Today we speak with Calysta Laurente, a junior Management and Marketing major who is also minoring in International Studies. Calysta took the fall 2021 semester abroad to Europe. She discusses her experiences abroad and reflects upon her time studying in France and visiting different countries.
What made you decide to study abroad? Was it always your intention to study abroad?
Studying abroad was something that I knew I wanted to do even before I chose Rowan as my university. I love to travel and it is something I hope to continue to do for a very long time. I grew up in a family that also loves to travel, always going on summer vacations and long roadtrips. Growing up traveling to different places and learning about different cultures was always something that I loved to do.
Although I was a little indecisive of where I wanted to go because I had so many great options, I chose Paris, France. This is because I knew I wanted to be in Europe and I also have close family that live in Paris. This way, I was more comfortable going abroad knowing that I had family close by which I was especially thankful for when it came to the transition from America to France.
What program are you a part of: provider programs, exchange programs or faculty-led programs?
The program that I chose through Rowan is the American Institute of Foreign Studies (AIFS), an exchange student program. My study abroad advisor actually helped me choose my program since Rowan offers so many. She suggested AIFS because she had a really good experience abroad with the program when she had gone.
How has studying abroad been beneficial to you and the major you are studying?
One of the factors that I was worried about when choosing to study abroad was if I was still going to graduate on time. Thankfully, through AIFS I had gotten to choose the university I wanted to apply to when coming to France.
This fall I attended The American Business School of Paris. This is an international university located right in the heart of Paris. Choosing this school was very beneficial for me because I was able to take all the business courses I needed to stay on track to graduate. Also, all of my classes were in English, so there was no language barrier. Lastly, because it is an international university, most students were exchange students for the semester and came from all over the world which made the social aspect really fun because I had the chance to meet so many great people.
Can you talk about the different places you have visited while being abroad? Have you stayed in France the entire time or have you traveled elsewhere?
While living in Europe it was fairly easy to travel to different countries. I was lucky enough to have traveled to Switzerland, Italy, England, Portugal and the Netherlands. I have also traveled to other cities within France. Thankfully, it was easy to travel within Europe; but unfortunately with Covid, the restrictions were different in each country.
Planning a trip, I had to go through researching the different restriction rules for that specific country beforehand. But going through that process was always worth it for the visit. Each country I was able to see I loved. Getting to learn about the culture in each country was an unforgettable experience for me.
What has been your favorite part of studying abroad?
I love everything about what I had gotten to experience studying abroad. But what I loved the most about traveling is definitely the people I have met. I am so thankful that with my housing situation I was able to live with two other American students that I had gotten so close with in such a short period of time. Through the AIFS program, I was able to be a part of a close knit group of students from all over the U.S. whom I am lucky enough to call some of my best friends.
Going to the American Business School, I had the opportunity to meet students from all over the world, which was really fascinating to me. Even just the little conversations I had with people during class, hostel stays in different countries, and walking down the streets of France had made such a big impact on my experience abroad.
I am just so grateful to be able to say that I have friends who live in so many different countries around the world.
Was it hard to adjust to being abroad? Was it difficult to be in a different country where a different language was spoken?
Personally, it is not very often when I get homesick. At home, I live on campus and during the summers I work alot down the shore, not seeing my family too often. One of the biggest adjustments was living in my homestay. It was really nerve-racking not only knowing that I was moving into someone else’s home, but also not knowing my roommates beforehand.
I was completely blind about my living situation until that first day I arrived in France. My homestay family was an older French couple who spoke almost no English so it was very difficult to communicate with them most of the time. I had come to France knowing no French at all and not even having the comfort of your native language was hard to adjust to at first. Although, I was able to get through it. Even though it was hard to communicate with my homestay family, I always did my best. I have been taking a French course as well as studying the language on my own time and those little conversations I had shared with them and I know made them happy.
Can you talk about where you stayed while abroad and take us through a typical day in your life abroad?
While abroad, I stayed with a host family – an older French couple with two other roommates who were also 20-year-old American girls (one from South Carolina and the other from Texas). My typical school day started with my first class at 8:30 a.m. Although I either had one or two classes a day, the school day was fairly long because the classes were three hours long. I would wake up around 7 a.m. to get ready for class and give myself time to get to the Metro because public transportation is the most convenient way to get around Paris.
