Self-study Abroad

I am done with school. More or less. I am still working on a research project I’m doing through my program, but all the other classes are totally terminé. I have now spent eight months in France doing lots of eating, a solid bit of traveling, and next to no schoolwork. This is, of course, not to say that I did not have any “study” in my study abroad experience, but I think that the name generally leads people to believe that us study abroaders are doing most of our learning in the classroom (which is just absolutely not the case). Sure, there are people who do enjoy and benefit from their classes. I even use the knowledge I gained during my French linguistics class on a biweekly basis. But one’s time in a foreign country features quite a bit more self-study and reflection. Without the handy extracurriculars of home campus and the quarterly events like Spring Sing, study abroad students are allowed a lot of time to sit and ponder their humanity. I think that during the first semester, I averaged around three existential crises a day. Last October, I watched more TV than I have ever watched in a single month, and I began to worry my host mom with all of the conversations I had aloud with myself. By second semester, first semester’s long and often bizarre road to self-discovery led me to a sunny patch where I could thoroughly enjoy the country I was living in because I was so thoroughly enjoying being myself. Sure, I enjoyed me back in LA, but how could I not when I spent my days strolling through the botanical gardens? Spending a semester in France showed me who I was when I didn’t have the luxury of weekly treks through the palm court of Bunche or delicious lunches from Cafe 1919.

And like I said, second semester was really one giant, comfy, sunny patch. Never has there been a period of time where I have found so much pleasure in eating food or starting new fun habits. The doodling I was doing in my school notebooks became increasingly stunning. Larger scenes, more detail, feeling! With my friends, too, I had become so happy, so satisfied. Everyone I talked to had something to teach me. I was hardly in a classroom, and, in fact, my courses were anything but intellectual (remember my puppeteering class?), yet day by day I could feel myself becoming more and more in tune with my academic interests. I was living in a party, one that was filled with beautiful, yummy, informative things.

And I suppose that’s what study abroad is. It isn’t about learning a foreign language or taking classes in another university system. It isn’t about getting to know a foreign culture or meeting the locals. It’s about meeting you, getting to know your own culture. It’s about having talks in your head, becoming fluent in your own voice. And it took me a while to see that and understand that, but now I know that what I learned about myself this year abroad was something I could not have found in a classroom back at UCLA.

It took me leaving to know exactly why I am more excited than ever to go back. So here I come, senior year. I know I will love you as much as I love me.

Charley Guptill