My STEP project was Ohio State’s Global May Paris program. This project entailed 24 students spending 2 weeks in the city of Paris. Every day students had an itinerary of at least one major Parisian cite (e.g Louvre, Centre Pompidou), and on Sunday’s students were left to their own devices to discover local treasures of the ancient city.
I had never been out of the country prior to this experience. Arriving in Paris at 7 am, I had some time to explore the city by myself before other students joined. This really boosted my confidence because I was successfully able to navigate about the city, get food, and communicate with locals. A pleasant surprise were the Parisian locals. I had only heard negative rumors that French people were rude, especially to Americans. Once in Paris, I was blown away by Parisians chic personas and their tendency to always be dressed to the 9’s… even at the grocery store. With one or two exceptions, my two weeks in the city were met with exceptional hospitality and patience. I have full plans to do a semester abroad, and this experience made me all the more excited for this endeavor.
To begin with, I was only slightly familiar with one other student going on the trip. This made me nervous at first because I feared all of the other students would have a close friend joining them, or I would be too shy to create friends I would be comfortable with and have fun with. Two days into the trip these fears vanished. This again boosted my confidence in myself because I was not shy and many of the other students had admitted to having the same fears upon departure. I also learned how to work cooperatively in a group of 24 people when we did group excursions and meals. Both of these skills are essential to any career and I think show adaptability- especially because I was in a very foreign environment which already made me uncomfortable at first.
There was one instance where me and 8 of my peers decided to get lunch while on a break during an excursion to St. Germain. Our waiter was not tolerant of foreigners and requested instead of speaking to him we write down our orders. Being polite, we did. We had decided to number our order 1-8 to make things easier for the server. Our server did not find this helpful and interpreted our order as we wanted 7 salads, 3 coffees, 5 sandwiches. When in reality, order number 7 was a salad, order number 3 had a coffee, order number 5 had a sandwich, etc. We had realized this horror quickly and did NOT want to pay for all of the unwanted food. Our server was not understanding the error and it was challenging to communicate the error. We then worked as a group to figure out how to say, in French, what had occurred and we eventually were able to convey this message to the waiter. In the end it became a funny misunderstanding and made our group even closer after working through this problem. Yet again I found myself adding to my professional skill of working in a group, and yet again in a foreign environment. This situation could’ve made us all bitter about French people, but we chose to see it as a funny misunderstanding and gave us more confidence in our French speaking ability.
Lastly, I really gained cultural experience. Two of my favorite sites were Versailles and the Louvre. I was really grateful we had tour guides for these experiences because learning the histories of these places was fascinating. I find French ruling history quite confusion because they switched kings and type of rule frequently. It was also really cool to visually see the changes in French taste through art. Many people in the 1700s and such could not read, so the history had to be painted and visualized. I learn better by seeing and it was a lot more interesting than dryly reading on the subjects. America also has a rich history, but not quite as far back as French history. Also, in comparison, the art museums I have been to in the U.S have really solely focused on art, and the evolution of artistic styles. In contrast, French art museums depict these evolution’s as well as French societal evolution’s, which is fascinating to see the relationship between the two evolution’s.
This experience was really special and important to me. I have always had a desire to travel abroad from a young age. This desire has transformed into a want to study and work abroad as well. Before I pursued a semester abroad I wanted to at least visit the country of interest (France) at least once. I gained so much confidence that I am able to live abroad for a semester from this experience. Now, I also know what skills to hone in and improve upon so I can communicate better when I visit the country again. As described above I also gained many skills that can be transferred into a job. For example- working in a group, meeting many new people, and adapting to new environments. I am so grateful for the STEP disbursement granting me funds to pursue my dreams abroad.