Stephanie was born and raised in Wisconsin and is currently a senior at Carthage College, studying Graphic Design, French, and Public Relations. She is also passionate about other cultures and languages, which leads her to desire to pursue international opportunities upon graduation.
Why did you choose this program?
As much as I love living in Wisconsin, I wanted a location abroad that would offer me the opportunity to explore different terrain than what I was used to. I had never seen real mountains before, so when I heard about the city of Grenoble, located within the French Alpes, I was immediately drawn in.
Once I decided on the location, I knew I had to eventually choose a specific study abroad provider/program. I had spoken to previous study abroad alumni from my university who had also gone to Grenoble through API. Everyone I had talked to, continually raved about the incredible on-site staff of API in Grenoble. Knowing there would be a lot of "scary unknowns" with a semester abroad, a supportive on-site staff was exactly what I was looking for.
The API program in Grenoble also offered appropriate courses that I could transfer back to my home university to cover the requirement of a social science general education class. This is one of the requirements I needed to satisfy to graduate within four years!
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
Between my home university and API, I didn't really have to do much on my own. The biggest step for me was choosing a program provider, but once I did that, the process was actually super simple!
API has a really neat pre-departure orientation toolkit that walks students through step-by-step procedures leading up to departure. All of the necessary forms had easy instructions to follow on the API website; some of which included living preferences, desired courses, obtaining passport-sized photos, etc. API even worked with my home university to cover the financial requirement of the program.
The only thing I had to do on my own was go to the French Embassy in Chicago to obtain a VISA, but there were even instructions for this process included in the API toolkit.
Before departure, I had contacted professors to gain pre-approval for transfer credit for a few of the classes I was planning to take abroad. Once I was on-site I continued to touch base with these professors to confirm I had actually enrolled in the proper courses.
API does a really great job of organizing life abroad for students before arrival and during the experience. API had assigned housing based on my preferences, covered transportation to and within my host city, provided maps and informational brochures on the first day in my host country, and enrolled me in my choice classes.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
One piece of advice I would give to prospective students is not to forget that your host family and the API on-site staff are essential resources. They have been living in your host city a lot longer than you have and can offer very helpful advice when needed; whether it is something simple like asking to borrow snow pants or a little more complex like seeking medical care.
There were two times during my semester abroad I needed to see a doctor (which can be a scary experience in a foreign country!) The on-site staff of API made it very simple for me, but I had to ask them for help! They couldn't just predict I was so sick I needed to see a doctor, but once I reached out, they made the appointment for me, offered to go with (if necessary), and helped me fill out the reimbursement forms afterward.
Your host family and API staff are there to support you! You are not meant to do this alone, so don't try! Remember you have resources and you should use them to your benefit in order to make the most of your experience!
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
On an average day, I had breakfast with my host family before heading to the university for class. Breakfast almost always consisted of instant coffee and a fresh baguette. I lived just outside of the city, so I had to walk about 10 minutes before I got to the tram, which then took me to the university.
In the morning I had approximately 2-4 hours of French grammar, depending on the day. Then I often ate lunch with friends at one of the various campus restaurants. Most of the restaurants offered a "menu" where you could get a sandwich, dessert, and drink for a set price (typically less than €10).
My Monday and Tuesday afternoons were spent with elective courses such as History of French Art, French Politics, and French literature. Thursday afternoons I taught English at a local middle school for approximately 2 hours each week. I definitely preferred the days I taught English more than the ones I where I was in class myself.
Once I finished with class or teaching, I met up with friends at a local café, where we often socialized with the locals or finished up our daily assignments. Around 7pm I returned home to eat dinner with my host family, and finally, before bed, we would play a game or watch a movie together.
I never had any class on Fridays, which meant Thursday evenings were often the nights my friends and I would leave town for weekend trips. Although we spent a few weekends in our host city, most were actually spent in other cities around France! Exploring the different regions of France was one of my favorite things to do!
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
One of my biggest fears going abroad was not learning enough while I was abroad. I always have heard stories about previous language students studying abroad, only to return with the same or lower level of understanding of their respective language than before.
Being the only French major of my grade at my home university, I felt a lot of pressure to greatly improve my French competence.
I didn't truly get over this fear until about 3-4 months into my study abroad experience when I had emailed my French professors at my home university to update them on my semester abroad. Both of my professors commented on the progress they had seen just in my writing in a simple email. They were excited for me to come back to show them how well I had improved overall!
I realized that impressing them with my progress should not have been something I was so worried about. As long as I continued to immerse myself in the culture like I had been, the progress I was looking for would come naturally.
What is one thing you would have done differently?
One thing I wish I had done differently is engage with my host brother as much as I did with my host sister. My host brother spoke at a faster rate, using more challenging words than the other members of my host family so I was often intimidated by the thought of having a conversation with him.
About halfway through the semester, he moved to Paris for an internship. After he left, I realized the incredible opportunity to learn I had missed out on. If I wouldn't have let the fear of embarrassing myself or saying something dumb stop me from having a conversation with him, I think I could have really enriched my vocabulary and practiced my listening skills by having more conversations with him. Besides, I would have gained another friend!
I think it is important to remember that making mistakes actually plays a vital role in improving competencies in foreign languages. Plus, sometimes when you make a mistake in a real-life situation, you remember better the next time (so you don't make the same mistake again).