A little over a week ago I arrived in Toulouse, France for my study abroad! This week I started going to my French highschool, and I’ve thought of some things that helped me get through my first week and things I wish I’d known.
The first is that the travel day/days are rough, and you’re going to be really tired at the end. It might sound like common sense, but it’s good to keep in mind. My host family picked me up from the airport the first day and showed me around their home; I felt pretty overwhelmed trying to speak French and understand what they were saying and get to know my new surroundings. So my advice would be to not expect yourself to do a bunch of things on the first day, it’s okay to be tired and want to go to sleep. On the first day I ate dinner with my host family and unpacked some of my clothes and the pictures I brought of my family and friends, this helped make my room feel a little more personal. And then I went to sleep!
The first few days I felt really overwhelmed-I was speaking and listening to way more French than I ever have, and staying with a host family in a new house. I was pretty tired too, and so I mostly just wanted to hang out inside the house and sleep. Exploring the country I was in by learning a new transit system and walking around somewhere totally new did not sound appealing. But it actually was really good and gave me a confidence boost! I took the bus to downtown Toulouse to meet for our walking tour and found that I was able to navigate there without any problems. This reminded me that I can be independent because I successfully took the bus on my own in a foreign country. And, it reminded me that this is an amazing experience! Toulouse is incredibly beautiful and it’s so different from the U.S., the minute I got off the bus downtown and saw the buildings I was in awe. I still think it’s amazing that people live their whole lives here. So many things were new that exploring the city didn’t seem like something that would help, but it was hard being in the house and around my host family at first because it constantly reminded me of my home in the U.S. and my family there and how much I missed it all. Going out and exploring made me feel excited about being here!
My last tip is that rather than thinking of your life in this new country as completely different and separate from your life back home, think of it as a combination of your life back home and your life here. Keep some small things from your daily life the same, like specific foods you eat or things you do like watching a certain show. This wasn’t something I did at first, because I thought that since I’m in France for an immersion experience I should be doing everything different. But, an immersion experience doesn’t mean I have to cut myself off from everything I did in the U.S.. You can try new foods and live the way your host family does while keeping some things the same, and even if they’re small they can have a big impact. I usually drink a cup of English breakfast tea in the morning, and at the store I found the same brand and got it. And I bought the same shampoo that I normally use. This may seem insignificant but when everything feels different it can be nice to have little things that are familiar.
The first week of my study abroad was a bit rough, I missed home and had pretty bad jet lag. But I’m really happy that I’m in France, and these tips helped me get through it!