The Calm Before the Storm

As finals approach, there is a lot more work to be done before I can begin to reminisce on what has undoubtedly felt like the quickest semester of my life. However, unlike many students who study abroad, my finals week doesn’t mark the end of my journey, but in many ways it marks the beginning.

What I mean by this is that when I was first accepted to go abroad I was presented with 2 different options in regards to my final exams; I could either take my finals in December with the international students in order to make it home in time for the holidays, or I could take them in January with the Spanish students and stay put for a while longer. To me, the choice was easy. Why come back and sit around at home all winter break when I could spend that same time exploring Europe? With this in mind, I chose to buy my return ticket for the end of January.

My parents were quick to support me on this decision, with the only downside being that I would be away from them on Christmas for the first time. However, rather than come home for the holidays, my parents, along with my older brother, decided to bring the holidays here and visit me in Madrid on Christmas! This was arguably the best news I had received since leaving NYC and I am still counting down the days.

Another decision I came to was that instead of waiting until January to take my final exams and doing a little traveling in between, I would prefer to get my finals out of the way in December with the material still fresh in my head and enjoy my remaining time here stress free (for the most part) as a result.

Although these are all decisions I am very happy with and still stand by, they now also mean that I have my work cut-out for me. This upcoming week will without a doubt present the toughest challenge I have ever faced in terms of finals for two reasons. Not only are all of these exams squeezed more tightly together in terms of times and dates than they would be at New Paltz, but they also have a significant amount more at stake, being worth approximately 60% of my course grade.

As a result, I am preparing harder than ever before, knowing what lies ahead once I take care of business. Wish me luck!

Terrorism Abroad

In light of the attacks in Brussels yesterday, I feel that blogging about terrorism abroad might be prevalent.

I’m happy to report that I as well as all my friends are fine. Nothing is happening in Besançon, it’s been just like every other day, which I am more than thankful for. But as I was saying to my housemate earlier, even these small, less know, less popular cities like Besançon are on high (maybe high-ish) alert all the time. Everyday when I’m walking down the street there are the “vigipirates,” the soldiers/police who drive down very slowly, très lentement, in their white vans, looking closely at average people like me walking down the street to make sure nothing suspicious is happening.

A few months ago before I even arrived here, I had received an immediate notification about the attacks in Paris. It was Nov. 13. I was in my office with my boyfriend Jack, getting ready to prepare the night’s newscast. I remember both of us got the notification simultaneously. My heart sank a little when I read my update from The New York Times. Jack got the same one but from The Associated Press and he asked me, “Are you sure you still wanna go to France?”

I took the question as a half-joke because 1) of course I was still going to go to France, and 2) I didn’t want to psyche myself out. But of course, I did anyway.

Because when you hear about the kinds of things that happened in Paris in November and what just happened in Brussels yesterday, you get nervous, you get scared, you start to think too much. You hope to God that something like that will never happen to you but you never really know, because it can happen anywhere. It can happen in Europe, it can happen in the Middle East, it can happen at home in the United States, especially somewhere like New York.

But even though this is the current state of the crazy world we live in and things can happen anywhere at any time… they usually don’t. More often than not, it’s a case of wrong place at the wrong time. And to me, these circumstances make these violent attacks all the more sick and tragic. Are these terrorists bombing innocent people just to prove a point? To show that they are capable of such threatening and violent acts?

An article from CNN reported that ISIS tweeted a statement saying “What will be coming is worse” after yesterday’s attacks in Belgium. Now, we are not at that point yet, so I’m not going to continue to dwell on it. And this goes without saying – BUT – life would just be so much easier if these kinds of things didn’t happen in the world and if there weren’t people who felt the need to act in such extreme, horrific ways.

Obviously as study abroad students we are inclined to be traveling a lot – it’s just a part of the experience being here. We want to do as much as we can while we’re here, because we won’t be staying for long, and who knows when we’ll have the chance to come back. So this obviously makes parents, friends, family members, professors and the like nervous, as it should. But traveling abroad is a lot simpler and a lot safer than some people make it out to be. And it is especially safer after events like these happen. That’s also why we have the vigipirates in Besançon.

