Studying abroad has definitely challenged me and pushed me out of my comfort zone. After two and a half years at UMass, I know the important things, like what to expect from classes, how to print at the library, and where to find (almost) everything on our huge campus. Now I'm learning how everything works at the French univeristy, and there have definitely been some ups and downs as I adapt.
My history class really intimidated me at first, because I'm one of only two Americans in a class full of French students. The professor talks really fast and without using PowerPoint or writing anything on the whiteboard. It's been a challenge to catch everything he's saying. At UMass, I like to take handwritten notes during lectures — it helps me pay attention and remember the material better. But in France, I just can't write fast enough to keep up with the French professors, so it's better for me to type on a laptop. I've also been sitting much closer to the front of the classroom than I normally would, so that I can hear everything more clearly.
I think another key to succeeding in classes abroad is just accepting that you're going to feel silly sometimes. More than once I've turned around to ask a student near me what the professor just said, or where to find my next class. You're going to be lost when you first arrive, so don't be shy to ask questions!
Speaking of trying new things, last night my host family put me in charge of making a peach-caramel "coulis" sauce to serve with dessert. All I had to do was melt some sugar on the stovetop for the caramel and then blend with the pureed peaches. Simple, right? As it turns out, it only takes about 10 seconds before a perfectly golden caramel sauce will burn and turn to brittle shards of sugar right before your eyes in the saucepan. Needless to say, I learned from the mistake and started again with help from the family.
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 peaches in syrup, mashed or pureed
Set aside a mixing bowl with the pureed peaches. Melt 1/2 cup sugar with 2 tablespoons water in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the melted sugar has browned to a caramel color, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice and immediately pour the caramel into pureed peaches, whisking quickly to combine. Store in the refrigerator and serve with ice cream!