Being Abroad: Initial Emotions and Adjustment

Alexandra Zabalza headshot
Alexandra Zabalza
October 7, 2023
Small islands in the Gulf of Morbihan in France with a blue sky and small waves in the ocean.

Navigating France and learning to live in Nantes has been a constant learning process and cultural adjustment. I experienced a wide array of emotions my first week abroad, I felt fear and sadness leaving my family and home for an experience different from anything else I have ever experienced. When I took the train from Paris to Nantes I was a bundle of excitement and nerves getting ready to finally meet my host family and the students and staff at IES Abroad. That excitement and nerves carried into actually going to the Nantes IES Abroad center and beginning to familiarize myself with the place that would house my classes and support systems while abroad. I finally met my host family when they picked me up from the center and took me to what I have now gained the habit of calling home. I did my best all day to display my excitement and curiosity, making sure I retained any information given to me and staying afloat in the immersion of truly being surrounded by the French language and culture. 

Being in another country and culture, becoming fully immersed in the language, for me, came with an indescribable feeling that can be best described as a combination of homesickness, impostor syndrome, and awe. As I adjusted to the new culture, it was difficult to accept my vulnerability and admit when I needed help. It was feeling a little embarrassed when I didn't know the words for fork and spoon and crying my first night because I was able to finally process everything in the months, weeks, and days leading up to being abroad, it was no longer something distant in the future but tangible and actively occurring, and that felt scary and overwhelming.

The orientation process was a comforting experience and reassurance that I can indeed survive abroad and made me excited for my time here in Nantes. In connecting with the students in my program despite being introverted, I was able to find and provide support especially in realizing that I am not alone in the culture shocks and excitement of being abroad.

At the end of our orientation, we went on a weekend excursion to several cities in the nearby region including l’ile aux Moines in the Gulf of Morbihan, Vannes, and Guerande. Having the weekend to bond with the other students in my program and going beyond Nantes to explore France was a reminder to me of the one-of-a-kind experience that is study abroad. It was a breath of fresh air after an information-filled orientation and the perfect reset before the start of classes. Through IES Abroad, I cycled through l’ile aux moines, exploring all the island had to offer, especially the beautiful views from the coast and the warmth of the sun above. That evening we arrived in Vannes and got to explore the city and ended with dinner as a program where we enjoyed traditional regional plates that were absolutely delicious. The next day we got a tour of the salt-farms in Guerande, enjoyed a galette and crepe for lunch and ended visiting the medieval town in Guerande which was absolutely stunning. 

Adjusting to being abroad isn’t something that came naturally to me, and even now I am still learning and growing but knowing I am not alone in my experiences and emotions has made being abroad an adventure where I am constantly discovering new words, foods, and customs. While the more difficult emotions still exist I know my time here is temporary and once it's over I will see my family and friends again so until then I can rely on video calls with them and talk through any doubts because despite being thousands of miles apart I can always count on them and the new friends I have made here.

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Alexandra Zabalza headshot

Alexandra Zabalza

Hi! I'm Alex and I am studying Sociology, French, and Women's & Gender Studies! I will be studying in the Nantes Immersion Program to improve my French and gain a new perspective while abroad. In my spare time, I love crafts and watching new shows :)

2023 Fall
Home University:
Santa Clara University
French Language
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