As I watched the glistening Eiffel Tower with its millions of lights, I couldn’t help but cry – it was hard to believe my lifelong dream had finally come true. My classmates, most of who come from the top institutions of this country could not really understand. But I knew by telling my story to my fellow Grambling classmates, it would mean something. Prior to 2006, no one from Grambling State University had spent a semester is Paris, France. But that did not stop me from being among 140 students studying in one of the world’s most popular destinations for the Fall semester of 2006.Six months in Paris went by quickly while changing my life forever. The city itself was even better in person than it is on TV and in magazines. It is truly one of the most sophisticated and enchanting places I have ever seen. Undeniably beautiful, every structure and building has some historical significance. However, the wonderful experience did not stop there. I was thrust into the midst of a different culture, people and set of ideas. The remarkable thing about it, I did not loose who I was but was able to get to know myself even more as I learned independence and adaptability. I love being American but even upon returning home I just knew I would be back in Europe.
Unable to pass up a chance to return to Europe, I applied for and won a scholarship from the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL). The scholarship allowed me to revisit Europe this past July by studying French in Belgium. Whereas life in Paris is fast and intense with an endless things to see and, Lige, Belgium, a smaller city an hour outside of Brussels, is a lot slower and incredibly cozy. The people stop and talk to you for no reason at all and it is perfectly fine to just relax and enjoy the moment. They were very different except one thing: food was precious and enjoyable in both cities. Trust me, I know and agree!
Many students ask how my trips abroad will help me in the long run. Well, this past October I was selected to attend the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund Leader Conference in New York, mostly because of my travel experience. Unfortunately, within the first day, I began to feel a little insecure. I was with 600 talented students from 47 different HBCUs who had incredible majors and accomplishments. They were future electrical engineers, CEOs, and renowned heart surgeons. I was just a French major! Despite my anxiety, the moment I opened my mouth and spoke about what I studied, I was given immediate approval and respect. As it turns out, most of our professional speakers encouraged students to go abroad and learn about the global economy. It was stressed over and over again; being able to market yourself internationally was invaluable.
Now I face a problem I had not anticipated; I do not know where I will be after I graduate because I have many options. I was introduced to government agencies during the conference that offered internships and good paying entry-level jobs. I could be a diplomat or help run programs that are specifically geared towards ending poverty in developing countries, many of which are African and French speaking. I have job offers too – study abroad programs that need to be birthed and nurtured. One thing is for sure my primary focus will be to enhance my education in International Affairs.
I encourage all of you to leave the comfort of America, just for a little while. My first study abroad experience was through a private program and there are excellent alternatives that want to pay you to go. CODOFIL offers a great program specifically designed for Louisiana students as to keep the French language alive here in the U.S. They will send you to Europe or Canada so you can learn French and all you have to do is apply. A requirement, is that you to be a major or a minor. However, many curricula here at GSU require two to three courses of a foreign language anyway, so you could easily declare a minor and study abroad to earn credit for two more classes. You could add entire credential to your college career with one summer in a foreign country.
It is scary at first to realize you are nine or ten hours away from home and forced to adapt to a completely different environment. But I grew up a lot and learned that I have the ability to take care of myself. The friends I made are still in my life and the memories I have will always live on. I also learned that my experiences can help others- and that really changed the course of my life.