Let me start by saying that studying abroad has been one of the most terrifying, wonderful, indulgent, adventurous, stressful and rewarding experiences of my life. Yes, it is possible for your semester abroad to be all of the above in the best of ways. As someone who is a bit of a homebody in that I am incredibly close to my loving family and giant German Shepherd, Hugo, this was a huge step out of the nest. I had always wanted to travel the world and up until this point, I hadn’t really been able to do that. I decided when and where to study on a whim. Under the influence of junk food and a girls’ night, I became inspired to discuss the possibility of Paris for the second semester of my junior year, with my parents. I was beyond thrilled when they let me know that they were on board. I had even prepared a Power Point presentation of all the reasons why this would be a positive experience for my life…and yes, I did present it.
It all happened so fast, and before I knew it I was taking a less-than-glamorous visa photo and packing two giant blue suitcases. Back up a few steps, though. I had been working the same internship for the past two years for the top online vacation rental site, HomeAway. A couple months before I headed to France, I discussed logistics with my boss. During my time with the company I had been able to build great rapport with her and consequently, she granted me the opportunity to continue my work even while I would be abroad in the City of Love and Lights. After my first international flight all by myself, and nearly 24 total hours of travel, I was in my apartment in the 15th. And so it all began. My first time in Europe, my first time so far away from home, comforts, friends and everything I had previously known…a Spanish and English speaker from Austin, Texas, thrown into the pit of well-dressed, fast paced Parisians. What a ride it would prove to be.
As my boss had assured me, I was able to continue to do my job as always. I promoted luxury properties included in HomeAway’s exclusive Luxury division. I was responsible for increasing the inventory of Luxury properties. I continued to coordinate and distribute monthly data reports providing operational updates, data, charts, and statistics to Marketing to facilitate smart targeting. I promoted the Luxury product through specialty sweepstakes and collaborated with the creative team to generate more interest and awareness of HomeAway’s Luxury product. I acted as liaison to HomeAway Luxury clients on behalf of Marketing in order to inform clients regarding Luxury requirements and procure additional Luxury properties to participate in the program. I was even able to visit the HomeAway office in Paris a few times. Here I was able to meet foreign co-workers, see how they operated, and really tap into my skills as a corporate communications major. Meeting new people, collaborating with them and learning from them is all part of the daily grind.
The cultural differences were not as vast as I thought they would be in regards to the office space and the habits of the employees. However, what I learned about interning while abroad, was not really anything the actual work place could have prepared me for. Time management took a whole new meaning for me while I was working Paris. I was no longer surrounded by the routine and the norm. Everywhere I turned there was a new museum to explore, a new restaurant to sample, a new country to discover and a new culture to dive in to. It was constant. I had to prioritize in order to make time for all of it and still feel like I was achieving all of these things at the maximum level of success. From January 6th-March 6th I worked to schedule time for coursework, exercise, work and pleasure. I feel as though I was able to do this quite well. There were of course days where I wanted to break away and spontaneously run off with my friends, but I typically had to save these adventures for the weekends. This taught me discipline and it made those times special and surreal.
When my two months of working abroad came to a close, it was my opportunity to train the new Luxury Marketing intern for the second half of the spring 2017 session. This was the biggest challenge as she was also a college student and our schedules differed greatly. This, coupled with the time difference made the task a real bear, but the two of us worked it out and I was able to train her thoroughly. It was an honor to pass the torch on a project that I had helped to work on for the past two years.
In the future, I hope to continue with a happy balance of all of the activities I choose to take on. Structure teaches diligence and helps a person to persevere. Studying abroad while working simultaneously really helped me to value my free time and dig in during my work hours. As for career preparedness, study abroad taught me to adapt. You have to become a bit of a chameleon. When you are thrown into a new place, though it is important to keep your individuality, it is also important to buy into the culture too. In a sense, you become a bit cosmopolitan, if you will.
I wouldn’t change these experiences for the world and if I could do it all over again, I would and I would do it the exact same. I had a sense of pride earning my own money to support myself while abroad. It taught me how to adapt, how to budget, how to savor. I would recommend it to anyone. Don’t let the challenge scare you. You are up for it. Push yourself. I did, and I couldn’t feel more fulfilled.
Sarah was a SAI Paris spring 2017 student from Baylor University.