Alexa sits at the Fountain of 4 Dolphins right outside her apartment in the picturesque “City of Fountains,” Aix-en-Provence.
Overseas Study Program
Alexa’s major(s): International Studies and French
Year/term abroad: Academic Year 2010-2011
Reason You Chose this Program: I wanted to study abroad for a year to perfect my language skills and after participating in the 2 month long IU Honors Program in the summer of 2007, I knew a summer or semester wasn’t long enough for the level of French I wished to have.
Favorite Classes: Program theatre class with a “program teacher” named Claude where we did improv, getting us comfortable speaking French and in front of large groups; as far as real university classes, I really enjoyed the Linguistic-y classes like “Language, Culture, and Society.” The prof was extremely knowledgeable, kind, understanding, and would cater to foreigners if they were ever lost. These were perfect classes to have multilingual students in as well.
Describe the Housing Situation: I lived in an apartment downtown with 2 Americans from my program and got extremely lucky in also living with a 20-year old French girl named Violette. Our apartment was around 350 years old, located 45 seconds from their “Kirkwood” and 13 min walk to the university. Living with a French girl made us speak French even when we didn’t want to, fortunately. Although the apartment was old and some things would go wrong, we or our landlord took care of it, keeping in mind our apartment is ancient but I loved that place! I wanted to live in the dorms because it was a cheaper option and I would be forced to speak French at all time, however, they stopped being an option our year. I saw the dorms and they were fine! However, they were a good 30 min walk to downtown but 2 minutes from the university; looking back I would do my situation all over again. (if in some way it would be possible to live with a host family for the first semester, then the second semester live independently, it would have been great having a nice mix and balance).
Advice to Future Study Abroad Participants: Go abroad for however long your degree(s) allows you to because this could be your only opportunity to live abroad. Don’t worry: IU will always be here for you! It’s just that when you will come back, you will be changed, not IU. Go abroad your junior year. Speak as much as you possibly can in your language; put yourself out there!! The more you speak, the more you learn, the more friends you make, the more opportunities come your way, the more you perfect and correct yourself thus the more your improve. Take advantage of everything your situation has to offer you as well as create and seek out your own opportunities. Don’t get caught up in the region of the world you are in and just travel out of your host country: your country alone has so much to offer! Think IN the currency; don’t convert: its not worth the stress, just deal with fact that you will lose money even if this experience will be ‘priceless’ PLAY SPORTS!! I made about 75% of my French friends through soccer thus a handful more through their own friends! Speak in French as much as you can, you will get hassled on the street if you do speak English especially when people are at bars, etc.
Best Memory: Renting a “chalet”/hut house for a week with 4 other friends in Corsica. We took a four hour ferry ride to our city, Calvi. We were a 15 min walk to the beach, stayed in an adorable mini guest house with all appliances, kitchen, etc. and went in the Mediterranean all week. My friend Kevin and I rented a large scooter for 3 days to beach-hop and in doing so we saw a different side of the island by driving around all the windy roads through the mountains and other cities as well. We would wake up whenever, eat breakfast outside in our lawn, and go to the beach for at least roughly 5 hours each day and make dinner and watch a movie together like a family. I equally enjoyed my time inside the house with my friends talking and playing games as much as the sunny beach time; it was truly a remarkable and perfect way to end and celebrate a year abroad and all our hard work. Also, we did a weekend skiing/snowboarding trip in the French Alps with 7 of us and we felt like we were in a postcard. In Marseille I saw a thrift shop that sold snowsuits for 10 euros and we all bought the 80’s colored and patterned suits and had an amazing time. We would make meals together after 7 hours of snowboarding and huddle together for a movie and hot chocolate after; we were a little snow family in the middle of the Alps and it couldn’t have been better!
Biggest Surprise: As an International Studies major, I also wanted to study abroad to see if I wanted to live and/or work abroad; I left France now knowing that I do not want to live there. Going abroad for a year definitely allowed me to see this, fortunately. I had always thought that I would want to live there, but now, I don’t have that “what if” in the back of my mind. I would work in France for a few years but never for the rest of my life; however, I would retire in Aix, just not live there during my career. Also, the racism, especially in the South of France, was a bit surprising because Marseille has a large number of North African immigrants… also, I was surprised at how much I learned about myself; it seemed to be the biggest thing I took away from this experience and I can definitely say I am the person I have always wanted to be after going abroad for a year.
Experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock: I didn’t necessarily have any type of culture shock because I had previously been abroad so I knew what I was getting myself into. However, I feel like I had an “IU Shock”; there were times that I truly missed IU and Bloomington. I am a HUGE IU fan so, sadly, it was more difficult for me being away from IU than my own family.
Complete this sentence: If I could do it over, I would… I would do everything the same really.
What you know now that you didn’t know before going abroad: I wouldn’t live there. The first month is extremely exhausting (getting in French-mode, apartments, cell phones, bank accounts, friends, etc). It’s also more difficult to make French friends than people said. You will spend a lot of money in the first month so don’t let that come as a shock. Classes are 3-4 hours long, get ready!!
What I wish I knew before I left how much to pack, but see above ^ ^
Greatest Challenge I had a stagnant time where I felt like I wasn’t progressing from Thanksgiving time til Feburary. On February 1st, I had a breakdown!! I just saw and heard everyone progressing and I felt like I hadn’t for a good 2.5 months, even though I was… I would look up the same word 4 times and still could never remember it; that frustrated me incredibly. In the beginning months you progress so much because you are fresh and don’t speak well to begin with. However a week after that breakdown I was back to my usual progress. You just have to stick with it, it will come and things will just click!
Going abroad versus staying on campus, discuss: half the vocab words I learned about an apartment or little technical things came from me living in a 350 year old building where things aren’t brand new. Your vocab will never get better sitting in a classroom twice a week; it just won’t compare to going abroad. Essentially, learning any language is remembering verbs and vocab words. You will learn so much about yourself and of all the things I learned last year, it has made all the difference and I can greatly say that it was biggest impact of my trip. You will figure out little things like if you want to work abroad, if you want to use a language in your career, etc. You will become so confident in your language, but also confident in anything you do if you study abroad.
Fact about your host country that you think people would be surprised to learn: Fries are Belgian, not French. “Freedom Fries”… not politically correct! Also, the founder of L’Oreal makeup is the richest woman in France.