Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How NOLS Prepared Me for a Semester in France

Eileen Jakeway looking out over the Cliff of Moher
During the summer of 2013, with a 45 pound backpack on my shoulders, a burning sensation in my throat, clambering up a steep incline on a mountain in Wyoming, I would have never thought to find myself in a similar condition once more, in, of all places, the Paris metro.  During my semester abroad studying in Limoges, France, I have been reminded of several key lessons that NOLS taught me while I’ve been abroad. First of all, carrying heavy backpacks up inclines is hard work whether they are full of food up a mountain or full of clothes up the seemingly never-ending stairs of the Paris metro. Secondly, hydrate or die. Staying hydrated in Europe is not easy; you will be ridiculed for carrying around a water bottle or drinking tap water, but it is just as crucial walking to class as it is hiking a mountain; no matter what they say, you can NOT stay sufficiently hydrated off wine and beer.

 On a more serious note, 
NOLS and study abroad overlap in that you will find yourself in terrifying, isolating situations that only you can get yourself out of. You must rely on yourself, on your strength and believe that whatever situation you are in, you are in control. Even when that means keeping your cool in a completely foreign educational system or finding your way home when the bus stopped running. Furthemore, building relationships with the people around you is what the true experience is about. The people you surround yourself with are what you will always remember, what makes the experience worthwhile. So ask the nice girl you met on the tour bus to go out for dinner and drinks once it’s over, meet up with people you otherwise might not hang out with and be open to forming new bonds in hostels. I was able to meet up with a childhood friend of mine and her neighbor from Germany in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day. Because we hung out together, I found out that I used to be neighbors with her friend for three years and that we lived right down the road from each other! These are the kinds of discoveries that study abroad brings wih it, but not without the sheer determination and hard work that it took to get through NOLS.  So, I would say that the most important lessons I learned on NOLS augmented my study abroad experience immensely:  take risks and be adventurous; carry the extra weight for someone else when they need it and they will be there for you too;  don’t be discouraged by the unknown. And most importantly, the view from the top makes it all worth it—by the end, you will be amazed by how far you’ve come.

--Written by Eileen Jakeway, Class of 2017 Levine Scholars Program