Is One Semester of Study Abroad Enough?

Studying abroad is a great experience, and it's something I would recommend to anyone who's able to do it. The rewards of the experience are immense, giving a student new learning, new perspectives and an entirely new world to explore. All you have to do is read a few of my blogposts from last September, October, November or December to get an idea of my wonderful experiences in Strasbourg. However, many of the friends I met in Strasbourg stayed there after I left, spending nine months or more in the city I learned to love after only three and a half. The question for me, then, is whether staying in France for the whole academic year would have given me a greatly magnified experience. Here's the more important question though, for anyone who might study abroad in the future: Is one semester enough?

billets de train !
Personally, I have to say I have no regrets about Strasbourg. Although it took me a couple weeks to get into the swing of things, to start loving the tram, the train, my classes, the food and so much else, once I had all that on my side I could make every hour of the day wonderful. I also did a lot of exploration and travel, within the city, in the suburbs, and in other parts of France and Europe. I took a total of ten train trips: There was Paris to Strasbourg, followed by eight daytrips from Strasbourg to Nice-Èze-Monaco, Mulhouse, Haguenau (two posts), Basel, Luxembourg City, Nancy, Colmar, Saverne, and finally of course the first leg of my return home, the train from Strasbourg to Paris.

a less-busy time at the
Christkindelsmärik
(high wind at the time)
I had planned to travel more in Germany, but although I went no further than Kehl - Strasbourg's neighbor across the river - Kehl was perfect as my Little Germany. I know if I had stayed in Strasbourg until summer, I would have been able to do many many more things. Still, as I wrote in my post on Saverne, I felt I had an experience with a poetic and perfect conclusion. Even after Saverne, I spent one more beautiful week in Strasbourg when I visited the Christmas markets many times. (I suppose my one regret is not writing about that week.)

l'arbre de Noël, photo taken
my last day in Strasbourg
To put it like a truism, I think a semester can be perfect for getting to know a place, but it's not enough for that place to get to know you. What I mean is that, although Strasbourg and the people there made many lasting impressions on me, my limited time meant my relationships I had with others were limited as well. Had I stayed at the university another semester, I might have taken another class with one of my professors, for example, probably becoming a much more memorable student for them. The same is true of time spent with my host mom and my friends. Nevertheless, I know I achieved everything I wanted to do while studying abroad in France, strengthening my language skills, taking French university courses, learning a lot more history, and gaining new perspectives on life, all while having a whole lot of fun.

In Strasbourg, I had the advantage of already speaking French relatively well, and in spite of what I've written, I think it's pretty easy to adjust from life in America to life in France, compared to how it must be in many other countries of the world. This, along with everything above, meant one semester was enough for me. (In addition, my spring semester at Georgetown was great and highly essential.) My advice for others is that if you don't have these advantages - language familiarity and lifestyle similarity - for wherever you're thinking to study abroad, I don't think a semester will be enough. Adjustment time will simply be too long, and you won't have enough time to really know the place and have fun. It seems my cousin has (unknowingly) followed my advice as she is about to go to Finland. It sounds like it will be wonderful, so I'll be reading her blog and seeing what a year abroad is like!

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