- My STEP Signature Project was a study abroad experience at a third-party provider’s center in Paris, France. I took two classes, each included an hour and a half of in-class instruction each day, from Monday to Thursday. Both of my classes and the program itself also included field trips to nearby museums/monuments and cities outside of Paris.
- While completing my STEP Signature Project, my level of independence and self confidence greatly increased. I gained a much greater ability to solve problems and live on my own in a foreign country, even despite a language barrier. My assumptions of the world and the people of the world did change; however, they did not disappoint me. The “fairytale-like” version of Europe and of Paris that I had in mind before experiencing those places for myself was, of course, an inaccurate vision of how those places are in real life. However, I found that although these places were much different from what I had assumed them to be, they were even better than what I could have imagined.
- When traveling alone, you are solely responsible for yourself and making sure that you have what you need. Before embarking on my STEP Signature Project trip, I had always had someone else with me who could aid in finding help or finding resources when traveling outside of my hometown. For the first time in my life, I was completely responsible for asking for help and making sure that I got where I needed to go. While this idea was a bit scary at first, it was a challenge in the best ways possible. My adventure started right off with an opportunity for me to test my solo-traveler skills when my first flight was delayed and I missed my other two connections to Paris. The only option was for me to purchase another flight to Casablanca, Morocco in order to get to Paris in time for my school orientation! This part of my experience taught me that it’s completely OK to ask for help, ask questions, and to stand up for yourself in order to get where you need to go.Other significant aspects of my trip that increased my confidence in my abilities to problem solve and communicate with others in a foreign language are my home-stay and my sport. While studying in Paris, I was stayed in an apartment with a host family. Learning about my new family’s lifestyle, food preferences, and how their household functioned was an experience that I had never had any practice with before, never having lived outside of my parent’s house. It was bit awkward for me at first to live in the same space as two other people whom I had never met before, but I learned how to feel comfortable in a home other than my own and soon considered it my new home as well. This experience helped give me the confidence to do some more solo-travelling during my program. I felt confident that I could adapt to any new and different environments that I may encounter on my journey in Europe and the nervousness that I had about living outside of my parents’ home for the first time quickly faded away.
During my time in France, I knew that I wanted to keep practicing my sport – competitive figure skating. The process of finding a figure skating club near Paris was a great example of how my assumptions about the world and its people were transformed. It was more difficult than I had expected to find a club that would accept me, given that I would only be training with them for two months of the year. During all of my efforts, I had the opportunity to communicate with several native French speakers and soon discovered more about the “French way of life.” Attitudes toward newcomers definitely vary from what is typical here in the United States and I found that many people were unwilling to welcome me into their “circle”. However, I did finally succeed in finding a club that would accept me as a guest for the summer and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I had been told that the best way to make connections with the French is to get involved in something, to push myself out of my comfort zone and join a team, a club, or a group – even though strangers are typically less “friendly” towards other strangers than they are in the US. Getting to train with a figure skating club right outside of Paris was my way to get involved and make these connections and I am very happy that I chose to be persistent despite the cultural differences which were discouraging to me at first.
- This transformation is significant and valuable for my life because it has created positive change for me personally, academically, and professionally. Before this trip, I was not satisfied with myself, my goals, or my prospects of what my academic path would look like after graduating and beginning a professional career. I had been trying to accept a limited idea of the opportunities that I thought were possible for me, personally, academically, and professionally. During my study abroad experience, my vision of myself, my education, and my future career was transformed into something so much greater. Living and going to school in Paris gave me the confidence and freedom to completely change my outlook on life. I learned to love myself more and believe that I was capable of more than I had limited myself to before going on this trip and this transformation nurtured positive changes in my academic and professional goals. For example, I have decided that I would like to pursue graduate school outside of the United States and perhaps even begin a career as a professor in Paris, France. I have seen a shift in my performance as an athlete and as a student due to my new-found personal freedom.