My name is Alejandro, and I’m from Mexico City. I came to France to get a Bachelor’s degree (or, as they call it in French, une Licence) in Law, and I’m the first member of my whole family that gets to study abroad. It’s scary, coming to a new country where you probably don’t know anyone. I chose Strasbourg University because I knew one of the students here, which was at least a little bit comforting. I did a little research, and I remember thinking how fun and interesting it would be to study in a city that looks literally like the ones you’d see in fairytales. So I applied, and months later, I got the news that I had been admitted into the University. It almost didn’t feel real, and honestly, it wasn’t till I actually got here that I fully realized that I had actually done it. Let me take you through my experience.
When you get here, you’ll notice many things that change. One of the main differences is in the food that you’ll eat. If you come from Mexico, like me, you’ll notice right away that the food is vastly different. There are no tortillas accompanying every meal, no spicy sauces or sliced limes. There won’t be any of those tropical fruits that you’d normally eat; instead, you’ll find apples, grapes and berries that you probably haven't ever seen before. You’ll see that there are barely any restaurants that make the food that you’re used to, and even those that do don’t taste quite the same. You’ll have to adapt quickly to a new diet and embrace the local ingredients, smells and flavors of your region.
Aside from that, you’ll see that the language is different. And not only that, but the way that people behave and communicate is different. You’ll soon realize that even after taking French courses, you still have a lot to learn about the way that French people communicate. Their sense of humor is different, their way of expressing emotions is different, and you probably should try to learn their slang, if you don’t want to feel left out of many conversations.
Staying in another country means that you’ll have to adapt to a different culture, weather and overall lifestyle. It’s not for everyone, and you’ll inevitably run into some difficulties along the way. For me, I spent one month looking for an apartment near my school. At that time, I rented a room in a house at the outskirts of Colmar, and everyday I had to make an odyssey to get to school, taking a bus, then taking the train, and then the tram. It certainly was exhausting, and sometimes it stressed me out. But going abroad also teaches you to look at the positive side in everything. I learned to enjoy the cold weather in the morning, as I waited for the bus. I liked sitting in the train, reading a book and watching the French countryside move quickly in front of the window, and I loved that I could go to school in a train cabin, just like in the movies.
The experience of living in France is scary, but the good things outweigh the bad ones by a mile. Maybe you’ll find the courses at your university to be hard to follow (at least I know I did), but you’ll also find that there are many people willing to help. You’ll make friends, and you’ll meet people that are in the same situation as you. Overall, as you try new things and get out of your comfort zone, you’ll grow as a person and change.
Before coming here, I had a hard time initiating conversations with strangers, I was more introverted and anxious when trying to talk to new people. Living here has given me the opportunity to change that.
In my first month of living here, I was sitting near Strasbourg’s Cathedral, waiting for an appointment that I had later that day. As I waited, I saw a girl with a huge backpack laying next to a bench. She seemed interesting, as if she had a story to tell, and I wanted to talk to her. I sat on the bench and it took me half an hour to finally say something to her, but once I did, it was great. She was an Australian traveler, who was backpacking across Europe before returning home. We talked for more than an hour, time went by super fast. Before saying goodbye, she gave me the book that she had been reading, and I gave her a box of chocolate that I had just bought at the supermarket.
After that, I decided to try to go and try more new things, things that I maybe wouldn't normally do. I took dance lessons, even though I normally don’t like dancing. I talked to other people in my class, even when it seemed scary at first. In my time here, I’ve met some very nice people.
There’s a French girl who took me to the top of Strasbourg’s cathedral, where I saw one of the most beautiful views of the city. There’s a Turkish guy who gave me his notes so I could better understand my courses. A Japanese girl who showed me how authentic boba tastes (it’s my favorite drink), a Moldovian girl who helps me study and blushes every time she talks, and an Algerian guy who always smiles a lot, even when no one’s saying anything. Most importantly, I’ve made two friends from Bulgaria that have become very close with me. They came with me on my first trip to Germany (it’s 5 minutes away from Strasbourg), they took me to a Halloween party where we danced until 5 am (we had to walk home under the rain, it was pretty fun), they stayed up late with me to study for our finals, and they were with me when I saw snow for the first time in my life.
Point is, every step of your journey here will be an adventure, maybe even before it starts. Sure, there will be times when you will feel lonely or out of place. Maybe you’ll cry when you miss your family and friends, just as they cried when they took you to the airport. Maybe you’ll miss your country, and you’ll show everyone the pictures you took when you were still there. There will be moments like that, it takes a lot of courage and commitment to decide to study abroad. But what’s certain is that this is a great opportunity in every conceivable way. You will not only grow as a person and get a new perspective on life but you’ll also meet a lot of different people who will make your experience much more rich. You’ll discover new places, flavors, smells and sensations that you didn’t even imagine. You’ll find out more about yourself, and you’ll see how strong you actually are.
I’ve been in France since August, and as I’m writing this, it feels weird to think that so much time has passed already since I first arrived in France. I miss Mexico, I miss my family, my dog and my friends. I still try to recreate the food that I’m used to eating, and I feel nostalgic everytime I listen to music from my country. But in me, there’s an undeniable sense of wonder and anticipation for everything that’s to come. This city amazes me, for its enormous Christmas markets, its gorgeous architecture, its curious and beautiful natural side, and its people. There is so much more that I have yet to discover, so much more that Strasbourg has to offer, and I’m eager to see it. I know I will have my ups and downs, but I welcome it with open arms.
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