Alumni Spotlight: Elizabeth Timberlake

Elizabeth studies psychology and clinical psychological science at Indiana University in Bloomington (class of 2017), with minors in French and business. She studied abroad in the summer of 2016 with IAU College's French Honors Program in Aix-en-Provence, France.

View on summit of Mount St. Victoire

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program for a few reasons. Firstly, even though studying at IAU meant a lot of extra paperwork (since my university doesn't partner with IAU, yet), it was very worth it. My home university had limited options for summer study abroad in France. I did not want to go to Paris because I wanted a smaller city experience. IAU's campus in Aix was perfect for this.

Aix is a small city with a large-town vibe. There is a lot to do, from shopping, to nightlife, to music and art festivals, and excursions to other coastal towns are an easy bus ride away. So my first reason for choosing the program was the location.

Another main reason I chose to study with IAU was for their French Honors Program. With this program, I stayed with a French family and took two classes over the summer entirely in French. In addition to the readings and writings which immensely improved my language abilities, both of my professors had planned out-of-the-classroom activities in the community and surrounding area to gain cultural and academic experiences.

One such activity was a day trip to Marseille (all expenses paid for by IAU!). Our professor, who lives there, took us around to different neighborhoods and sights so that we could see the many different cultures represented in the port city. We also got a healthy exposure to the southern accent in French!

The final reason that I chose to study with IAU was for the supportive staff and good reputation I had heard from other former students. I knew that others had had positive experiences with IAU, and after completing the program, I can see why.

The faculty and staff are very present with the students, ready and eager to help them succeed - both academically and otherwise. As a program that has been around since 1957, they have wonderful systems in place to make sure that each student is set up for success, and this support and intimate knowledge of the town was invaluable to me during my stay.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

IAU organized the homestay, in which we were provided with six dinners and seven breakfasts per week. We were on our own for lunches as well as one dinner per week. This set up was ideal for my friends and me because we got to have a balance between time in our host families and getting to know locals and then also spending time on our own or with friends, trying out restaurants and exploring the city on our own.

IAU also organized the administrative side of registering for classes. All I had to do was choose which classes I wanted. However, because Indiana University doesn't currently accept transcripts directly from IAU, I had to apply through Northern Illinois University, a process which incurred several extra fees and a lot of paperwork. As stated above, though, this administrative headache was worth it because I got to have a wonderful study abroad experience in the south of France - something I wouldn't have gotten if I had simply studied abroad with an Indiana University program.

IAU assisted us with arrival day/meeting our families, but buying our plane and/or train tickets was completely up to us. IAU also had organized excursions every weekend to various parts of France (generally within the southern region) through their partnership with a local travel guide named George. These day trips ranged from 25-35 euros plus the cost of food, and were great because all the details of the trip were planned by someone who knows the region very well and could tell us interesting information on where we were going.

Trips with George were a good balance of organized tours within the group and free time to explore as we desired. IAU allows students to travel independently as well, but you have to submit a travel form on their website, just so they know where you are if you are traveling outside of town.

I went to Morocco one weekend with a friend, which was something we organized completely on our own. I really enjoyed this freedom but also the options to participate in excursions that were already planned (I didn't realize how much goes into planning a trip until I had to do it for myself!).

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I have two pieces of advice, one practical and the other experiential. First - hunt around for a good deal on your plane ticket. This trip was the first time in which I bought my plane and train tickets completely on my own, and I ended up paying more money than I could've if I had known what I was doing. I recommend using STA Travel to search for flights, but use multiple sources. I only used Google flights, which was a mistake. Be aware of discounts specifically for students, too.

My second piece of advice is to not worry about what your experience will be, i.e., what you will get to post to Facebook, what others will think of your experience, what other people on your same program get to do that you don't. I as well as other friends and students all shared feelings of worrying about missing out or about what we "should" be doing on the weekend, for example.

Instead of wasting time worrying like that, I advise future study abroad students to live in the moment and seek out experiences because you personally think they will be interesting or rewarding. Friendship will come, Instagram-worthy photos will come, but at the end of your program, you want to have fond memories of different experiences and people, not memories of constantly wanting to be in another place with another person.

I was concerned about making friends on my 6-week summer program, and yes, the first week was difficult at times. Any new environment takes a certain adjustment period. However, I was surprised that not only did I have fun with the friends I made while in Aix, but I made close friends that I will remain in contact with long after the end of our program. This was one positive surprise that came without me expecting or planning for it to, but came simply because I was able to live in the moment while I was in France.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

An average day for me on this program looked like this: wake up around 8 am and eat breakfast with my roommate, walk 15 minutes to IAU together, have my first class until lunch time, buy my lunch and eat it in the "cave" (a student lounge in one of the buildings of IAU) with friends from my class, and then go to my second class.

After that, I had free time to do homework, or go to a boulangerie or cafe/bar with some friends, or go back and take a nap. In the evening, I'd have dinner with my roommate and host family and then my roommate and I would work on homework in our room or just talk, getting to bed around midnight. That's the general schedule Monday through Thursday. Aix is a great student town, but there are lots of tourists, especially in the month of July. Even so, it was a fun town to spend time in.

Friday through Sunday, each weekend of my 6-week program looked different, with various trips to Cassis for the beach or hiking "les calanques," a trip to Marseille for paddle boarding with our host family, hiking Mont Sainte Victoire with my roommate, and excursions with IAU's travel partner, George, to "Les gorges du Verdon" for kayaking, lavender fields, the ancient city of Arles.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

The very real threat of terrorism, which was a fear I had and became real to me when the attacks on Nice happened in July 2016, is a fear and reality that sadly exists in our world today. There was not much I could do, other than be prudent of my surroundings and stay informed through the State Department.

Beyond that, my biggest fear was being able to adjust well to a new culture, new food, new friends, and new schedule. I overcame it by acknowledging my fear and using strategies to move past it, such as doing something familiar when I was homesick (I kept an almost-daily journal, or I'd listen to some favorite music, or Skype friends or family), making an effort to go out and spend time with other students even if I felt scared or didn't feel up to it.

Riding camels in the Sahara

The truth is, to some degree, everyone has that fear of how transitioning is going to go, and how making friends will go. It helped to have a roommate to talk to about this, and knowing that the IAU staff was there to listen and help, too, was comforting. I moved on from this fear more and more as I let myself have new and exciting experiences without worrying about what they would be like, but simply enjoying them for what they were.

What is your favorite memory from your time abroad?

One of my favorite parts of my study abroad was going to Morocco for a weekend. I had not planned or budgeted to do any out of country travel during my time in France, but Morocco had always been in my top 5 of places I wanted to visit. So when my friend told me that she was planning to go, I asked for more information.

We ended up planning the trip together - buying plane tickets, booking a personal tour guide, setting up a rendezvous with a mutual friend of hers who lived in Marrakech, etc. While this trip made me incur way more expenses than I had originally wanted to, it was SO worth it. My friend and I experienced a culture unlike anything we ever knew or could experience in Western Europe, and we had some incredible opportunities, such as riding a camel over 1.5 hours into the Sahara desert and camping there overnight, or having a genuinely caring and knowledgeable local guide who taught us a lot about not only different sights but the people, culture, and traditions in Morocco.

My take-away from that experience is to be open to new opportunities, even if it means going against a plan or over a budget!