I always knew that studying abroad would teach me amazing things, but I didn’t realize that the most important lessons I learned would be about myself. It’s been over a year since I came back from studying in Aix-en-Provence, but my experience abroad continues to affect my life, especially with the confidence I gained.

Studying abroad was very difficult for me at first. After the first week or so, my program-mates started going on weekend trips with their friends. I knew I wanted to travel, but I was too nervous! I thought if I planned a trip, I would end up hopelessly lost, or hurt, or who knows what else! Without any confidence in myself, I spent my weekends in my room at my homestay, just hanging around Aix. I was bored and paralyzed.

When a week-long break from school rolled around, I decided to finally swallowed my fear and planed a big trip. The thought was intimidating, but the cabin fever was getting to be intolerable. Normandy seemed like a good place to start; it was far enough away while still being in France, plus I had always wanted to see Mont Saint-Michel. My friend Nela asked if she could come with me, I was so relieved! Having a friend helped me take the leap, and soon we were off.

The next several days were some of the best I had abroad. Nela and I traveled through Normandy and saw Mont Saint-Michel as well as the town of Bayeux. Yes, we made traveler’s mistakes: we got lost, we had to run for trains and buses, we had to improvise and figure things out along the way. But we stayed smart and safe, and the little hiccups in the plan ended up creating some of the best memories.

In the weeks and months that followed, I got more and more comfortable with traveling. Going to Normandy with Nela helped me prove to myself that I was capable of planning a trip, keeping myself safe and navigating a foreign city. By the end of my semester, I had planned a solo trip to Italy before my flight back to the States. Instead of being stressed, I was thrilled. The travel bug in me had been unleashed! My Italian trip was one of the best. I remember wandering the streets of Rome, marveling at the city’s beauty but also marveling at how far I’d come.

To this day when I face a challenge that shakes my confidence or really stresses me out, I think back to Rome and tell myself, “If I can do that, I can definitely do this!” There are so many ways that studying abroad has changed me for the better, but the confidence I gained during my adventure is one of the biggest things that has made me who I am today.  

Rachel Fountain is an Alumnae of CEA Study Abroad, she studied Journalism in Aix-en-Provence, Spring 2015.