In between classes depending on how long my break was that day, I would grab food with friends (or alone), trying different cafes and different food places where I can get a quick meal for (hopefully) a reasonable price. I also enjoyed cafes to just socialize with friends or get work done. After my school day, I would take the Metro back home and if I was not having dinner with my host family, or going out with friends, I would be cooking my own meal at home.
What advice would you give to students preparing to go abroad? Is there anything you wish you knew before you left?
The best advice I would give students who are preparing to go abroad would be to step out of your comfort zone and to say yes to doing things you may not be so comfortable with. Obviously, don’t say yes to things you absolutely don’t want to do. But try being social and participate in as much as possible because you are only going to get what you put into the experience abroad.
Be the first person to start a conversation with someone you may not know, ask questions, try new food, visit as many places as you can — because the time you have abroad goes by so so fast. You are there to complete your courses, but a big part of the education abroad is being independent and figuring things out on your own.
Something that I wish I knew before I left was how to pack. There were so many times where I felt that I didn’t have the right clothing for certain situations. Make sure to do research on what the weather will be like for the time you are abroad and how the people who live there may dress. I definitely under-packed for my trip.
How has studying abroad impacted your educational experience? What has the experience taught you that you may not have been able to learn from staying at Rowan University in the states?
I learned so much while living abroad. It was such a great learning experience for not only my field of study, but I was also able to learn so much about myself as well. I was able to learn so much about different cultures and what life is like for those who live in different countries. I felt so connected with so many people I met and it is crazy to think that you live a similar life to someone who lives on the other side of the world. I learned what it really means to be American, and through conversations with others learned their point of view of America which was very interesting. Everything that I have learned about different cultures, religions, and the history of our country and the world, really came to life when I was abroad which was such a surreal experience for me.
I always considered myself to be very independent but living on my own in a foreign country, knowing no one, not even the language was such a drastic change for me and there were times where I really had to depend on myself. At Rowan I am constantly surrounded by so many people. Going from living in a house off campus with so many of my closest friends, and my campus being such a short drive away from home — moving to France was quite the change. These are the kinds of things I may not have been able to learn from staying at Rowan.
What is your overall impression on this experience? What was the most challenging part of being abroad? What was the most rewarding part? Any other emotions?
My overall experience of choosing to go abroad was one that I will cherish forever. I am so thankful for my family encouraging me to go to France, Rowan for helping me with the process, and AIFS for making me feel so comfortable abroad.
Personally, the most challenging part going abroad for me was physically leaving to go to France. I had such a good summer with my family and friends, and by the time the fall semester came around and it was almost time for me to leave, I was having many second thoughts about my decision to leave for the semester. I really enjoy Rowan and watching all my best friends get ready for the semester made me scared that I would miss out. There were definitely hard days abroad where I had felt alone and missed friends and family but that was inevitable.
The most rewarding part about being abroad was the fact that I made the decision to come to France alone. Not knowing anyone coming abroad had really forced me to step out of my comfort zone and really get to know myself and those who I had met. I’m lucky enough that I was even getting this experience with the pandemic. It’s rewarding knowing that I am coming back to the U.S. open minded, with a new view on life, and have learned so much about our world.
What were some culture shocks you experienced while being a student abroad?
There were many culture shocks I was unprepared for when I came abroad. Most of it had to do with the eating culture in France. To start, the portion sizes are way smaller in France than in America. My eating habits definitely changed abroad — I had found myself eating little portions throughout the day rather than huge meals. Another culture shock having to do with food is the eating times. I learned that in most parts of Europe, restaurants will tend to close during the day, around 3-7 p.m. and then re-open up for dinner, around 8 p.m (everything closed on Sundays). This is because the French people tend to follow a set schedule for when it is time for lunch/dinner. This was difficult at times for my friends and I, especially after long hours of class and found almost nothing to be open. There are other culture shocks I have experienced, but situations with food are what I found to be some of the biggest transitions, especially coming from America.
Is there anything else you would like to add or discuss for the article?
If you have the chance to go abroad for a semester, do it!!!! It seriously changed my life!! Especially with the effect Covid had on my mental health, I realized how much I needed these past 3 ½ months. Going abroad completely alone was one of the bravest things I have ever done and the fear of traveling alone shouldn’t be a reason for a person not to go. I am so thankful for Rowan’s Study Abroad department, AIFS, my supportive family and friends, all of the beautiful places I had experienced, and the amazing people I had met throughout my journey.
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