I returned from studying abroad in Paris with a suitcase 20 pounds over the weight limit and a hefty overage charge of 200 euros (not recommended).

My mom was not very happy…until she received her Christmas present, which was the main reason my suitcase was so heavy. I brought back bundles of other presents, too, like macaroons, coffee, and handfuls of mini Eiffel Tower key chains. However, I also discovered many unexpected souvenirs that (thankfully) didn’t weigh anything, but made a huge impact.

Here are five invaluable souvenirs I brought home from studying abroad.

A Career Path

I had no idea that the field of International Education existed until I studied abroad, but the experience opened my eyes to the possibility of working at a job with an international component. After returning to Cal Poly, I joined as many international groups that I could find: the CEA Alumni Ambassador program, Cal Poly’s International Peer Contact program, and the TESL program. These opportunities helped me connect to my school community and gave me a post-graduation goal to strive toward. Because of study abroad and these new networks, I found my current position as the Alumni Relations Associate at CEA.

Studying abroad was the first stepping stone to helping me discover what I was truly passionate about and what I wanted from a job after graduation.

 

An International Network

During my first few weeks abroad, I constantly missed friends in San Luis Obispo and questioned if I would find a niche in Paris. But as I began to adjust by joining an international women’s soccer team, participating in monthly dorm dinners, and celebrating my birthday with newfound friends, I discovered that Paris could be home. I can now say that I have friends all over the world, which gives me an excuse to travel (oh darn!) and inspires me to live an internationally focused life.

Another benefit of this new international network is the ability to connect with more people, a useful resource while searching for a job or internship. I would have never found my position at CEA without study abroad and the Alumni Ambassador program. You never know what doors living with a host family, making international friends, or traveling to a new city might open for you in the future.

 

A Second Language

Although it is not necessary to be fully versed in another language to study abroad, I highly recommend it! You are able to develop a new skill, understand the culture a little better, and maybe even make friends with the locals. Although I do not consider myself fluent in French, I noticed a significant improvement in my language abilities after studying abroad.

While learning a second language might seem difficult (even embarrassing at times), it provides many new skills to showcase on your resume. Just remember to never lie about your language level! You never know when a hiring manager or employer will ask you to demonstrate them.

 

Experiential Learning

One of my favorite parts about my CEA program was the experiential learning. Every Thursday, my art history class went to architectural sites and viewed paintings up close, which allowed me to truly understand the class material and contributed to my love for Paris. In my French class, we visited Père Lachaise, went to a French play, ate lunch at the professor’s house, and watched French films in theaters.

All of these real-world experiences not only enhanced my learning within the classroom, but I also enjoyed telling friends back home that I ate fresh pastries from a pâisserie for French class or studied Monet’s “Water Lilies” painting at Musée de l’Orangerie in the Tuileries Garden. They were a little jealous.

 

Wanderlust

When I first moved to Paris, I was nervous to venture out on my own, afraid of getting lost since my navigational skills weren’t (and still aren’t) the best. However, the more comfortable I became with my surroundings, the more I experienced Paris on my own: walking back from class instead of taking the metro, running through the city to train for a 10k, and even getting lost on purpose. My desire to explore and confidence to go alone grew throughout my study abroad experience and has followed me ever since.

Knowing that I could feel at home in Paris also gave me the confidence to accept a position in Phoenix, a place I had never visited before. I now not only want to travel internationally but also want to explore close to home, discovering hidden gems, learning about different cultures, and making new friends.

 

Tara Maher is an Alumni Relations Associate at CEA Study Abroad, an organization that helps students spend a semester, a summer, or an academic year studying abroad in 12 countries. Where will your learning take you?

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