I know you’re scared out of your wits right now, even though you’re too proud to admit it. As much as you want to put on a brave face for your mom (who will worry about you for the entirety of the time that you’re away from her), it’s okay that you’re scared—believe me, a little fear keeps you on your toes.
Whatever they told you in off-campus orientation, remember it, but don’t cling to it. Ultimately this is your experience which is completely unique to you, so don’t leave expecting that everything will be exactly like what people had told you it was going to be. I know it was fun to hear from other students who had studied in France before you, but you can’t always expect their highs and lows to be the same as yours. I know you want to speak French all the time with your classmates and have a really awesome professor, but you have to go in with an open mind. At the same time, what was difficult for others might not be difficult for you. Regardless, listen to other people’s stories, but don’t allow them to have the last word about your experiences.
When you meet people who act and believe in ways different than what you’re used to, don’t shun them, befriend them. You wanted to get out and meet ALL different types of people, so do it! These new friends are going to be your lifeline for the next four months, so be open and try to understand where they come from before you make up your mind about who they are and what they stand for.
FOMO is real, but believe me, you are not missing out. It’s really hard to say goodbye to all of your friends, knowing that you won’t see the majority of them until the fall, but the journey that you’re about to embark on is far more important than worrying about what’s going on back home without you. Knowing that life is going on without you there is a hard pill to swallow, but you ultimately have to trust in the strength of the relationships you’ve formed and believe that what was meant to be will be. Your friends will not forget you.
For goodness’ sakes, don’t stop learning! Yes, you have accepted the task of attending school in a foreign country, but that’s only one of the environments in which you’re going to learn. All of France is your classroom, so get out and learn about it! Not everything can be learned from a teacher or a textbook—the other side of it is experience, and you have the perfect opportunity right here to go and take in all that you can and grow from it.
Sit down and have a conversation with your host mom. She may tell you the same stories over and over again, but with each repeat story, she always has something different to say. I know it’s intimidating to speak more that you listen when using a foreign language, but the more effort you put into telling Katherine about yourself and what you think, the better she can get to know you. She might even learn a thing or two. You tend to rush through your meals at home, but in France they are taken very seriously, so make sure to dedicate time to them. A meal is the greatest opportunity you have to really get to know someone. Sit down and relax over mealtime instead of jumping immediately into the next task at hand.
Don’t be so stingy. It’s scary to look at your bank account and know that you only have x-amount to get you through the entire semester, but don’t skip out on the things you enjoy just so that you can have a little extra cash. Go out to the café, have lunch with your friends and take that weekend getaway you’ve been thinking about for a month. You and your wallet will make it through just fine.
Your parents miss you, call them!
People will try to tell you that when you’re abroad, you have no excuse to feel unpleasant emotions. These people are wrong. Just because you are in an incredibly beautiful corner of the world doing what you’ve always dreamt of does not mean that any of your emotions are invalid. It’s perfectly acceptable to be down and upset. It’s okay to feel loss. Of course you want to be happy because of the amazing opportunity you’ve been granted, but that doesn’t mean you will always feel like that. Your emotions don’t have a GPS; you will feel how you feel regardless of your location.
Lastly, when you get home you might feel overwhelmed with everything: a different environment, responsibilities you haven’t had to think about for months and people who haven’t the first idea about what you just experienced. All of this at once is a lot to deal with, and you are perfectly valid in feeling as if you don’t belong in the very place that you once called home. You’re different now, and so is the way in which you see things. Give yourself time to process through these emotions. You were just living life at a million miles a minute, and it’s okay to slow down and re-introduce yourself to this society.
These coming months will be, quite arguably, the most intense and incredible of your entire life. You will meet so many people that you can’t possibly remember all of their names. You will go to places you never thought you’d make it to so soon. You will make memories you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life. Soak it all in and don’t regret even a second because it’s going to be amazing.