San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

I dropped out of my study abroad program, I don’t regret it

I received the most out of French culture by saying ‘yes’ to experience rather than academics
The Cafe Benjamin sign lit up at night in Paris on July 11, 2023. Photo courtesy of Michelle Armas

My summer in Paris left an impression on my mind that I can still feel, but can’t put my finger on. It was as if I entered one of Monet’s paintings — half dreamlike, half fading away. Most of all, it was an impression I would never have gotten inside the four walls of a classroom.

I studied French at a university in Paris for two months over the summer. With one week left of my study abroad program, I dropped out.

Class, while necessary, was only a part of my experience.

My time in Paris gleaned of novelty. Sitting in a classroom was something I had known since I was five years old, but the Parisian life was something I couldn’t experience from a textbook.

My days felt like a scrapbook collage of moments. Some consisted of sticky summer days in cafes, sipping espresso; others were getting lost in the city, exploring famous museums where Van Goghs and Monets resided. Others were going to medieval castles and palaces learning about the controversial architecture of that time.

It wasn’t in a classroom where I shoved my way into the sweaty metro during rush hour or where I learned the French colloquialisms. And it wasn’t in a classroom where I applied this new language with unforgiving, angry Parisians.

People eating dinner during sunset at Cafe Hugo in Paris on June 6, 2023. Photo courtesy of Michelle Armas

Don’t get me wrong, I loved being a student — it gave me a purpose to go to France. It was where I became acquainted with professors and met other students who provided vital information about the culture. But it was only one tiny sliver of my silver summer.

Another part of the immersive experience I had was due to a friend I met from the South of France. Throughout the program, he introduced me to France from a local lens.

Despite France being a welcoming country to immigration, there is still a lot of separation within the culture. Through him, I realized that, in fact, Paris was much more than a pretty postcard. In this city of lights, there was actually a lot of darkness.
One day over dinner, he invited me to spend the last week of my stay with his family in a town called Avignon. It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — taking the train around the Cote d’Azur and going to a city I would never have gone to if left to my own devices.

I worked hard on my French, and now I could apply what I knew. I bubbled with excitement at the thought. But this meant I had to miss the final exam and not receive credit for my classes.

As I sat in my tiny room, looking at train tickets and contemplating the idea, uneasy thoughts trickled in. Since kindergarten, I was conditioned to think the only thing that mattered was the grade. “What will everyone think of me? I must be a lousy student. Maybe I am not a hard worker.” These thoughts became loud and overwhelming. The feelings of unworthiness binded my gut like clothespins.

However, a part of me knew that these thoughts were a product of our education system.

I was a product of an institution that told me grades define learning. Those red marks on my papers haunted me. I had a flashback of lying about my high school SAT and ACT scores so that I didn’t have to admit how horrible I did on them. I remembered the fear looming over me since my sister came home with a straight A report card, and I came home with Bs and Cs.

At this moment, I had a choice. I could fall victim to the flaws of our education system or take advantage of an opportunity I might never get again. I reminded myself of one of my life mottos: What will I remember in 10 years?

And so I did it. I bought the ticket, went to an obscure medieval town, and spent a week with a French family that welcomed me in as their own. I ate their favorite southern wines and cheeses, went to hidden restaurants and swam in the Mediterranean. I turned bright red when I tried to communicate and was surprised when everyone tried to help me.

Yes, I missed an important exam and didn’t receive credit for a costly class, but I wouldn’t have traded that week for anything.
But most of all, I broke a paradigm. I broke my fear of breaking out of the norm. I did the “what if” that I always wondered about. I chose to follow my intuition, and through that, I realized my identity didn’t lie in being a perfect student, but rather embracing every opportunity.

About the Contributor
Michelle Armas
Michelle Armas, Staff Writer
Michelle Armas is a Journalism major with a love for storytelling. She was born in Los Angeles, California, but moved to San Diego when she was 10. She is a News, Arts & Culture, and Opinions writer for The Daily Aztec and enjoys every moment of debuting as a journalist. She is part of the Society of Professional Journalists and serves as the secretary of The National Association of Hispanic Journalists on campus. In the academic year of 2022/23, she co-hosted a radio talk show with two other students where they talked about current events and played their favorite music. With her deep curiosity for the world, Michelle hopes to combine different forms of media to share obscure stories of the world creatively.