Section: Features

Navigating the globe: Three students share stories from abroad

Navigating the globe: Three students share stories from abroad

Ethan Parks ’24 | BRITTANY LIN

The prospect of a global education is something that draws many students to Kenyon, which offers more than 190 study abroad programs to its students. Of the more than 50 countries that they could select from, three juniors at Kenyon chose to navigate Scotland and France in the fall semester of 2022. They brought back their unique tales of what it was like to live and study in big cities with unfamiliar faces.

Anna Fahey ’24 embraced the uncomfortable last semester. As someone from Wilmington, Delaware, her trip to Paris through the Middlebury School in France marked a big change. Fahey took courses with other Middlebury program students and also attended class at Sorbonne Nouvelle University (Paris 3). While she admitted that she struggled to relish her academics, which involved a hefty course load that was taught entirely in French, she appreciated the opportunity to interact with French students at Sorbonne. “The classes were cool for immersion and seeing what kids my age talked like and [what clothes they] wore,” she said.

Fahey originally thought she knew how Paris would affect her lifestyle. “Because I was going to Paris I was like, ‘I’m going to be part of some fabulous group of chic Parisians: We’re going to have sophisticated dinner parties, and I’m going to smoke long, skinny cigarettes and be perfectly fluent in French,’” she said. Instead, she soon discovered that four months abroad flies by, and finding lifelong friends in a big city was less realistic than it is in an environment like Gambier. “At Kenyon you take for granted that you can passively spend time with people, and that just doesn’t exist in a place like Paris,” she said. “And I didn’t realize that that existed until I didn’t have it and I missed it so much.” Instead of being in close proximity to others, she said, she made the most of her own company.

One of the hardest parts of transitioning to life in a new country was the exhaustive work of communicating outside of the English language, according to Fahey. It was one thing to speak French in a classroom, she explained, but it quickly became a challenge to adapt to the daily demands. Down the road, however, she found that her French skills grew immensely. “It was cool to start to be able to passively understand people without focusing,” she said.

Fahey lived with her 75-year-old host mother in the 15th arrondissement. Throughout her stay, Fahey ate dinner with her host at 7:30 p.m. five nights of the week, per her request. “It was the most independence and the least independence I’ve had in a while because I had to be home for dinner and had to wash dishes. I had chores, and it was kind of like moving back in with a parent,” Fahey said. Being bound to her host mother ended up closing her off from some opportunities to be spontaneous and hang out with Sorbonne students. 

Through a concerted effort to branch out, Fahey was still able to explore much of Paris and forge new experiences. She made sure to reach out of her immediate sphere of fellow program students to open new doors: “You definitely have to go out of your way and be kind of uncomfortable if you’re going to end up doing it.” Fahey met a few French students from whom she learned slang and discovered new music. Her most important connection was a lifelong friendship that she cultivated with another American exchange student, who she even spent Christmas with in Bordeaux after the semester ended. 

Ethan Parks ’24, a French major from Fort Worth, Texas, also studied abroad in Paris through the Middlebury program. Parks chose Paris to improve his French and discover what it was like to live in an urban environment for the first time in his life. Parks lived with a family of four outside of the 13th arrondissement. There, he found a comic shop that he loved and an affordable Algerian grill that quickly became his favorite spot to eat out. He also spent time with his two-year-old host brother, who knew just about as much French as Parks did, according to Parks. He frequently went grocery shopping with his host mother, who wanted him to pick up new vocabulary and feel comfortable in their neighborhood.

Parisians can be intimidating, according to Parks. It took him roughly a month to feel comfortable ordering in a restaurant, and he didn’t return home with any new French friends. He observed that many Parisian teenagers forged friendships in their early childhoods that became their lifelong cohorts, making the possibility of new friendships challenging. On top of that, Parks had to budget significantly while abroad, which involved turning down expensive restaurant invitations from classmates. He also adjusted to the style of large lecture halls at Sorbonne, but was pleasantly surprised when he eventually found himself taking class notes in French.

Overall, Parks described feeling cheated from the standout study abroad experience that he had expected. “It took a long time for me to feel like myself in France,” he said. The program offered him little support, according to Parks, and he described feeling even more disoriented after his orientation. While program coordinators acknowledged that it might take a while for students to feel comfortable, they failed to provide students with advice for navigating the transition. “I was thrown in the middle of the ocean without any sort of way to swim up,” he said. 

Casey Flueckiger ’24, originally from Amherst, Massachusetts, traveled to Scotland to study math through the Institute for Study Abroad program at the University of Edinburgh. By her junior year, Flueckiger was ready to experience a change in pace from living in rural Ohio, which is why she chose Edinburgh. “Gambier has its own charm, but you at the end have to kind of make your own fun,” she said. Scotland ended up fulfilling that vision, as her months abroad were filled with meeting new people and exploring what the city has to offer.

Flueckiger said that Kenyon prepared her extremely well for the culture of academics in Edinburgh. In comparison to her small liberal arts education in Ohio, she found that studying math at the University was less rigorous for her. “They placed a lot less emphasis on you as an individual student because I was in a larger classroom, unlike at Kenyon, so I think there’s just generally less expectations,” she said. 

As someone who usually prefers maintaining very close friendships, Flueckiger was surprised when she instead ended up with several close acquaintances in Edinburgh who she struggled to get to know on a deeper level. “I found myself for the first time being a floater,” she said. Nonetheless, branching out and meeting so many new faces helped ease the transition for her, and fulfilled her goal of finding a support system: “I knew I wanted to have independence but I also wanted to have a group that I could go to if I was feeling like I needed more connections.”

With the start of the spring semester in full swing, each of the three students have adjusted to life back on campus. While they admitted that their expectations might have been unrealistically high for their respective trips, they were able to shift their perspective and make their experiences distinguishable. None followed the typical study abroad path, instead making it uniquely their own.


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