It wasn't until I landed at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris that I realized how ill-prepared I was to live in France.
I was en-route to my final destination three hours away in the southern city of Montpellier and, for the moment, I was jet-lagged and freaked out.
The French language and culture was suddenly everywhere and I was simultaneously thrilled and overwhelmed. I had gotten by OK in my foreign language classes at home, but here French surrounded me, making it more difficult to take in than when it was neatly taught in grammar lessons.
My six years of studying French in high school and at Geneseo had afforded me a large enough grasp of the language to timidly order what I thought was a large coffee, or un grand café. I was sorely disappointed to learn it was not the liter-sized bastions of caffeine I am so accustomed to in the states, but a petite beverage that filled no larger than an espresso cup.
I admit that around that moment, I briefly considered throwing in the towel. Being the only person I knew in an entire country suddenly felt too overwhelming and finding the next flight to New York was a tempting, easy solution. I'm glad, however, that I resisted.
Once I arrived in Montpellier, met my host mom and gradually assembled a vestige of home for the next five months, the fear dissipated and all that remained was the sheer excitement of being able to explore a new city and a new culture.
Hearing French every day, seeing it written everywhere and speaking more and more of the language for the past month has slowly transformed it from foreign to familiar.
Montpellier is a beautiful place: It's already warming up to temperatures Geneseo probably won't see until April, the buildings are old and grand and the people-watching opportunities are endless. There are probably five creperies within spitting distance from my apartment, pedestrians and bicyclists clog downtown's tiny stone streets instead of cars and, yes, I always eat at least three varieties of cheese after dinner.
The university system took a little getting used to. For example, registering for classes meant walking around to the different departments, looking up available classes from a somewhat indecipherable list, figuring out a schedule individually and simply showing up. To receive credit for a class, one merely has to register for the final exam around February. So technically, the school is unaware that I attend 14 hours of classes per week.
Also, professors sometimes cancel class or change the room or time of a class without notifying students. Though instances like this were frustrating at first, I've come to accept it as the way French universities work - and I've realized that a little less rush and stress isn't necessarily a bad thing.
It seems almost absurd that I've only finished about a fifth of my time in Montpellier thus far. It's hard to believe all I've experienced until now can fit neatly into 30-odd days and that there are still more destinations to explore, more things to discover and more French vocabulary I've yet to learn.
Studying abroad is scary and uncomfortable at times, but the reward of living somewhere new and ever exciting is, without a doubt, worth the effort.