If I had the opportunity to do it all over again, I would. Spending a semester in Paris, France, was the greatest decision I have made in my life thus far and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
Many students tend to have preconceived notions about studying abroad and I will be the first to tell you that they are all wrong. It is too expensive. No, it is not; the experiences gained both academically and socially are invaluable to a comprehensive education. You always can, and always will make more money. It is too far. No, it is not; as Thomas Friedman so cleverly stated, “The World is Flat.” If we expect to compete for international jobs, we must prepare by getting a global education. It will be too long. No, it will not; the five months spent away from home will pass by faster than any one month spent right here in Kansas. The constant challenges make for an extremely dynamic semester and inevitable growth as a young adult. And my personal favorite: I don’t speak a foreign language.You don’t have to! Wichita State has several partner schools in a number of cities scattered across the globe, and guess what – they teach courses in English. When it comes to additional traveling, all you need is a finger to point at menu items. Unless, of course, you choose to travel with one of the many international students you study with that reside in the country you’re going to. Trust me; there is not an excuse in the book that should hold students back from studying abroad.
The only perception that will be proven true during a semester in a foreign country is this: It will be hard. Not only hard, but probably the most difficult semester he or she will ever have. At least, it was for me. Teachers cannot simulate what it feels like to take the wrong metro line, shortly after dark, and be terrified as you wander through an unfamiliar city alone. A classroom does not prepare students for the overwhelming smell of urine in the streets, the constant crowd of people smoking, and the exhaust pouring out from all the cars. News stations do not relay the mass amount of fear and anger that rises when there are rioters screaming in multiple languages, shaking their flags and banners. And although there are moments when every student will consider the sanity of their decision to leave home, there a million more that reinforce the brave choice he or she took. Google images cannot begin to illustrate Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, or La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain, or the view from the Ferris wheel overlooking the Champs-Elysees in Paris. These are just a few of the things in this world that cannot be explained and must be lived. I encourage every student to face the fear of venturing alone to unfamiliar territory, because the experience is equally as rewarding as it is difficult. I dare say that the months I spent in France were magical.
At school, my courses and their content came to life! All of the things I have been studying at Wichita State and the knowledge I have gained as a part of Barton International Group came together and made sense. In European Lobbying, I applied the concepts I learned in my economics courses to accurately explain my debates. During International Contract Negotiation, I used examples from BIG to argue why Non-Disclosure Agreements are imperative to any organization. I even got to see Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, an important part of the business curriculum at Wichita State, firsthand.
For example, my peers displayed the cultural traits I have been taught about their respective countries simply by describing the disciplinary actions they would take in a given situation. Even simpler than that, I could begin to identify which students came from collective societies or individualistic societies by observing where they chose to sit in the classroom. Everywhere I looked at École Supérieure du Commerce Extérieur, I saw the theories I had previously learned in Wichita, being demonstrated by real people with real examples. All of these instances reassured me that my college education in the Barton School of Business is something to be treasured.
The time I spent at my residence hall was equally as important to my experience abroad. At any time of day, I could walk to our common kitchens and learn how to cook dishes I had never tasted with ingredients I had never seen. I had the privilege of sharing a home with 270 students from 43 different countries, and every one of us had cultural knowledge that was invaluable to the others. By asking questions we all got to hear the stories, facts and opinions, and first-hand experiences of people belonging to those cities, countries, or religions we were curious about. Every day I got to learn about the benefits of different political structures, the adaptations people have made to survive in different climates, and why allowing civilians to have firearms is such a bizarre concept outside the United States. My Peruvian friends shared stories of chewing coca leaves to relieve migraines. My German friends described the burden of living in a country notorious for genocide. My Italian friends taught me how to make real espresso on a stovetop. There is not a curriculum that can teach all the things we shared with each other, or cultivate the lasting relationships that we made. At the beginning we were 270 strangers in a residence hall, but at the end we were one big family that called Fondation Deutsche de la Meurthe our home.
If there was a way to accurately calculate the return on investment for an experience like the one I had, I could prove to you that it is worth all the hard work it takes. I don’t have specific numbers to share, but I can say that I feel confident about going into future interviews with all the examples and stories I have to share now. It will not be difficult for me to describe a time I felt overwhelmed, a situation where communication was important, and a struggle that ended in failure. But the confidence I feel, and every student will feel after completing a semester or even a year abroad, does not end at the interview stage. A sense of self-awareness will carry through the remainder of the student’s education, follow them into their career, and prepare them for international success. I believe everyone has the resilience it takes to travel far out of his or her comfort zone, if they are willing to try. I encourage you to leverage all the resources we are offered here at Wichita State and take advantage of one of our many partner schools. Put your education to the test and gain a new cultural awareness, all while having the absolute time of your life!