Final Reflection: My Personal Growth in Paris

Julia Himmelberger
January 2, 2022

It’s officially been four months since I boarded the plane to Paris for the semester. I’ve been procrastinating this final blog post because it means my study abroad experience is officially over. :( It flew by so quickly, and I tried to jot down thoughts as I went, but some of them never made it into my blog posts. So this one is going to be a hodgepodge of thoughts and feelings looking back on the semester. 

The biggest thing I gained from my time in Paris was a better sense of self. This was the first time I lived alone, fully responsible for myself and no one else. I had to figure out doctor appointments, meals, and money independently (with some guidance and support from my family and IES Abroad, of course!). With this responsibility came a lot of power. I only had to answer to myself. This was challenging at first, as I’m notoriously indecisive and sometimes just go along with what other people want because it’s convenient. As time went on, I got more comfortable making decisions for myself and figuring out how I wanted to spend my time and money. I chose to only say yes to things that aligned with those goals. It was exciting to wake up every morning, visit the boulangerie, and then decide how to spend my day: what museums to visit, what to eat for meals, which arrondissements to explore. 

Paris was also the first time that I experienced something completely my own. There will be no one around me to chime in when I’m telling my stories of Paris. Only I carry those anecdotes. Realizing this was groundbreaking for me, and a little bit strange. All of my life experiences to this point have been shared experiences with people around me (classmates, camp friends, family members, etc.). But since I was so independent in Paris, no other person has all the same stories or experiences as me. Since the beginning, I felt a responsibility to record my experiences, which is why I decided to blog and create an Instagram account for my travels (@timetodanceinfrance). Now I’m working on creating a scrapbook of photos, ticket stubs, and postcards from my semester. I’m excited to have these mediums (Instagram, blog, scrapbook) so that I have something concrete to turn to when I want to be reminded of my time or show my friends (and even my future children) what a great time I had. 

It’s easy now to remember studying abroad as the best time of my life. But during the semester, I struggled with the idea of doing study abroad “right." Was I traveling enough? Was I staying in Paris enough? Was I going out enough? Was I practicing self-care enough? Was I exploring enough? Was I speaking French enough? Was I improving? Was I making lifelong friends? Was I trying new things? I’d have days feeling guilty that I didn’t get out of my apartment to explore, feeling like I wasted a day. These were difficult feelings to work through, but I kept coming back to the fact that there is no “right” way to study abroad, and my experience would be uniquely my own, regardless of how I spent it. When I stopped comparing my experience to others, I felt freer to appreciate my experience as it was. Looking back on my semester, I feel that I found a balance between squeezing the most out of my semester while also finding time to rest and study. I got to know Paris pretty well and was able to explore France and Europe. I also improved my French skills, which was one of my semester goals. I feel much more confident conversing with locals, and I even wrote a 4,000-word essay (in French!) for my France and Francophone Africa class. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity before graduating to learn and grow. I know that this experience has impacted me in numerous ways, and I look forward to seeing where my future takes me (hopefully to France again!). Thanks for following along on my blog! À bientôt! 

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Julia Himmelberger

<p>Hi! My name is Julia (she/her) and I'm from Wellesley, MA. I study French and Political Science at St. Olaf College. I love to read, play ultimate frisbee, and swim!</p>

2021 Fall
Home University:
St. Olaf College
Wellesley, MA
French Language
Political Science
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