I got the travel bug at a young age — I remember watching the travel channel in elementary school when other kids were watching Nickelodeon and the Disney channel. I wanted to travel the world and I was enthralled by the idea of studying abroad the moment that I discovered what it was.
However, once I arrive at Saint Joseph’s, I never wanted to leave! I couldn’t imagine leaving the friends I’d made so far. Making the decision to follow through with my dreams was like dealing with an extreme case of FOMO (fear of missing out). But, I didn’t want to miss out on the amazing experience of studying abroad. At parents’ weekend, my Dad pointed out a poster for the summer tour to China, and my plans began to change. I went to an information session and fell in love with the program! I had no idea what to expect other than pollution, crowds of people, and bizarre foods, but I made the decision to go anyway.
We started the trip in Beijing, then time in Nanjing and Shanghai. After Nanjing, we headed to Guilin and Yangshou, and then finished off our trip with a weekend in Hong Kong. In Nanjing, we had class everyday with one of the SJU professors on the trip; I chose International Marketing and we experienced a great deal of marketing first-hand during our field study. Throughout the trip, I met a lot of locals who were very welcoming and extremely fascinated by American culture. Every day on the month-long trip was a different cultural exchange. There were days when I had no way of communicating with the people around me. I spoke about five words of Chinese before leaving and believe me when I say; pointing works wonders, although I still ended up eating a lot of food that I didn’t mean to order. Speaking of which, the food was incredible! I couldn’t always tell you what it was but it was almost always delicious.
China was my first taste of life in a different country and I couldn’t get enough. In the fall of 2013, I registered for Food Practices and Chinese Religion as my religious difference course and was able to relate the traditions I learned in class back to my experience abroad. I attended several more information sessions and was ecstatic when SJU added a program in Paris, and it was centered on international business and affairs!
I don’t think I could summarize my semester in Paris in a ten-page paper let alone a paragraph. The months I spent in Paris seem like a dream to me now. I’ll occasionally remember something incredible like passing by Lady Gaga in the Louvre or eating crepes along the Seine and I have to remind myself that it really did happen! The IES center, where classes were held made sure to include field study as part of our curriculum so we got to explore various parts of the city during class and for homework. We did a scavenger hunt through the city, toured a boulangerie (bakery), got to see the REX behind the scenes, went to luxury flagship stores, and visited almost every art museum in the city.
Besides touring the city to learn about the French culture, I lived with an amazing host family in Paris. My host mother and I would often sit down after class and discuss (in French!) current events and the differences between our cultures and outlooks. I also was fortunate enough to be able to intern in Paris as well. I spent a few days a week with a small company and gained a lot of insight into not only the business culture of France, but also the social lives of my fellow interns from all over the world including India, Ukraine, Morocco, and Southern France. At lunch, we discussed everything from political gossip, to wearing tights and makeup. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget the daily walk from the apartment to my metro stop in front of the Eiffel tower, wandering through gilded flea markets, the crazy musicians I learned to love, or any of the incredible friends that I made in just a few months. Needless to say, it took a lot of walks along the Seine to come to terms with the fact that I had to leave eventually.
People often ask which experience was my favorite. I tell them that choosing between the two countries is like choosing between your children; I love them both. I dream about going back to both China and France and fantasize even more about travelling the world someday. Studying abroad makes you realize who you are as an individual. Starting freshman year of college is like cleaning your slate. You can redefine who you are and who you want to be. You get to start a different part of your life and you learn so much about yourself in just a short amount of time. Studying abroad is like starting your freshman year magnified by 10. Not only is a semester abroad attending a new school for a period and rediscovering yourself, it’s also realizing who you are in the context of culture and your heritage. It can be nerve-wracking at first, and throughout the process there are ups and downs. But once you get past the fact that you’re thousands of miles from home, you realize your full potential, gain unprecedented experience and knowledge, and make friends that will last a lifetime.
Katie Baldwin is a senior International Business major and French minor from Hatfield, PA. She is a SJU Study Abroad Peer Ambassador, the Public Relations officer of the Gaelic Football Club and a member of Alpha Omega Pi and Beta Gamma Sigma. Her advice? “Never be afraid to try something new” Follow @SJUStudyAbroad on Twitter for more information!