Why did you choose this program?
This program fit along three criteria that I cared most about: language level, lesson focus, and organized/free time balance.
I didn't know any French going in, so CIEE was a great fit. Culture classes were in English for everyone while grammar, pronunciation (Sorbonne course), and vocabulary (Sorbonne course) classes were split by level. I got an excellent intro to the language without missing out on cultural learnings.
Second, the program focused on culture as much as on language. It taught us about contemporary society (augmented by living with a host family and volunteering at a local school), architecture (we had architecture student ID cards that got us into most points of interest for free), art, history, and more.
And lastly, the program gave a good amount of free time to explore other parts of France and Europe while also providing several organized local field trips and more distant trips. One of these was a journey to the south of France with an excellent guided tour. Others were to show us key points in Paris or visit nearby castles.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
The program provided students with the major essentials: attaining a visa, fitting/placing in a host family, signing up for Sorbonne courses, getting metro and student ID cards, getting a phone, finding a local student buddy, setting us up for volunteering at a local school, organizing weekly cultural field trips. It also interfaced with host families and ensured students were picked up from the airport, shown how to get around the city, and fed dinner.
Individually, students had to find their own flights. Beyond that, most of what I had to do on my own related to filling free time. I planned trips (Belgium for the weekend, day trips outside Paris, etc.) and fun things to do between classes (museums, parks, cafes, etc.).
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Be open to new experiences! Some of the most memorable points in the program were things I was a bit unsure about at first. For instance, teaching a bit of English and American culture at a local public school, attending a formal wine tasting, or going on a trip to Normandy with another student and her host family. Super unique and memorable experiences that I am so glad I took part in.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Wake up in your room at your host family's apartment, eat a light breakfast, take the metro to the CIEE facility in the center of the city, attend a few classes on grammar and culture, grab a sandwich with other students at a local shop, explore the city for a few hours or just sit by the river and people watch, head to the Sorbonne for a few hours of phonetics and language classes with people from all over the world, take the metro back home, do 30 minutes of homework and join the host family for dinner.
On some days, CIEE will organize a field trip to somewhere in the city, like a cruise along the river. On weekends, head to the train station and hop on a regional train with friends to explore a smaller city and climb a cathedral tower.
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?
Language! I spoke a few languages but French was not among them. I worried about how I would navigate the country, communicate with my host family, and even fit in with other students, most of whom I assumed would speak some French.
In the end, there was nothing to fear. CIEE did a fantastic job of pairing students with host families based on interest and language level, and the program was designed to be flexible.
It also equipped us with an understanding of how to shop/use the metro/order at restaurants/etc. so that we felt at home when out and about. Students also, for better or worse, spoke English among themselves. Plus we were paired with students at a local school so that they could practice their English with us.
Besides providing a great time, was the experience worth it?
Absolutely. I took part in this program after graduation, and I think it prepared me wonderfully for life after college. Life is all about being comfortable with new things, taking advantage of opportunities whenever they come along, being independent, and thinking on your feet. This program helped me strengthen in all these ways more than any amount of university studies could.