Alumni Spotlight: Casey Kennedy

Casey is a junior at Arizona State University, currently studying Sustainability with a certificate in Peace Corps Preparation. She is passionate about culture, language, and the health of the planet.

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Why did you choose this program?

I knew from the beginning I was going somewhere French-speaking, but I didn't want to go to Paris. I was stuck trying to find the perfect spot that wasn't crowded with tourists, but would still give an authentic "French" experience. Lyon was the best fit, and USAC had the best price.

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

I'm an independent person, so from the get-go, I was worried about how much my program provider was going to hold my hand throughout the process. However from the minute I was accepted into the program, it seemed like USAC knew ahead of time what I would need help with.

My answers were answered before I asked them, setting up my living situation was as easy as showing up at the front door with a suitcase, and they handled just about everything I could imagine - giving me the time and space to explore the country on my own and be as independent as I desired.

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

I wish I had known how fast you can learn a language by immersing yourself in it. I had spent so much time trying to prepare myself in classrooms and textbooks - that by the time I finally went, I felt I could have saved so many hours of stress and studying by just going.

After a month in France, I had learned more of the language than I had all of my time in school combined.

If you're worried about not being prepared, well, just know you'll never be prepared. Be open to challenge, and just GO.

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

My average day started with waking up early to eat a small breakfast with my family. I would then bundle up in 10 layers (Lyon is COLD, especially for an Arizonan) and walk along the river to my university. I'd spend the majority of my day at school, with several breaks spent at a cafe nearby or down by the river doing homework.

By evening, if it was a weekday, I would walk home to eat dinner with family and spend the rest of the night with them. If it was a weekend, we would usually find a bottle of wine and a baguette and either picnic with some locals or find a place to eat and socialize.

Night-life in Lyon is quite active - whether it's roaming the streets with your friends with a cup of vin-chaud in hand, or dancing at a club, Lyon is always awake, always going.

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 fear was being judged. I guess it's a fear everyone has, but I was so scared to be viewed as unintelligent for not speaking the language very well.

You get over the fear quick, because guess what - you're going to make SO many mistakes. You learn to laugh and keep going. Most people find it endearing, you just have to be open to correction, excited to learn, and not too sensitive if a grumpy French man gives you a hard time about saying the wrong word or having an American accent.

What's something you would advise doing in your free time?

This is unique but it completely changed my experience abroad. Explore alone. Now I'm not talking walking an alleyway by yourself or going out late around a questionable crowd of people - I'm saying do not feel obligated to grab the first person who speaks English and never leave their side.

Don't be afraid to make friends with locals. One of my favorite things to do was sip my coffee in my favorite coffee shop, and see who would say hello (or bonjour) because I wasn't already sitting with someone. I loved walking the Sunday market by myself and talking to the vendors about their lives or their passions.

I made so many connections and friendships with others abroad because I forced myself to seek communication. Smiling, being approachable, while being safe, are the reasons I have beloved friends in all corners of the world. Don't be afraid to sit alone - odds are you'll have a lot more memories and friendships because of it.