Why did you choose this program?
I knew that I wanted to take a gap year after high school, but I needed guidance. I wasn't sure if I wanted to do service, education, travel, language, adventure or any of the other options out there.
When I found the CIEE gap year in Paris program, I felt like it was everything that I wanted in one. I took French in high school and knew that continuing to study it in Paris would get me one step closer to fluency.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
While I was preparing to head to France, there were two primary goals: prepare legally and prepare emotionally.
To prepare legally, I needed to gather all of my paperwork, obtain a visa and take a few language placement tests. The Portland CIEE staff was helpful in sending emails full of information to assist with the visa process. The Parisian CIEE staff is incredibly supportive. Lucie, our program director, is an angel and I couldn't have gotten everything together without her.
After orientation, I felt prepared to get on a plane and move! I do think that there is a lot of personal preparation that goes into moving abroad right after high school and nothing can adequately prepare you for the adventure that lies ahead!
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
On a surface level, I wish that I had packed more layers. Growing up in Atlanta, I wasn't fully prepared for the Paris winter. On a deeper level, I would make sure to check in with yourself before, during and after your experience.
Going abroad is an incredible experience, and it can also be exhausting and a major challenge. It will make you a stronger person, but only if you supply yourself with the right tools.
These look like different things to different people. For me, it means making sure that I had weekly calls/texts with a family member or friend back home, a journal with me at all times to write down random thoughts and vocabulary, a weekly brunch with my host family and taking "me time" twice a day with yoga.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
The program changed from the first semester to the second. The pieces that carried through both semesters were grammar and phonetics classes at the Sorbonne. First semester the grammar lasted 4 hours, but we transitioned into shorter classes the second semester.
We also took a few classes through CIEE like politics and education, culture and society and art history. These classes took place both in and out of the classroom. Along with our education course, we worked as "bénévoles" or volunteers. We worked in middle and primary schools as well as helping disadvantaged students in the 10th arrondissement at Club Barbés.
Second semester we worked behind the bar in a café serving coffee and tea to adults who were taking French classes. Working in the café was an excellent way to practice our French and get to meet incredibly interesting people!
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?
Before going to Paris, I felt like I could do anything. It wasn't until I got on the plane and the woman next to me asked how I was doing that I broke down and started crying out of anxiety. I was nervous about living without my family for the first time, moving to an entirely new city with a different language, starting the program, the unknowns of a gap year and more.
As Lucie, our program director says, it takes three weeks to get acquainted. You have to take it day by day and experience by experience. It is all of one big puzzle, but nothing will fit together if you don't pay attention to each little piece. Almost immediately after the three week mark, the Paris attacks took place. While this was horrible and was potentially my biggest scare, I learned so much from it.
CIEE was flawless in their response time and support both during the attacks and for the rest of the year. I felt safe knowing that I was under their watch and learned that the best way to move forward was to live my life without fear.
what was the best thing you ate in Paris?
While I had the most incredible bread, cheese and pastries in Paris, the best meal I had was in my host family's kitchen. We would cook together many nights, and it solidified our bond. When Thanksgiving rolled around, I made a pecan pie (pecans are incredibly hard to come by in Paris. I used pecans that my family brought with them during a visit), and we had a big meal together.
My host mom taught me how to make classic dishes and how to put a modern, French twist on food like hamburgers and hummus. Besides eating with my host family, I would recommend trying out the dining-in-the-dark experience. It is a restaurant where visually impaired staff navigates you through a complete meal. Truly something I will never forget!