Why did you choose this program? I chose Paris IES for many reasons. First, I have a minor in French and taking all French classes in the heart of France would not only complete some of my minor requirements, but also offer authentic and immersive experience that I could not get here in the US. I was able to learn about French culture, cuisine, analyses their behavior, and even gain insight on social systems that exist in France firsthand. Not to mention I also wanted to enhance my French speaking skills, making me more applicable for future professional opportunities. Additionally, my family has a historical connection to the French language, my great grandmother spoke French. She was creole and lived in Louisiana. Her father was French, and her mother was Black and indigenous. I felt going to France would give me a deeper sense of connection with my roots.
Describe your favorite class(es) abroad. My favorite course abroad was my History of French Museums course. This course gave me the opportunity to explore a plethora of museums in France, that I honestly would not have thought to visit otherwise. Most people think of big names like The Louvre, Musée D’Orsay, or the Picasso Museum and that’s it, but Paris offers so much more. I went to Museums that I had not even heard of, learning the ins and outs of French art history. This course perfectly catered to my love for the arts and the best part was that every Museum trip was free!
What was the housing like on your study abroad program? For our program students had the option of living in an apartment or a homestay with a French family. I chose the homestay, because I felt that living in a completely French environment was the best way for me to enhance my speaking and comprehension skills and that’s exactly what it did. I also learned about French social norms and ate authentic French cuisine. Getting to know and understand my family was by no means easy, yet I would not have traded the experience. Living with a host family takes compromise and open and clear communication and it is a lot more complex than it sounds. Looking back, the home stay experience was exactly what I needed in terms of experimental growth.
What advice would you like to give to future study abroad students? I would say do not be afraid to explore by yourself and prioritize self-care. You miss out on a lot, if you limit your adventure abroad to just going to where your peers want to go. There would be times where I would go shopping or go on walks by myself and found some really nice cafes and parks. Before going abroad, I wouldn’t have had the courage to dine by myself or explore all by myself, but it became a necessary part of my self-care routine when I was there. When your abroad at times you will feel intense culture shock, and you might even feel homesick. Taking those moments to really focus on your mental health and give yourself a breather is important. Self-care varies for the person as well, staying in watching a moving, going on walks, it really doesn’t matter as long as you are doing something that brings you peace when your environment becomes overwhelming.
What’s your best memory from your time abroad? My best memory was the day of my birthday. I was feeling home sick, because typically you spend that day with friends and family. It was also towards the end of my abroad experience, so at that point I was really missing home. After taking a walk, I came back to my homestay and went upstairs to my room and on the bed was a gift from my host mom. She got me a bag of macarons and two makeup bags. It was so nice of her and I really appreciated, because it felt personal, like she took the time to get to know me. She noticed how much I liked makeup. It was just really thoughtful and unexpected.
What was your biggest surprise about the location, culture or other aspects of your program? The biggest surprise for me was seeing similar social systems that I see in America. I could instantly see social injustices just looking at the general populations of certain areas. Areas that were considered more dangerous and with higher rates of poverty were populated with mostly racial minorities, whereas nicer areas were predominately white. In my head, Paris was this euphoria so it did not occur to me that social injustices existed there, and it wasn’t like I knew any other Black people who had been before and could give me an accurate synopsis of their experience. It really opened my eyes, I even had some of my own unpleasant experiences. This brought me back down to earth and I realized that no matter where you go you can’t escape oppression. It exists every where in one way or another.
Describe your experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock.
I experienced a lot of culture shock. The French are a lot quieter, walk a lot faster, and eat a lot healthier than what I am used to in America. That was not even the half of it. I had to master the idea of adapting without assimilating. I wanted to be true to myself, however, I also wanted to adopt some French etiquette as part of the immersive learning experience. It was a tough mental compromise but is was very necessary to stay sane. When I came back to the US, I did experience some reverse culture shock. I remember my first time eating out back in the US and I could hear the entire personal conversation of the table next to me and I couldn’t think, “wow, Americans are really loud.” It was interesting how I was noticing the smallest things even though I had been accustomed to American culture my whole life. My reverse culture shock did not last as long as my culture shock experience though.
“If I could do it over, I would…”
If I could do it over, I would not change a thing honestly. I think everything happens for a reason, so every experience whether good or bad had some type of merit. I got everything I wanted out of this experience, but more importantly I got everything I needed.
What do you wish someone had told you before you left? I wish they would have told me how expensive natural hair products are abroad. I would have kept my braids in longer, had I known how pricey even a bottle of Cantu was. I was in total disbelief, when I went shopping for hair products. It was an expense I did not calculate or prioritize.
If you participated in an internship while abroad, would you recommend that future students take an internship and why?
I would recommend doing an internship abroad. I had a great time with mine and I also got some great professional experience for my resume. It is a very wise career move in my opinion, but also it gives you firsthand knowledge on cross cultural work environments. French professionalism was not entirely the same as American professionalism and by recognizing these differences, I was given the skill to adapt to new environments.
Discuss: “Going abroad vs. staying on campus.”
As far as learning French, going abroad was honestly a lot more helpful than just staying on campus. On campus I would take one or two French classes and the minute I left class and talked with family and friends I reverted to English. Going abroad provided an entire lifestyle change. All my classes were in French, I lived with a French family and everyone around me spoke French. I had no choice, but to learn the language. There were times where I could revert to English, but it was completely different from being in America and going to IU. It was extremely helpful. Now that I am back on campus and taking French courses, I can easily apply what I learned abroad, and I pick up things a lot faster. The best way to learn a language is to be surrounded by people who also speak it and that is exactly what going abroad did for me.
How did you find scholarships for study abroad? I looked in every place I could for aid, because it was the determining factor of me even going. I applied for just about everything I qualified for and I looked in unexpected places such as my school (the media school) for aid. I even did some out of IU research and applied for those scholarships. I was really dedicated, and no matter if the scholarship was $500 or $5,000, I applied. Any aid helps. The office of overseas studies’ website also helped too, I was able to learn more about the HIEP Grant, OVPDEMA, and the Gilman scholarship, all of which I received.
Would you recommend other students pursue any specific scholarship opportunities?
I would highly recommend the Gilman scholarship. It helped me tremendously and I even received more aid from my actual program, IES, for receiving it. It was well worth the work I put into applying for it. I really appreciated all the aid I received, because with out it, I wouldn’t have made so many life changing experience abroad