The cinematic landscape of the South of France enchanted freelance writer and performer Rhonda Nicole at a young age. As a grade-schooler who fantasized about all things French, it only seemed apropos that she'd seize the first opportunity she could to live in Paris. Spending a semester abroad did satisfy a few of her Parisian daydreams, but there were moments that were lonely and sobering. Still, her life-changing adventure only further fueled her wanderlust. Rhonda shared her American in Paris story with me.
Quia Querisma: How did your experience begin?
Rhonda Nicole: I decided I wanted to go to Paris when I was in sixth grade. It would be another three years before I began studying the language, but my early fixation with France commenced as many things did at that time in my life: Because of Prince.
His film "Under the Cherry Moon" was shot in the South of France, and as I thought everything he did was cool. It logically followed that France had to be cool, too. I wrote a research paper on the Eiffel Tower that year. After studying Latin for seventh and eighth grade, I finally made the leap to French in ninth grade. I stayed with it all through high school and minored in French in college. My school, Southern Methodist University, offered numerous study abroad programs. One was SMU-in-Paris. It was on!
Q: How did your friends and family react to your decision to live abroad?
RN: My family and friends were excited. Paris was my first time being away from home. It was cool because there were about 30 of us going from SMU, including my sorority sister and her boyfriend (who was also a good friend of mine).
Q: What things did you do to make life "normal" for yourself?
RN: It was a challenge. All I knew of it was what I'd seen in movies or on TV, and what we read about in our French textbooks. So I went there with an idyllic image of it in my head. Naturally, the reality of a place is almost never what your idealized concept of it is. It was hard to find clothes and shoes that fit (I'm not a small woman to begin with, but I think the sizes there are smaller in general compared to U.S. sizes!) I took solace in the fact that I spoke the language and could blend in very easily, but it still irritated me that things were different, i.e., not like at home. First-time international life will do that.
Q: How did you find friends/a support network?
RN: I had my friends, but it was an extremely lonely time for me. I spent hours at the internet café emailing friends and family back home. My two best friends from high school and I exchanged letters frequently, and I ran up our long distance bill calling my mom, dad, sister and grandparents! When not in school, I'd spend hours trying to get lost in the city, or browsing through all the bookstores and music stores. I devoured books. I read constantly and did a lot of songwriting, of course. My mom came to visit one weekend during our fall break and I cried so hard when she left to go back to Dallas. Not too long after that, my soror and I were thrown out of our host family's house, which is a whole other tale. I was so ready to leave Paris by the end of the semester. Needless to say, I grew up tremendously that semester, and scored my highest GPA!
Q: Would you ever consider leaving America country permanently?
RN: Yes, I absolutely plan to live abroad long-term sometime in my lifetime. My dream is to have an awesome husband/partner and kids and we live abroad doing funky bohemian artsy hippy stuff.
Q: What advice would you share with someone who is considering living abroad; and what would you say to someone who is afraid to do so?
RN: Go! Every American needs to leave this country and go somewhere else -- and not just Mexico or Canada. Get off this continent and go! Seriously. Start young. Take international family vacations, encourage kids to study foreign languages and not just to satisfy curriculum requirements but for long-term ability.
For those afraid to travel or live abroad, figure out why you're afraid and what you're afraid of. Face the fear by doing it! Every high school student I encounter, either through mentoring or volunteering at my alma mater, I've told: "You need to study abroad at least one semester. Most schools will apply your existing financial aid to a study abroad program. Most programs don't require that you already speak the language. Find one that interests you and go."
This is especially critical for African Americans, as twisted, incomplete media images are often all that is known of us abroad. Only by asserting our presence globally will we be able to combat these images and ideas about who and what we are. So GO!
Quia Querisma is a digital marketer by day, freelance writer by night, and a traveler by nature. Get her latest insights on travel and fashion on her blog, MyJetSetStyle.com .
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