My international exchange in France

Alviya Siddiqui walking on grass. Mountain and sunset in background

This is my love letter to the strangers-turned-friends and the places I wandered while on exchange in France.

On a Sunday morning, just days before my flight to France, it hit me. With my summer internship wrapped up the week before, one of my biggest university goals of studying abroad suddenly felt real. Excitement levels: through the roof. Nervous butterflies? Yup, they were there too.

A few days later, I boarded my flight to Nice, waving goodbye to my family and friends.

After touching down in Nice, navigating my way to the small town where I would stay became a quest. Exhausted from the journey, finding food was my first challenge, followed closely by deciphering French signage and learning the essential phrase for grocery shopping – “un sac s’il vous plaît.”

Alviya Siddiqui with friend on a beach at sunset

Over the next few days, before orientation week, I explored Antibes, picking up common French phrases and soaking up that Mediterranean charm.

At orientation, I met incredible people from all around the world. Little did I know, the people I met would turn out to become my closest friends.

There was beauty in balancing my academics at SKEMA Business School with weekly adventures.

My first trip was solo to Paris. From early morning train rides to savouring hot chocolate for the first time, to scoring a Paris Saint-Germain Football Club ticket with a newfound friend, to watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle with a nomad and running on the streets of Paris with a spirited soul, it was an adventure to remember.

Switzerland followed with two wonderful friends from orientation – exploring six towns, hiking, freezing in attempts to swim and dancing under clear skies. Bread fuelled us, sunsets warmed us and laughter sustained us.

Prague welcomed me with its first snowfall of the season, shared with a dear friend amid sleep deprivation and boundless energy.

Each trip – from delving into history in Barcelona, to waltzing through Vienna’s streets, to losing myself in jazz and Slovakian cuisine – enriched my journey.

United Kingdom, with a dear friend, taught me that it’s the people, not just the places, that shape our experiences. Portugal taught me the importance of taking the offbeat path. Italy taught me the importance of following my heart. Spain taught me friendship can be found anywhere. Each country and its essence lives in me through the lessons it taught me.

Life in Antibes was very pleasant, from hosting dinners to late-night beach strolls (with crepes!), being surrounded by incredible people was a blessing.

Outside of Antibes, exploring small towns and immersing myself in local culture within France deepened my appreciation for each place.

During my exchange, I fell in love – not just with places and people, but with a version of myself. A version unafraid of spontaneity, one who immerses in laughter with strangers and writes for hours by the beach, and one who hikes mountains and loses track of time.

My journey mirrored a fairytale, with struggles and triumphs molding me into a resilient, stronger version of myself. There were good days, and not-so-good days: illness, homesickness and lost belongings in foreign lands tested me, but each challenge unveiled a new part of me. It is crucial to remember, it is all a part of the journey. And with that mindset, I flourished.

As I conclude sharing about my journey, I want all of you to take away two key things, especially if you’re moving to a land far from your own:

1. Embrace the struggles – they shape your journey and reveal your strengths (and remember, just past the struggle, something special will always await).

2. It’s the people who define your experience, not just the place (and don’t worry, you’ll always find your people).

This journey wasn’t just about discovery; it was about becoming someone I never imagined possible.