France, the country of romance, elegance, and style is not surprisingly, the number one tourist destination in the world, with 79 million visitors every year. 79 million people cannot be wrong! Spending your summer in France guarantees an unforgettable journey in the land of Brigitte Bardot, Coco Chanel, Claude Monet, Marie Curie, Charles Baudelaire and Jean-Paul Sartre.
Whether you're sampling French cuisine between French lessons, riding a bike along a French countryside or hiking in the French Alps, there's a whole world of immersion to experience in this popular country.
Perhaps the most difficult choice facing a high-school student is what kind of summer program to choose. Study the beautiful French language, learn to cook French delicacies, take a course in art history or painting, volunteer in a peace project, hike through The Alps or find an internship in a French bakery?
One of the most popular choices is an immersion course in French language and culture. Courses will normally major in French language and have options in subjects such as French Literature, French Conversation, French Film and Art History. Students are given the chance to refine their oral and written skills by communicating freely and expressively with peers and teachers. Language courses are an effective way of improving confidence, competence and being exposed to skilled native speakers. Programs usually vary from place to place but will often consist of morning classes with excursions, or research projects in the afternoons and often at weekends. Many institutions offer courses in English on aspects of French culture including theatre, philosophy, photography, culture and cuisine. Courses usually last between two weeks and three months.
Volunteer work is not only a way of contributing to enriching others lives, it is a unique way of honing personal skills, creating relationships and improving self-awareness. Volunteer programs range from working on a farm, restoration projects, teaching English and preserving architectural heritage. These programs focus on improving the lives of others, and on particular aspects of the French culture. A program will typically last between 2 and 12 weeks.
An internship in France is an excellent way of developing personally and professionally, while being given the possibility to use the French language. Placements can typically be found in art galleries, architectural firms, advertising agencies, theaters, tourist offices and restaurants. An internship obviously provides authentic work experience while being immersed in a stimulating new environment. Programs will normally last between 4 and 12 weeks.
When planning your high school program abroad you should think carefully about what kind of program you would like to do and why. What is your motivation? What do you hope to gain from this experience? If you combine your dream travels with a minimum of practicality and common sense, you will make your experience much easier. Prepare yourself for culture shock, especially if you have never been abroad before. You are going to find yourself in a situation where you may understand very little of what is going on around you, both linguistically and culturally. Be open-minded and prepared to go with the flow.
Prepare to be homesick, although hopefully you will be so busy you won't have time to think about home. Plan how to stay in contact with your family whether through Skype, email, using international phone cards and set aside fixed times to contact your loved ones. Before you do, check that your phone is compatible with French services. A GSM (Global System of Mobile telephones) is the safest option.
Be adventurous. Don't be afraid to try new things, you may just find that snails and frog legs are actually quite delicious. Try to speak the language as much as possible. Shopping in small grocery stores, or frequenting local bars should give you an opportunity to practice the language. Make sure you budget well and don't spend all your money in the first week.
When applying for a summer program, ensure you check the age restrictions very carefully. Some programs, particularly internships, will not admit students who are under 18. If applying for a course that is conducted in French, check the minimum linguistic level requirements and be realistic, following lessons in French will be mentally strenuous. Complete application forms accurately and well in time for program deadlines.
Types of accommodation will vary depending on the program you follow. Many summer courses, particularly language and cultural courses, organize a homestay as part of the deal, which is a popular option. Staying with a host family is certainly a way of ensuring a full immersion into French culture ,an opportunity to improve language skills and hopefully making life-long friends. Costs vary depending on location and time of year but a single room with breakfast averages from €200-370 per week.
On some programs it is possible to sleep in a residence on-site or nearby. This obviously has the advantage of cutting down on traveling costs and sharing accommodation with other young people is a sure way of finding friends. Prices for a room in a residence range from around €210 to €665, depending on location and number of the number of people per room.
Renting a private apartment is another option, but bear in mind it will certainly be more expensive, since you will have to pay for utilities and groceries, and you will be responsible for finding lodgings. A one-bedroom apartment in Paris costs around €750 per month and between €650-500 out of Paris.
Most study, cultural immersion, volunteer and internship programs arrange accommodation for participants so they can arrive stress free. The cost of accommodation is included in many of the fees.
Undoubtedly, the majority of students will want to spend their free time traveling. Study programs often include afternoon trips and weekend excursions, which are worth taking advantage of, since traveling costs may be included or greatly reduced. Young people can obtain discounts when traveling, especially by rail. It is worth considering purchasing a railcard, which should be done online before departure. A one month, second class rail pass costs around $795.
When in France, Paris is an obvious starting point for the intrepid traveler. There are enough sights here to fill a lifetime. Paris offers such diverse experiences as wandering the streets of Montmartre, visiting the Moulin Rouge, witnessing the elegance of the Champs Elysées, paying homage at Jim Morrison's grave and iconic attractions such as The Louvre and The Eiffel Tower.
However, France is much more than just Paris and really has something for everyone, ranging from the Chateaux of the Loire Valley, the stunning scenery of the Alps, the French Riviera's chic summer lifestyle, the magnificent cathedral of Rouen, the beauty of Mont Saint-Michel, the lavender fields of Cézannes' beloved Provence, and the site of the D-day landings on Normandy beach, just to name a few. It is well worth exploring outside of Paris and visiting some of the less touristy spots, where you will get a real feel of the country.
Good organization will make your journey smoother and stress free. American citizens do not require a visa for a stay of up to 90 days in France. A valid passport is obligatory and it is advisable to have six months validity on your passport and at least two empty pages for stamps on arrival and departure. A roundtrip airline ticket and valid health and medical insurance will full international coverage are also required.
If you have any special medical requirements, it is advisable to consult your doctor before your trip. Take a plentiful supply of medicines you may require, which could be difficult to acquire abroad.
The cost of a summer program varies greatly depending on the type of program and the destination. Programs in Paris and larger cities are generally more expensive. A two-week language or cultural immersion program will range from around €765 to €1,200, including accommodation and registration. Registration fees for volunteer programs range from $20 to $500. Some, but not all, volunteer programs provide food and board. Participants in al kinds of programs will usually have to cover travel costs. Internships are normally unpaid but some contribution may be given to accommodation and living costs.
Scholarships for summer programs abroad are extremely hard to come by. A tiny number are available each year and need to be applied for well in advance, paying special attention to requirements.