When I first applied to this program in Nantes, I was a little nervous that I would actually get accepted because I didn't want to face some of my fears that I had. They ranged from silly things like not being able to find a certain product that I loved having in the US to more serious things like not being able to find any vegetarian- and food allergy-friendly foods. I am very pleased to say that most, if not all, of these fears have been faced and are no longer a problem. Here are some problems that some of you may encounter as you consider studying abroad.
- Making friends will be hard: From the first day I arrived, it was easy to see that everyone here is accepting. We are given many opportunities to make friends and figure out who we best "click" with. I've been shy for most of my life, and that shyness still pops up, depending on the situation. But since I didn't know any of these people, why be that shy girl? This was my opportunity to kind of tweak my personality, and it worked! Being a little more extroverted has lead me to have a fantastic group of friends that I would not trade for anything. Seriously though, there are more than enough opportunities to make friends in these programs.
- Finding American/familiar products will be impossible: This one was a little trickier. It is suggested that if you absolutely love a certain hair product or other toiletry, then you should bring enough with you initially since it might be a little hard to find in France. Luckily, I'm not super picky about things like that. It did take some time figuring out which shampoo/conditioner/soap/other products were the most similar to the ones I'm familiar with but it has taken some experimenting, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The one thing that was the trickiest to find was a hair straightener. During my second weekend, my friend (that also needed a straightener) and I searched every local beauty/hair store and had no luck. We finally found what appeared to be a French version of Walmart and found some in the appliances section! Besides that, I think everything else, either the product itself or a comperable version, has been fairly easy to find.
- Using my debit/credit cards or using an ATM will be expensive (transaction/conversion fees): Talk to your bank!! Each bank is different, but for me, it was very easy and straightforward to talk to a banker and figure out what the best options are. Find out if your bank has a sister-bank companiy in the country you will be in. Remember to take plenty (but not too much) cash (in the currency of the country/countries you will be in) when you arrive just in case. I know some of my fellow classmates have had problems using their cards at ATMs or at stores, and then have had difficulty contacting the bank, so I highly suggest you talk to your bank before leaving. And don't forget to set a travel notice so the bank doesn't deactivate your cards!
- Getting a French phone/plan/number will be hard: IES Abroad gave us plenty of information about various plans different companies offer, including prices and details. Even the host families are very knowledgeable about these things! Some students from pervious semesters have left old cell phones behind for future students to use, but even without one (using your own cell phone), it's not that comlicated. Just make sure to talk to your phone company before leaving and ask them what the best option is. For example, I added an international plan to carry me over until I was able to go to a store and pick a plan that worked for me. I then bought a French SIM card and replaced my existing one. No problems so far! Most of the students have picked similar plans, so it's easy to all go to the store together and get the same plan.
- Contacting friends and family will be difficult due to the time difference: No. I thought that 9 hour difference would make it hard but it is surprisingly easy. There are, of course, very convenient and inconvenient times to text/skype. Since I now have a French phone carrier and number, I can't call/text anyone in the US without racking up a huge bill. However, I am able to use texting services like Whatsapp or other social media platforms to talk to everyone. Since my phone plan includes some data, I can even text them, and even some IES Abroad friends while I'm out and about.
- Being a vegetarian/having food allergies will be limiting: While it is a lot more challening to find foods that I can confindently eat without being afraid of having an allergic reaction or eating meat, it is a lot easier that I expected. I suspect that the new popularity of vegetarianism/veganism/health diet crazes in the US has spread a little bit to Europe. I'm able to find tofu very easily, and other vegetarian dishes at restaurants. I was really surprised when I found out that there were more vegetarian options at a kebab place than a French McDonalds! So far, I haven't had a problem with not finding something to eat; it may not be as protein-filled or as cheap as other "normal" foods, but I'll pay any amount of money to make sure I don't die of anaphylactic shock or accidentally eat meat. For me, this was my biggest fear. I was afraid that I would just be eating bread, cheese, and some vegetables, but that's just not true here.
If you have any of these fears, or even others, don't worry! Everything has worked itself out in the end and I couldn't be happier that I am able to study abroad!
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<p>I'm Iggy Takahashi, a junior studying biochemistry and French studies at the University of Portland and studying abroad in Nantes, France. I love baking, cooking, travelling, exploring, and of course spending time with my family and cats. I have traveled to Spain, China, and throughout the United States, and I hope to continue to do so after graduating!</p>