Alumni Spotlight: Gabriella Forster


Gabriella works at Sonoma State University in California, at the School of Extended and International Education. She has studied abroad in France and Italy and taught English at a French public high school.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because I knew I wanted to study abroad long before I started college. My alma mater, St. Mary's College of California, had a relationship with IAU College in Aix-en-Provence, and the more I investigated Aix-en-Provence, and the surrounding area, the more excited I was to join the program!

At the time (2011), IAU College had recently started its French Honors program, encouraging students to speak in French as much as possible. This was my main reason for choosing the program, as my goal was to improve my French language skills.

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

My university assisted with advising prior to the semester and a pre-departure orientation, while IAU College placed me in a host family according to my request to live with a family that agreed to speak only in French with me.

It was my responsibility to organize my travel accommodations to Aix-en-Provence, in addition to bringing a gift for my host family. This was not required, but highly suggested, and allowed me to introduce myself to my host family and start conversation by bringing something from my home to theirs.

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

My advice for others who are preparing to study abroad at IAU College or elsewhere, is to think about a goal for your time abroad. Prior to going, decide what it is that you want to accomplish or take away from your experience and research where you will be living as much as you possibly can.

It is so helpful to understand where you are going to be living for the next months or year, and you want to be able to make it your home by understanding the geography, the culture, the language, and anything else that may make your time there more meaningful.

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

An average week at IAU College looks something like this:

Students all live with host families and usually eat breakfast and dinner together, Monday through Friday. For lunch and the weekend meals, students are generally on their own. Classes take place Monday through Friday and class schedules vary depending on specific class meetings and class field trips in and around town.

Students have the option to participate in internships, which can be organized after they arrive in France. Students have homework throughout the week, however, there is always time to explore the city, hike Mont Sainte Victoire that Cézanne painted so many times, and take part in the many student organized activities and daily markets throughout the city.

Many weekends throughout the year, students have the option to go on planned day trips to areas like La Vaucluse, Les Calanques, Nice, and others. I miss it! It's the perfect balance of work and exploration! The classroom really is all around you there!

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

My biggest fears concerned my French language skills, living with a host family, and being away from home after experiencing a death in my family. To get past these things, I worked very hard in my French classes and got my hands on every book and film that I could find, reading, speaking, and using French as much as I could before I left for France.

Prior to going, someone very close to me passed away, I started to think going abroad was a bad idea. I took advantage of the one-on-one counseling services at my university and was also placed in group therapy.

It ended up being an amazing experience that I believe truly helped to prepare me, both mentally and emotionally, for my next adventure. Once I arrived in France, it became clear that my host family was interested in supporting me, as well as respecting my independence, and all fear subsided.