When I was a sophomore in high school, my mom approached me with the idea of studying abroad in France for the summer. At first I was mortified. Spending a month living with a French family when I could barely speak the language was unappealing, to say the least. But once I looked more deeply into the program and began to understand the opportunity I’d been given, I agreed to go on the trip.
I was extremely lucky that my parents were willing and able to send me on a trip abroad. It was a summer that changed my life and helped me grow. I went with a group of other American high school students and we were split up among families to stay with. In the mornings we had French lessons and in the afternoons we went to elective classes or on trips. We lived in the small town of St. Laurent-du-Var, which is right next to Nice on the French Riviera.
I spent my 16th birthday on the beach in Menton, a costal town near the Italian border, with cakes to go all around. It was fitting that I turned 16, an age which in the US is associated with the freedom of driving, because I learned how to be independent on this trip. We would have hours of free time to explore towns or go to the beach. Unlike at home where I needed my parent’s permission for everything, I could spend the day in Nice with my friends and do whatever I wanted. I made good friends, some of whom I still am close to today.
That summer, I improved my French, learned about French culture, saw some of the most famous places in Europe, and became more confident in myself. If I could spend a month in a country where I knew nobody and be okay, I could go anywhere and be alright.
I had never considered studying abroad in high school because I thought that was only something you did in college, but I am very glad I had that experience before coming to college. It would not have had the same impact for me personally, because once you get to college you already have the freedom to make your own choices day-to-day.
You’re already used to living away from home. Of course having the experience of being abroad is extraordinary no matter when you do it, but beyond the incredible places to go and the classes to take, there is personal growth that comes with leaving everything you know. I am glad I gained that sense of self-confidence and independence when I was younger, to change my outlook in high school and prepare me for college.
Hi, my name is Kathryn Kuhar and I am a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard College studying Government. A fun fact about me is that I’ve lived in Hawaii, California, Belgium, and Turkey.