Klara Lou (Vanderbilt '21)

Klara Lou (Vanderbilt '21) studied abroad in Paris, France in the Fall Semester of 2019 at Reid Hall.

August 31, 2021

College feels so important because it takes place during such a pivotal point in our lives: the beginning of your twenties, the beginning of adulthood. It’s a time of curiosity and exploration, to question yourself and discover your passions and potential. But, a lot of students, including myself, don’t feel that way. College can feel like a trap, especially nowadays with everyone constantly seeking internships, focusing on rigid pre-professional tracks, and thinking about how to craft a better resume. You do things because you feel like it is what you need to do rather than what you want to do, and there grows an increasingly overbearing pressure you construct for yourself.

Study abroad was what saved me from getting crushed by that pressure and brought back what college and being young is supposed to be about. Immersing myself in Paris with a different language and culture forced me to redefine myself in new contexts. In the U.S., I felt like I never had the time or energy to pursue art, one of my longtime passions. Paris served as my obligatory break from American me, so I decided to take an art class at la Sorbonne to test how far I could actually take my side interests in art.

The class was hard. I consistently scored low notes at the beginning and stumbled over my French, nervous as the only non-French student in the class. The professor was severe and called my French and art maladroit, or clumsy. I sometimes literally could not understand his critiques of my work. He said that maybe I should switch to a different section because I might have an easier time elsewhere.

The best thing about study abroad is no one knows you or cares about what you do in that country. I had originally felt shy and embarrassed until I realized I had nothing to lose. I was there to improve my French and art as someone who does not speak French or pursue art professionally. I am bound to mess up. I became unafraid of asking for explanations in simpler terms or saying I did not understand. I forced myself to talk and make friends in class, asking them for advice and tips, which later became drinks in the evening. I no longer took the rude comments by Parisians to heart when I messed up ordering something or took too long in a line or couldn’t figure out how to describe something I was looking for.

I was in Paris to learn and adapt, both inside and outside the classroom. My scores became less important and I focused on creating. Turns out the professor’s harsh comments had significant value and I improved a lot as an artist. At the end of the semester, he simply commented, “Klara, your French has improved a lot” and my final score turned out pretty well despite my original 9 out of 20’s. Failure became funny and important mementos rather than embarrassing moments I wanted to forget. Study abroad pushed me to focus on myself rather than others’ perceptions of me, which allowed more room for my growth as an artist, student, and individual.