Dispatches: A Minnesota Girl Goes to France…and India…for a Year

Dispatches from the Road, Studying Abroad — By on August 19, 2010 at 10:00 am

When I tell people my travel plans for this year, they seem to understand the appeal of France and the Cote D’Azur, but then they ask me the inevitable question, “So, why India?” accompanied by a polite, yet bemused, expression. I can’t really blame them. I’m from northern Minnesota – a land of white bread, -20ºF blizzards, and flannel – which leaves me pathetically unprepared for the reality of India – a billion people, scorching heat, spicy food and a myriad of cultural diversity. So here I am, hours away from this incredible adventure surrounded by a mess of clothes, travel documents, and gear that must fit into my 55L backpack….

Though I’ve always wanted to travel, I consider myself fairly inexperienced. I’ve been to a few states for short trips to visit family and friends. I’ve traveled internationally a few times, but when you live in Minnesota, Canada doesn’t feel like it counts. And the little travel that I have under my belt hasn’t exactly fulfilled my craving for real in-your-face cultural immersion.

In high school, I went to the Bahamas on a school band trip, but the cruise ship kept us from digging into the culture. And I did take a ten-day trip to Ireland but instead of satisfying my travel appetite, it just made me want more.

As I weighed my options in my college search, a good study abroad program became a deciding factor. I chose the College of Saint Benedict, where I’m starting my junior year with a double major in French and Communication. I picked up French to fulfill my language requirement thinking, “Why not? I’m never going to learn French otherwise!” It was only a matter of time before I decided to minor in French, which then evolved into a second major.

For the next four months, I’ll be in Cannes living and studying at the College International de Cannes, and I am THRILLED. I’ll practice my French and take in some sun along the Mediterranean Sea – how could life get better?

And yet, even as excited as I am to go to France, I felt as if I needed something more. A bigger challenge. Living in France wasn’t exactly as exotic or once-in-a-lifetime as I was looking for. It just felt so…typical. I was battling an internal conflict – it just made so much practical sense to go to France, but something else was missing. As I toyed with my options, I looked into some of the other programs.

That’s when I found out about the India program. About 30 seconds into a conversation with my study abroad adviser, I was sold. On paper, India and Minnesota are about as opposite as you can get. It seems to be drastically different than my own Minnesota culture, and through this program I’d throw myself into India’s culture– sink or swim. It was just the challenge I was looking for. From then on, it was only a matter of logistics and planning. Almost magically, things started falling into place.

So, now after my trip to France, I’ll have two weeks at Christmas back in the states before I head to India, where I’ll be in Kolkata from the end of December until early May.

Every once in a while, I get little mental panic moments, asking myself what the hell am I doing?! I don’t travel well, thanks to motion sickness and a sensitive stomach. I’ve never been away from home for so long, especially without family or close friends. I haven’t been on a plane by myself before. My boyfriend and I are pro’s at long distance, but we haven’t had to deal with a drastic time difference before. I know that I’m going to be sick and uncomfortable in a culture that’s completely different. I’m going to go through culture shock twice, plus reverse culture shock. I’m going to the other side of the world…literally.

The panic only lasts a few minutes before I swallow it and I’m back to excitement. I’m off for an experience of a lifetime, one that I’ve been planning and preparing for a year. And someday, I hope to have the confident independence of a seasoned traveler. But first things first, I have to get lost. I’m looking forward to see how the next four months unfold in France.

Stay tuned for more on Katie’s travels and visit her own travel blog for more information about Katie.

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  • Jennifer says:

    oh my god ive been having the same issue. I want to travel to france for the summer however somethings holding me back, although france is the place i have wanted to go all my life…i feel like i need something more. and then i came across india. i want to go on a life-changing summer journey but i dont know if india would be a good idea or not.