There’s nothing like being alone in a new country to force you to step out of your comfort zone. While navigating a new city may seem daunting at first, it forces you to be independent and self-reliant. Through this process, you can also discover a lot about yourself, and grow as both a thinker and as an individual. Honors student, Jacob Prall, reflects on his semester in Pau, France, and how his experience allowed him to step out of his comfort zone and face the unknown.
In the Fall of 2016, I boarded a plane in Chicago. 14 hours later, I stepped off that plane in Paris. I wouldn’t be here long, just a couple nights for a whirlwind tour of the biggest and best tourist sites the city of lights had to offer. Departing from the Palace at Versailles, we toured the small, picturesque French villages along our route south, sampling foods, meeting local artisans, and touring chateaus. A week after I landed, we arrived in the city I would call home for the following three months: Pau.
I hadn’t studied French before arriving. I barely had bonjour under my belt. I was seeking a challenge that would push me from my comfort zone into the cloudy unknown. I had to put myself out there, communicate with wild gesticulations, embracing any and every mistake I made. Through this process of humility and perseverance, my language skills developed rapidly, and I was placed in an above entry level French course. It is far better to make mistakes than to not try, and the same is true when studying abroad. You can’t learn from your bedroom. You can’t learn if you’re crippled by shyness. I had plenty of anxiety, but used it to fuel my curiosity and focus, refusing to let it paralyze me.
I’d urge anyone studying abroad to travel during their time away. While in Europe, I visited Spain, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Italy, and England. It was on these trips where I learned a great deal about navigation and self-reliance. I also met a remarkable number of people – some locals, some fellow travelers, all with stories to tell and insights to provide. This is key in developing a global understanding of the world. If you spend your time like I did, you’ll also take in a lot of history and culture. And, you know, have a crazy amount of fun.
Travelling domestically is also important. I traversed several major French cities, meeting French people from all walks of life. I wouldn’t have nearly the understanding of the French political system and environment if I hadn’t spoken to so many French people about their opinions.
My French classes had students from around the world: Brazil, Iraq, South Korea, China, Australia, and Japan are just a few countries that were represented. The future of the EU is uncertain as our world grapples with several nationalist movements – movements encouraging a dangerous demonization and distrust of the “other”. When you engage with that “other”, you see who they are. They are people. You can listen to their hopes and their jokes. You can witness their strength, their wisdom, their silliness and utter humanity. Sharing my story with my fellow global students, and hearing theirs in turn, was enlightening, empowering, and motivating.
There may be nothing else in my career as an undergraduate student that I look back on more fondly, that taught me so much about myself and the world, than studying abroad.
Studying abroad has many perks; you get to travel to a new country, immerse yourself in a new culture, and have once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It also allows for a great deal of learning, both inside of the classroom, and outside of it. Studying abroad fosters self-discovery and independent thinking, and allows you to develop skills that will assist you in all future endeavors.
Written by: Jacob Prall, Honors Student
Jacob Prall is an Ethics and Public Policy major with a focus in Economics, who is also receiving minors in English and Theater, and the Writing Certificate. He’s an improviser, a director, a writer and fighter around town. Maybe you’ll see him.
Edited by: Chloe Sekhran, Blog Manager