Why did you choose this program? I choose this program for numerous reasons. First, it fit my academic interests. I am majoring in French and have been learning it since 6th grade but have yet to attain the level of proficiency that I wish. I saw this program as a good way to improve my language skills and immerse myself in the French culture that I have been learning about for so long. In addition, I knew I wanted to go to France but I wanted to avoid a big city that was touristy. That led me to choose Aix-en-Provence which I was drawn to because of its small city charm and its proximity to the beautiful Mediterranean Sea and Provençal countryside.
Describe your favorite class(es) abroad. My favorite class was a theater improv class I took through my program. I had such a great time with this class and it was hilarious to see people thinking of things to say on the spot in French. In addition, my professor was very enthusiastic and animated and came up with many comical scenarios for us to act out. It was an amusing class that we all had fun with and at the same time still helped us improve our French.
What was the housing like on your study abroad program? I lived in an apartment with another student in the program. Although it was a small and not so modern apartment, I wouldn't have wanted to live anywhere else. It was located in the beautiful Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, which is a square where the town hall, numerous outdoor cafés, and open air markets are located. The square has such a lively atmosphere and it was amazing to be able to open up my bedroom window and hear the sound of street musicians, political rallies, and the hustle and bustle of the crowds of people in the square. From the kitchen window, you could see Mount Sainte Victoire, which is the mountain that was the subject of many of Paul Cézanne's paintings. The roof of the apartment was also accessible from my building and I spent countless hours up there reading and watching the sunset over Provence.
What advice would you like to give to future study abroad students? I would advise students to make the most of their time and really get to know their host country and its culture. Especially in places like Europe, it's easy to get consumed with the idea of trying to travel to as many countries as possible, but it's important to not forget that your host country is there to explore. Make as much of an effort as possible to immerse yourself in the culture, mingle with locals, try new foods, and learn the language.
What’s your best memory from your time abroad? It's hard to pick just one, but definitely one of the more memorable moments from my time abroad was when I watched the sunset from my roof with a few other friends from my program. We had just gotten back from a program excursion that took us to various villages around the picturesque countryside and when we got back we went to our favorite kebab restaurant, ordered them to go, and then enjoyed them on the roof while the sun set over Provence. On top of the good company of others, it was such a beautiful view overlooking the town square and mountains in the background. It was the ideal way to end an already perfect day exploring southern France.
What was your biggest surprise about the location, culture or other aspects of your program? It's a common stereotype that the French are snobby and unfriendly. I went to France prepared to deal with stereotype. However, I found this to be very untrue. A lot of the locals in the region I studied in were very warm, welcoming, and embraced foreigners. My program director who is French had all these characteristics as well. She was extremely helpful and patient whenever it came to any issues or questions we had. Being so far away from home, it was comforting having her as someone we could come to for anything.
“If I could do it over, I would…” If I could do it over, I would make more of an effort to try to speak the language as much as possible. In a lot of instances, I was too afraid of making mistakes so I would just not say anything at all. However, I should have realized that part of learning a language is to not be afraid to speak it and that making mistakes is inevitable.
What do you wish someone had told you before you left? I wish someone had told me about how important it is to take advantage of every second abroad because of how fast it goes by. I reflect now on all the times on a weekday where I had nothing better to do and would watch Netflix. I am regretting that now because that's something I can do anywhere. Even if I didn't have anything to do, I wish I had done something as simple as just aimlessly walking around or hanging out at the park. I think all the time about how much I miss every part of France and wish I had done just a little extra with my time there.
What was your greatest challenge? My greatest challenge was taking classes entirely in French at the local university. When taking French classes in the U.S., professors would always be mindful that the students aren't native speakers and would speak slowly and repeat information if we didn't comprehend. Even though the professors in France were sympathetic towards international students, this didn't stop them from talking fast or using more difficult vocabulary. Furthermore, adjusting to a different university structure was difficult as well. Instead of having classes two or three times a week, in France I would have a class once a week for 3 hours where often the professor would lecture without any kind of PowerPoint presentation or visuals. Although these were more difficult aspects of studying abroad, I embraced the challenge and overcoming it gave me a sense of accomplishment. In addition, I can confidently say this has helped me improve my French, which was my ultimate goal for studying abroad.
Discuss: “Going abroad vs. staying on campus.” Even though going abroad can seem overwhelming and intimidating, I believe it's an integral part of one's education and is one of the most rewarding opportunities students should take advantage of. Staying on campus may seem like the easy option because it's easy to fall into a routine and feel comfortable with life here. However, I truly believe going abroad broadens your mind and opens your eyes to so many new experiences. It pushes you out of your comfort zone and teaches students to appreciate diversity and a different culture. IU will always be here when you return, but the opportunity to go abroad may not arise again.