A Reflection on my Study Abroad Experience

Joseph Kalmar
April 17, 2020

A little more than a month after returning from France, I’ve had some time to reflect on my experiences in Europe and how they’ve affected me. Overall, my time abroad was an overwhelmingly positive venture; I had the opportunity not only to explore new places and new cultures, but also to grow as a person and become even more independent than I had been at my home college. 

I’ve never lived in a large city for an extended period of time before, which was the largest learning curve I had to face upon my arrival in France. Although I’d visited New York and Chicago often enough that I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the concept of navigating an urban area, those were always short visits with minimal or nonexistent use of public transportation. I became more and more comfortable with using the bus and tram systems in Nantes the longer I stayed there, which was especially beneficial when I travelled around Europe and was able to apply some of that practical experience toward Venice’s nightmarish bus system or the straightforward but vast network of U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains in Berlin. Despite that increased confidence in using public transit, I was still very grateful when my host family was willing to drive me to the airport at four AM with all of my incredibly heavy luggage and spare me the hour long series of buses and trams from the condo. 

My mom’s visit to Nantes in early March really put my personal growth into perspective, as she relied on me to navigate around a city with a layout that’s medieval at best and labyrinthine at worst. I am, apparently, the only one in our close family who did not inherit the chronic lack of directional skills that has plagued my mother’s side of the family for at least four generations. It was a little odd feeling like my mom was dependent on me to figure out what we were going to do and how we were going to get there to do it instead of vice versa, but hopefully this means that the next time we vacation somewhere new we’ll get lost a bit less.

The main benefit of my experience abroad has been a new ability to problem solve and, for the most part, keep a sanguine disposition while doing so. If I hit a roadblock, either metaphorically or literally, I’m now able to strategize a way to circumvent it and still reach a favorable solution. This new outlook on finding solutions to problems mostly stemmed from the simultaneously freeing and isolating nature of traveling alone or with other students: if you have an issue, the only way to rectify the situation is to waste time waiting for someone else to figure out what to do or to grit your teeth and do it yourself. Especially in an unknown environment, there will always be unforeseen problems with getting from point A to point B or figuring out where to eat; by treating problem solving as an inevitability, I was able to thoroughly enjoy my time in Europe regardless of anything that didn’t go quite to plan.

Overall, although I’m disappointed that I had to return home early and miss even more life-changing experiences abroad, I’m still incredibly grateful for what I was able to see and do while I was there. From the mundane details like my morning commute and the new things I learned in class to the extraordinary adventures of exploring castles, seaside cliffs, and historical sites from many different eras, I will always cherish the memories I made while traveling and studying abroad.

Joseph Kalmar

<p>I'm a sophomore in college who has studied French for over seven years. In addition to reading, singing, and playing various musical instruments, I'm an avid fan of birdwatching, watching hockey, and traveling.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
College of Wooster, The
Bowling Green, OH
French Language
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