A Reflection On Character Development In The First Week Abroad
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A Reflection On Character Development In The First Week Abroad

When faults, blunders, and uncertainties pay off.

A Reflection On Character Development In The First Week Abroad
Mairead Farinacci

This was it, my dream was real! I had landed in the city I’ve always yearned for and my semester long journey of studying abroad in Paris, France had begun. Everything was aligned perfectly for me-or at least that’s how I knew it should have been straight from the start. There was just one small unexpected issue; I was petrified.

How could I have overlooked this? My decision to travel and study abroad was not spur of the moment; it was clearly destined ever since I found a passion for studying French as a foreign language in high school.

But looking back on it, it was apparent that I never, not even for a moment, thought about a plan for myself mentally if things weren’t perfectly set in place from the very beginning of this unique semester.

After a few grueling hours of delays and traffic due to Parisian strikes, I had arrived in my new humble room abroad. Here things felt totally surreal. It the midst of the glamor that this city emitted, it became quite clear to me that I was on the brink of one of the most personally unglamorous weeks of my life.

It was week full of jetlag, exhaustion, getting lost, rough irst impressions, hunger, and one of the worst hangovers of my life courtesy of the cheapest bottle of wine a clueless American like me could find. It seemed to me that these would be the main elements of my life in Paris and at this time, I was unable to see past them.

I would later discover that this week, ranging from the end of January to the first few days of February, was all about trial and error and held so much for me under the surface. It is what I now view as the most important week of my life.

The beginning of the semester was where I discovered the true extent of my limits and when I recognized that it was up to me to push them in order to discover, create, explore and ultimately learn. Getting “lost” was a common occurrence for me now that I was living in my first big city and not solely that but one with language barriers.

Exploring without any phone data or contact lists forces you to resort to instincts- now this was exciting stuff. It had been a long time since I was able to test myself like this on my own, for too long I have relied on conveniences in life. After some time it was less scary to not have the world at my fingertips and scarier that I typically relied on that more than my own intuition. I could trust myself!

But it was here where I faced a reality check, my structural French, or perhaps more importantly, my accent and practice of phonetics wasn’t as strong as I hoped it would be. I detected that perhaps reciting off something along the lines of “pouvez-vous m’indiquer sur la carte” when lost wouldn’t be as fool proof as I thought; certain folks wouldn’t be so patient or kind to entertain my efforts. Up to this point I had romanticized what it would be like to struggle in this way and in reality it felt awful, but I had made it this far and I would have to dismiss any thoughts in my head that telling me to find an English speaker or any easy way out. My studies and preparations would not be neglected, every blunder would make me more determined; they were useless setbacks otherwise.

Eventually staying on track of my routes became much more manageable to me with boulangeries on every corner; ordering there in French was something I knew how to do quite well. My strong love of bread would keep my desires on track and I would find sanctuary in these blissful moments of simple transactions. Gradually the battle against the hunger issue was won with each baguette and meringue I ordered (and with that, navigating a budget abroad became easier too even with spending a bit more on a quality wine).

As I reached the later days of my first week in Paris, I set a goal to walk approximately five miles every day with hopes of seeing a new neighborhood, museum, monument or whatever it would be that I could across in that distance. This proved to be particularly easy especially with class barely in session and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t stop myself from going further and further. I would walk nearly ten miles on my own each day and never want to return home. I found through this that any first impressions I had made with people (in my opinion I had made a terrible display of myself as awkward and timid) didn’t matter anymore, for I was doing what I wanted and was once again finding the reasons I traveled across the pond in the first place. With my eyes clearer of my anxieties and insecurities from earlier in the week I now knew that anyone or anything else good would come my way seeing that I kept my intuitions strong and goals ahead of me.

A take away message from this is that days of struggle, tears, and stress can be more than they seem. Where would our personalities and mystiques be without these moments? A romanticized first evening in Paris and a perfect instagram to match it wouldn’t have been worth it; none of it would have been raw or true. A week full of struggle (as well as plenty of single days of struggle down the line) was loaded with way more character and spirit than any picture-perfect arrival that I formally hoped for could have ever been.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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