I was nervous as I hugged my Mom and shook my Dad’s hand when they dropped me off at Reagan National Airport around dawn one day in June 2009. I was about to start my journey to London where I would spend 10 days before joining my classmates in Paris. My ultimate destination: Montpellier, a charming city situated on the Mediterranean Sea and the location of William & Mary’s French summer study abroad program.
Being in a homestay was invaluable as my French language abilities increased immensely during the month I lived with my host mother. Since she was unable to speak English, she would only communicate with me in her native southern French tongue. In addition, my classmates at the university represented nine different nationalities with French as the only common language between us. If we wanted to talk to each other, French was it. By the end of it all I had made some good friends and gained confidence in my ability to navigate cultural customs different than my own.
But Montpellier was the only beginning of my time abroad, as today I work for IES Abroad in Beijing, China as a Resident Advisor supporting their program for American study abroad students. Though seemingly unexpected, taking this position actually makes sense as I focused much of my history study on modern China after a fateful introductory course my freshman year. From there I got the inkling my sophomore year that I wanted to take Chinese, but my packed schedule saw me at the end of my junior year without a single Chinese class under my belt. So in June of 2010 I boarded a plane for Beijing and IES Abroad’s intensive language program. I landed knowing no one and about three Chinese characters. Regardless, I was determined to learn the language, and my success in France the previous summer gave me the confidence that I could achieve my goal.
By the end of the summer I was able to interact with Chinese people on a basic level and get around on my own. No less significant was the fact that I also knew that I wanted to be in China after graduation to further my studies. I applied for a Resident Advisor position with IES Beijing and by January I had secured employment starting three weeks after graduation. I now work for IES and continue to study Chinese here in the capital while teaching English on the side. I am living a dream – self-sufficiency in China while learning the language. My contract with IES continues through May 2012 at which point I plan to return to the US to look for employment or apply to law school or grad school.
Every day is an adventure here. Had it not been for William & Mary’s summer Montpellier program I never would have had the confidence to go into China cold with no knowledge of the language. I cannot overstate the value of study abroad if a student is willing to commit to it. Though it is tough being away from home and constantly exposed to different ways of doing things, it is among the most valuable experiences of college. For my part it was among the most impactful times of my college career.