LauraMy name is Laura Johnson. I’m a third year student studying French Linguistics and Psychology. Until December of last year, I never thought I’d be one to go on exchange. I’m an introvert. My idea of adventure is a good book, where I can close the book when I want. Studying abroad was as distant and mythical an idea as visiting the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk or travelling across space and time with Dr. Who in the Tardis.

But somewhere in my blood sang the sweet siren song of adventure, of wanderlust.

You must understand that I have dreamed of going to France for as long as I can remember. Goodness knows I’ve begged my family for years (and experienced constant disappointment—but you can’t fault my persistence). And I finally decided to realise it, to take that dream and turn it into a reality.

My Mom freaked out, of course. But I guess that’s what moms do. My Dad, though, was all for it—it was his encouragement, in fact, that gave me the push I needed to dig my heels in and apply—until part way through the application process, when all the small details seemed to compound like dirty dishes in a dorm room. It was that crepuscular time between an ideal and reality. Suddenly I was caught up in a whirlwind of planning and paperwork and packing. I spent my birthday wish on the arrival of my long-stay Visa (which arrived the very next day, to my surprise, after weeks of waiting). The summer sped by so quickly that I felt I couldn’t give a proper goodbye to anyone. Before I knew it, I was arriving in Nice, France, squinting my eyes at sun rising over the Baie des Anges, swamped with jet-lag and barely able to stand.

It has been an adventure. I’m a solo traveller, preferring to march to the beat of my own drum. It’s been an interesting experience, to be sure.

I have ascended the Leaning Tower of Pisa, climbed the dome in St. Peter’s Basilica, and wound my way up the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral. I have toured the Louvre in Paris, wandered the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and visited the Uffizi and Academic galleries in Florence. I have skied in the Alps, made my own perfume in Grasse, and hiked along the scenic coastline of Cinque Terre. I have sipped sangria in Spain, sampled lemoncello in Italy, tried jenever in the Netherlands, and consumed wine older than I am in France with estranged family members. I celebrated Christmas in the traditional Niçois style and partied away New Year’s in Dam Square in Berlin.

All of this passed during my first semester.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though. I’ve dealt with insomnia from travel anxiety, dépaysement* from five months without once returning to Canada, and the death of a friend from back home. Once, I arrived in a city to find that my hostel did not exist. That same trip, I arrived from a trip one time to discover, the night before an exam, that I could not get into my apartment because a thief had busted the lock.

But I overcame these challenges. I survived, and I grew from the experience. What does not kill you makes you stronger. I’ve made friends from many different countries, eaten foods I can’t even pronounce, and even went on dates with a Frenchman. Overall, my experience as an exchange student has been a fantastic, and I cannot wait to see where these next few months will take me.

If you’d like to read more about my adventures, I’ve been keeping a blog:

(* dépaysement is a French word related to homesickness that refers to the feeling foreigners or immigrants get from not being in their home country.)