. So the general concept of this tip is pretty self explanatory. Fill your time enriching your life with friends, new experiences, getting to know the city you’re in, and a bit of Netflix from time to time if you’re feeling up to it. 😉 Which leads me to…
2. Do as much as you can!! Do something new and crazy. Go explore and discover. Try new foods. Listen to other points of view and learn about everything possible! Dance and sing your heart out in the middle of a busy street. Go paragliding. Learn a new language. Travel anywhere and everywhere. Don’t just say or plan, DO. Which also brings us to…
3. If you have the monetary means and time, travel as much as you can (but don’t forget to explore your own city/region/country!) Self explanatory.
4. Meet people from EVERYWHERE! My closest friends are Scottish, Czech, British, French Canadian, German, Brazilian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Italian, Danish, and American. And you know, Americans are cool and all, but you’re here to make friends from all over the world and be exposed to their unique cultures, customs, and languages – take advantage, expand your horizons!!
5. Everything is temporary. Now this one may sound like a downer, but it’s really not. Yes, your time abroad is limited, but keeping that in mind will only make you appreciate it that much more. Your time is precious with the incredible people you meet, so it’s important to make your time worthwhile with them. Get to know these people, get to know your city and truly make it yours, get to know what it feels like to change, get to know yourself, get to know what it’s like be okay with going out of your comfort zone. Just get to know everything and everyone you possibly can because this opportunity is worth every second you have abroad. This being said, also remember that the bad stuff is temporary too. While it’s important to work out grades, classes, issues back home, etc., dwelling on worry and fear is too time consuming to focus on. These things are temporary and will all turn out fine in the end, so spend your time doing things you love with the people you love and let go of that which is out of your control, holding you back, or distracting you from making the most of your time abroad.
Personally, in the face of confusion and conflict, especially in regards to friendships and working in group projects/presentations, I’ve noticed that I’m more resilient than ever before. Thinking back, in previous situations, I would have obsessed over “what I could’ve possibly done wrong” and “how do I fix this?” and “how do I make these people happy?” But being in Strasbourg and going through all of this, I’ve learned how to let things go. I’ve realized that the only person responsible for my happiness is me. And with this knowledge I’ve come to discover the most impactful things I’ve learned/gained from this experience:
A Sustainable Mindset
France’s measures to promote sustainability and a cleaner environment are remarkable. Now that I’ve become accustomed to taking reusable bags with me to the supermarket and recycling on a daily basis, it’s hard to imagine that I could ever go back to such a lax outlook on waste management and eco-friendliness. This is definitely something I intend to bring back with me to the states and hope to instill in my everyday life.
I knew from the beginning that being so far away from home for the first time with essentially zero travel experience, this exchange would be the biggest challenge of my life. The unknown scared me, my lack of “worldly knowledge” scared me, not having familiar faces with me in a foreign place for 4 months scared me, failure scared me. But despite all of that, I knew that if I could overcome this, I could overcome anything. And I am immensely proud to say that I have.
I only have 2 weeks left in Strasbourg (3 weeks left in Europe) and now I am dreading leaving the unpredictable, exciting, new life I’ve found and the people that have come with it. I have conquered some of the biggest fears I’ve ever had here, so now, I feel secure in myself and ready to take on my next big challenge.
I’ve lost friends and gained them. I’ve stumbled my way through a French conversation. I’ve figured out public transportation in multiple European cities. I’ve learned how to budget and save money in a responsible way. I’ve taken an 11 hour bus to and from Vienna on my own. I’ve given more presentations in one semester than I have in my entire college career. I’ve found my voice again just by singing “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz at a karaoke bar in front of a bunch of people I had never met before in my life.
If there’s anything that I’ve gained from being here, it’s definitely the confidence in myself to face whatever life throws at me. Even if I fail miserably, embarrass myself horribly, or fall completely flat on my face, I still manage to pick myself back up and find a way to succeed. This kind of confidence has taken me years to develop, and although I’m still nurturing it and learning from my mistakes, I am now more than sure that I am capable of confronting anything that comes my way.
With everything that has not gone “according to plan” or “the way I wanted it to”, I’ve never had so much patience for the world and people around me. Of course, this is easier said than done, but I genuinely feel as though I am able to adjust to unfamiliar situations and perspectives much more easily than I have in the past. I am more understanding and empathetic. I am more capable of keeping a level head in frustrating circumstances. I have the power now to maintain my faith in the fact that what’s meant to happen will happen, and what is meant for me will eventually come and guide me in the right direction.
Long story short, the time I’ve spent in Strasbourg, France has been eye-opening and just being here has been one of the most courageous things I’ve ever done. And I regret nothing. 🙂
November was my last full month here. It’s sincerely starting to feel and look like Christmas since it’s gotten so cold (lows in the mid to high 20s, highs in the 30s) and the Christmas markets have drawn thousands of tourists and visitors every week. I have 2 weeks left in Strasbourg (I leave Wednesday December 14th to travel around the UK for a week) and I have every intention to do everything I still haven’t done here and spend each day appreciating my time with my incredible friends.
I’m thrilled to see what these last few weeks in Strasbourg have in store for us!!
– Carmen Pilarte
For any questions about my time abroad, Strasbourg, or studying abroad in general:
FB: Carmen Carolina Pilarte