In some ways Pau chose me more than I chose it. When I was first planning to study abroad I had my eyes set on Lyon, France but when I went in to speak with my study abroad advisor I was informed that Lyon wasn’t possible for me because I needed one year’s worth of French to go. At this point, the only French I had under my belt was a semester’s worth. The only option left for me was Pau so I could learn French. I was honestly a bit nervous to go to Pau; it’s a small city and I’m a big city type of girl. I questioned whether I would get bored or if there would be anything exciting to do. But regardless, I had already set my mind on studying abroad and learning a new language so I went despite my fear of being uncomfortable.
Pau is a big, small city. For being in a foreign place walking around felt like home. I walked everywhere I could. One of the highlights of studying abroad was doing a homestay and having the best host mom ever. I was a 15-minute walk from downtown and school from my housing. This gave me the opportunity to explore small streets and enjoy the lively green nature Pau has to offer. Whether you’re mesmerized by the old architecture or you have heart eyes for the Pyrenees Mountains, walks are everything in Pau. In addition, there’s something for everyone and so many things you can do. I thought I would be limited to activities living in a small city but I had the opposite experience. Walking outside of the city center you get an authentic look at what French living looks like. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the food! Pau is home to some of the best food in France! The escargots are a must try in the city centre and from my experience much better than Paris.
Studying abroad changed me in the most incredible ways possible. I had a lot going on in my life before moving to Pau. I wasn’t who I knew I could be. I spent my time wisely abroad, investing my time in becoming a better me. The frustrations of learning a new language and the difficulty of communicating everyday things with people taught me to have patience not just for others but with myself. Going to a foreign place alone that would be home for the following five months taught me that home isn’t a place, but it is wherever I am because home is inside of me. It is an attitude and a happiness that only we can give ourselves. Studying abroad taught me to say yes to experiences and trusting new people. I learned not to get frustrated with things I couldn’t control and take things day by day. But the most important thing I learned is appreciation. I learned to appreciate the struggles that life threw at me because they made me smarter, wiser, and more fluent in French. Voila!
Ever since coming back to the states, there’s not a day I don’t miss living in Pau, my amazing host mom, my friends and going to school to learn French full-time. The best way to learn a language is to put yourself where you need to use it every day. I went from speaking zero french to being able to hold solid conversations, order at restaurants, pay for my phone bill, and make new French friends. One of the best memories I have of Pau is that during my second week there, my host mom’s family was celebrating Christmas late and invited me to their family party. I was so nervous to go because of the language barrier but I got to experience such kindness from strangers who shared their home, food, and time with me. They made me feel at home. That evening changed my life to how I view the world and the people that life brings to us. It taught me to always have an open heart and mind to new people and new experiences. If I could do this all over again, I would do it in a heartbeat. Pau me manque.
Jackee Estrada is a University of Nevada, Las Vegas student. She studied abroad in Pau, France in Spring 2018.