Monet Shinohara '21 in Grenoble, France

Study Abroad Experience

student sitting on ledge with green hills in background

After all, I did fall in love with France, but I also fell in love with other countries and cultures, including my own.

The United States is a country I called home but didn’t feel like home. Growing up, it was common for me to have thoughts about leaving America and potentially move to Europe in the future. So naturally, I had high expectations for my semester-long study abroad in Grenoble, France. I had expectations of mastering the French language, making life-long native French friends, and ultimately falling in love with France and its culture. But if you asked me if all of those expectations became a reality, the short answer would be no; though a simple yes or no would not do justice to the experience I had in France.

Prior to leaving, it was common for me to hear the phrase, “Study abroad is what you make of it,” and therefore naturally, I took that phrase to heart. I often found myself wandering around the streets of Grenoble, going in and out of local cafes, restaurants and bars. On weekdays, I joined the school’s snorkeling/scuba diving club and also volunteered as a Japanese and English tutor. On Friday’s I didn’t have class so I took the three-day weekend as an opportunity to travel all around Europe. Fortunately, I was able to travel to 19 cities among 6 different countries. I was genuinely happy with how I was spending my limited time abroad.

Perhaps it was because I was genuinely satisfied with my day-to-day life, that somewhere along the way I realized that the expectations I created for myself, prior to arriving in France, slowly became less of a priority. The conscious effort to maintain the language pledge I eagerly took on before leaving America ebbed and flowed throughout myself. The struggle to make native French friends only increased as my motivation to improve my French decreased. Conversations at the dinner table with my host parents would gradually consist of me replying with head nods or basic phrases and questions. It wasn’t long before I found myself spending more time with my English-speaking friends in my program and travelling outside of France, rather than within. It didn’t happen overnight, but one day it dawned upon me; the love I thought I had and expected to have for France and French wasn’t as strong as I believed it to be.

I felt disappointed that I couldn’t meet my own expectations. I couldn’t improve my French to a level that I could be sincerely proud of. I felt like I disappointed my parents and my university who supported and allowed me travel and study abroad. However, it wasn’t after I repeated the phrase, “Study abroad is what you make of it,” that I realized that my study abroad experiences and feelings were valid. Not everyone goes on study abroad for the same reason. For some students it’s to improve their language, understand other kinds of culture, connect with their family history and ethnic roots, and for some it might just be a graduation requirement they’re trying to complete.

For me, study abroad made me realize what was important to me. Not long after studying French, I wanted to improve my French and improve it enough to where I no longer needed English or Japanese. I couldn’t imagine myself having a future in neither the United States nor Japan, and was searching for a new place to call home. But being abroad, away from my home country, no longer surrounded by my mother tongues, cultures and normality’s, made me realize how much I actually missed and identified with the being an English and Japanese speaking Japanese-American. Being away from Soka and my friends, made me realize how much I took them for granted. Ironically, being in France dimmed my interest in the French language and culture; not because France was anything less than remarkable, but because it made me realize the importance of what I left behind.

Although overtime my expectations and goals changed, I’m thankful for those changes. As a result, I was able to travel and experience different types of cultures and food. I encountered, conversed and became friends with people from all around the world. I experienced so many challenges and difficulties, as well as have genuine, wholesome, and unforgettable moments. So, ultimately my expectations didn’t become my reality, but to me the new experiences I created as a result were more valuable than excelling at one language and falling in love with the people and culture of one single country. I have no regrets of going to Grenoble and there is no doubt in my mind that I will return to France one day. After all, I did fall in love with France, but I also fell in love with other countries and cultures; including my own, which I had been desperately trying to abandon.