Someone that I respect here at OWU told me I was prepared for the real world. I’m not sure I believe them, but through my experience abroad, I’ve learned that I can do it, whatever “it” turns out to be.
I treasure a small notebook with anecdotes written by study abroad friends. In my first few weeks in Paris, I realized I was going to miss these people someday, so I asked them to “impart to me some wisdom” and I hold dear their handwritten quotes and ideas.
When I got back, I realized that written wisdom, along with my own wisdom that I recorded in my own journals, was the only physical reminder of the adventures I’d had – I had learned to live in the moment, not just in the Instagram-able snapshot. Instead of sharing the photos, now I share the stories of the things I don’t have pictures of.
I locked myself inside my office in Brussels and had to call security, explaining in French exactly how this happened. I misheard a time and showed up at 7 a.m. for a meeting that started at 8:30. I wrote things that my boss never read, but I also wrote things that the boss of my boss read. I showed up fashionably late to a dinner party at my boss’s house only to find that the Italian version of “fashionably late” meant 2 hours later than the stated start time.
I got used to saying “yes” instead of a noncommittal “sure,” and speaking slowly so everyone could understand. I learned a few words of Maltese and Italian so I could laugh in the right places and make everyone think I understood what they were saying. I got used to wearing pencil skirts every day and started to love them. I got used to getting into silly situations and finding my own way out.
I drank wine at 1 a.m. in one of the most famous publishing house offices in Germany. I walked by a clock store as they all chimed midnight and it felt like poetic fate. I showed my city off to my ninety-year-old grandfather. I spent a lot of nights in my attic room watching rain splat on skylights with a fluffy black cat leaving her fur all over my lap.
I got tonsillitis in Sarajevo. I visited Barcelona and didn’t go to a single bar. I drank the clearest, coldest water from a river in the Alps of Slovenia. I felt a surge of pride as I walked by the Berlin wall. I skinny-dipped in the English Channel. I got lost in a field with no Wi-Fi in Amsterdam. I went to Zagreb for 18 hours so I could go to the Museum of Broken Relationships. I learned what stinging nettles were while working in a French village that no French professor has ever heard of.
I still feel guilty for being the first one to tell an eleven-year-old Parisian boy that Donald Trump had won the American presidential election. I still feel like I failed that French soldier at a bar after his shift, when he asked me explain (in French) the Electoral College and I couldn’t. I still wish I had spoken more than once during the entire semester of my one class at the real French university.
But I had someone I respect tell me that I was the best intern they had ever had. In that, I realized that working in an international governmental organization was something I wanted to do forever, something I could do, something others thought I could do. A fellow French student told me my French accent was beautiful. It’s the unexpected recognition that assures me I must be doing something right.
I returned to OWU. Things are different, but I hold on to a few routines. I get to continue researching migration, political movements in Turkey and in Hungary – and I’m learning German because I want to, not because I have to. I finished an English minor and I’m in process of finishing a French major and an International Studies major.
It’s not so different, studying abroad. There are rarely required meetings or leadership trainings or any of the millions of things I juggle on campus. Instead, there’s a chance to start over, to rely on only yourself and to tell the stories you bring back in whichever way you wish.
I’ve applied to teach English in France next year while looking for graduate programs in European Public Administration. I’m looking for internships in public policy and advocacy, all within the European Union. I’ve learned new languages and new ideas, met new people and made best friends.
Above all, I’ve learned that it is possible for an American to pursue a future abroad that includes family, friends, love, security and contentedness – and I’m going to, no matter what comes my way.
Sarah Kennedy is a senior International Studies and French major with an English minor. She studied abroad in Paris, France in Fall 2016 and interned in the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium in Spring 2017.