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### Reflecting on Study and Research Abroad at Sorbonne, Paris: A Transfer Student’s Journey

By Zacharia Arifi

Upon completing my initial two years of college at UT, I made the pivotal decision to transfer to Southwestern University, embarking on a new academic journey with a fresh major, renewed expectations, and a revitalized outlook on life. Embracing anthropology as my chosen field of study, I eagerly anticipated the unique experiences that awaited me at Southwestern, all while nurturing a long-held aspiration of engaging in anthropological fieldwork overseas.

Recognizing the time constraints associated with my late transfer, I wholeheartedly immersed myself in the rigorous application process, swiftly attending meetings, completing forms, and making prompt decisions. By the conclusion of my inaugural semester, I not only found my niche within the campus community but also secured a spot in the study abroad program of my dreams: an opportunity to study at the renowned Sorbonne in Paris at a cost lower than my tuition at SU, courtesy of scholarships. The subsequent spring semester, brimming with pre-departure briefings and virtual orientations, served as a gentle prelude to the forthcoming adventure—a semester immersed in the luminous city of Paris. Anxious yet exhilarated, I eagerly anticipated the journey ahead.

Opting to participate through a program provider, Academic Programs International (API), proved to be a wise choice. The diligent team, under the guidance of the endlessly amiable Jean-Phillipe, spared no effort in ensuring our semesters were nothing short of extraordinary. From organizing enriching excursions across the country to providing tickets for cultural performances and sporting events, as well as facilitating visits to museums and workshops, API went above and beyond to enhance our experience. They fostered a sense of camaraderie among the API students through regular social gatherings, rendering us practically inseparable by the time our sojourn drew to a close. On our final day together, Jean-Phillipe presented us with envelopes brimming with candid snapshots and group photos, serving as tangible mementos of the bonds we had forged and the memories we had created.

During my stay, I was accommodated by a delightful host family—a gracious elderly grandmother and her graduate student niece. Settled in a charming neighborhood just south of Paris, our abode provided a cozy sanctuary with unrestricted access to communal areas. The daily routine of cooking in the kitchen while engrossed in a good book, coupled with the convenience of laundry facilities just downstairs, imbued the space with a homely ambiance. Surrounded by local amenities such as grocers, parks, and eateries, including a bustling square hosting weekly market vendors and food trucks, I found everything essential for a wholesome lifestyle within reach.

My academic pursuits at the Sorbonne, focusing on French culture and language, entailed engaging in paired grammar and phonetics courses spanning proficiency levels from A1 to C2, irrespective of prior language fluency. Encouraged to partake in various cultural conferences and workshops, I found myself amidst a diverse cohort of international students hailing from Japan, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Sweden, the United States, and, naturally, France. While the academic curriculum was enriching, the invaluable lessons gleaned beyond the classroom setting proved to be the highlight of my overseas venture.

Following the conclusion of daily classes, I dedicated several hours to exploring Paris, whether through the lens of ethnographic research or personal enrichment. While some days were structured with planned visits to museums, markets, or reserved concerts, most days unfolded organically, allowing me to immerse myself in the spontaneity of Parisian life. Whether strolling through the Jardin des Tuileries, perusing local stores, sampling street food, engaging in conversations with locals, or indulging in lengthy discussions at quaint cafes, each day presented a myriad of experiences. The palpable vibrancy of Parisian culture transcended mere observation, offering a profound understanding that surpassed academic teachings.

Now back in the United States, I am integrating my overseas experience into various facets of my life. From shaping my capstone project around identity formation within the community I embraced abroad to leveraging my enhanced fluency and confidence in French through tutoring, I am actively paving the way for future study abroad enthusiasts as a Peer Mentor at the Study Abroad Office and as an API Ambassador.

Moreover, upon deeper reflection, the impact of my time abroad extends far beyond academic and professional realms. Motivated to delve further into anthropological fieldwork with heightened vigor, pursue advanced studies overseas, and potentially explore a career in the realm of study abroad, I am propelled by the transformative experiences garnered during my time in Paris. While not every moment abroad was marked by sheer elation—moments of doubt, introspection, and self-discovery were equally prevalent—I cherish the holistic nature of my journey, which has afforded me a profound understanding of self and my position in the global landscape.

As I gazed out the window of the train en route to Charles-de-Gaulle Airport, the familiar landscapes of Pantin and Saint-Denis passing by, I was overcome with a mix of relief at the semester’s conclusion and a tinge of anticipatory uncertainty. While bidding adieu to Paris was necessary, it felt akin to leaving a part of myself behind—a fragment that I may one day return to reclaim, perhaps as a more evolved version of myself, eager to traverse the streets of Paris once more, not merely as a student on a study abroad stint, but as a seasoned explorer of life’s myriad possibilities.