Everyone is on high alert, everyone is looking out, everyone is well aware. My thoughts, prayers and love go out to those who may have lost someone yesterday in Brussels and I hope I never live to experience whatever they may be feeling. And as I’ve said, this is just the state of the world today. It certainly isn’t ideal, but the important thing is just to remain cautious, aware and vigilant. It’s also probably in everyone’s best interests to stay away from dangerous situations, ie. major cities, riots, large crowds, religious gatherings of any kind. I know that these attacks are scary and frightening above all else, but they just can’t and shouldn’t stop everyone from living their lives. If we start to live in fear, then the terrorists win, don’t they? And we can’t have that happen. It’s plain and simple.

On Leaving

I boarded AirFrance flight 0007 at approximately 6:50 p.m. on the night of Jan. 12. That day came way faster than I had expected. Or maybe it didn’t. I guess somewhere lingering in the back of my mind I had told myself that the day wouldn’t come so soon, I still had time to be at home with friends and family in my own bed, in a place that I was familiar with.

And then months passed in a time period that felt like mere days. And then I was hugging my friends goodbye and waving goodbye to my parents at the security check at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens with tears swelled up in my eyes.

The funny thing about leaving is you never really understand how fast the day comes when you’re scheduled to leave. It comes around the corner like a bullet and kind of just sweeps you off your feet. It’s a bit unsettling, but also a bit good for you, in my humble opinion.

The entire week or so before I left my home in Bohemia, New York to fly on a jet plane to Paris I felt like I had constant ants in my pants. I found time to spend time with my parents yet I was hardly home. I was trying to see every close friend I could before I knew the day would come where I would have to pack up my belongings and say goodbye for the next few months. I didn’t want to stop moving. I didn’t want to be alone. I knew that as soon as I got on that plane I’d be entering into a culture I barely knew, something unfamiliar to me. And it made me uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, I was always excited to leave for France. I started taking French classes my freshman year and immediately loved the language in a way I never experienced when studying Spanish. I loved the culture and the history and the music and the language on its own. Its complexity astounded me and intimidated me and I decided I wanted to continue studying. What I expected to merely count for a GE became my minor. And now that culture is my temporary home.

I knew that studying abroad would be the best experience for me. Getting to live in a different country in a completely alternate culture is the chance of a lifetime. To get to learn a foreign language firsthand is a dream. Or at least it had been my dream. Learning a different language always appealed to me. I was excited to dive right into a new experience, one few people take often. I kept telling myself that studying abroad would be good for me: a different environment, a different language, different food, different people. Everything different.

But I was scared. So absolutely petrified. I cried more times than I’d like to admit at the thought of leaving my best friends and my boyfriend and my family. The thought of having to speak a foreign language I’d only taken for two and a half years taunted me for the last month I was home. Going into the city to get my visa alone gave me anxiety. The thought of being without my entire support system made me sick to my stomach. And for all of those reasons, I had to push myself to leave. As scared as I was and as nervous as I knew I’d be, I had to leave. I had to get over the fear I had of the unknown, the uncomfortable, the things outside of my comfortable little bubble in New York.

That’s what I believe study abroad is for. It’s for students like me and you, reader, who feel a necessity to explore and try new things despite any sort of reluctance. Because although you feel that your human nature will defy you, it actually helps you. Your mind and your body learn to adjust. It just takes time. It’s still taking time. And while that might not have felt okay a few weeks ago, it feels okay now. You adjust to the unknown and befriend it. Suddenly the new world you’re living in isn’t so scary – and you learn new things every single day.

One final note before I leave you for now: if you are thinking about studying abroad but are doubtful for any reason, I push you and advise you to just do it and to just say yes. In my final column of the semester for The New Paltz Oracle, I cited a study from the Institute for the International Education of Students (IIES Abroad) that found that studying abroad served as a catalyst for increased maturity (97 percent), increased self-confidence (96 percent) and had a lasting impact on the students’ world view (95 percent).

Another study I cited from the University of California, Merced, reported that 97 percent of students who studied abroad found employment within 12 months of graduation while only 49 percent of college graduates found employment within the same time period. The same study found that 90 percent of study abroad alumni were accepted to their first and second choice grad schools and 80 percent of these alumni said their abroad experiences allowed them to better adapt to diverse work environments.

So don’t worry about the unknown or what’s going to come next, or maybe even about how you feel you might miss out back home. I felt the same exact way – I still do sometimes – but I know that being in Besançon will only help me now and in the future. And everything at home is waiting for me when I go back.