Alumni Spotlight: Kevin Medansky


Kevin Medansky is finishing up his Haverford College career with a major in French and Francophone Studies, a minor at Swarthmore College in Film and Media Studies, and a concentration in Peace, Justice, and Human Rights. He is also a renowned contrabassoonist.

Why did you choose this program?

Initially, I chose the program because of the lack of other options, given my academic program over at Haverford. As a French and Francophone Studies major, I really could have studied with IES in either Nantes or Paris or with Sweet Briar. Honestly, I'm a pretty fast decision maker, and I saw that the Sweet Briar program both had more meals included and a guaranteed host family, so I just chose it like that! The way they'd spoken about their months abroad in Paris--their joy was contagious, and I couldn't resist trying out a semester with Sweet Briar for myself.

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

It's amazing, I am normally incredibly independent, and I'm much more comfortable going off on my own and doing what I'm interested in. And, at the same time, as I reflect on my experience with Sweet Briar in Paris, I can't help but revel in the nostalgia of the staff's incredible support throughout the entire semester. I genuinely believe I learned more in that class than any other one I've taken in my entire life. What an amazing professor, Mme Mellado!).

So, a few days after my arrival in Paris, the program director met with me for about an hour, as we leafed through the brochures for every department at the Sorbonne Nouvelle I was even remotely interested in, and we developed a plan for all of my courses throughout the semester. Prior to studying abroad in Paris, I had heard horror stories from friends who had studied abroad in Paris with other programs, and when they wanted to take courses at a Paris university, they were just given a big, out-of-date binder with every class available, and basically told to fend for themselves.

These experiences teaching French high school students gave me such a greater insight into the educational systems that brought up all the students whom I would then be taking classes with at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, and made me all the more appreciative to be in Paris. And, they happened to beef up my CV a little bit, as well! That same staff member also checked in regularly with all the students about our individual host families, and was a great person just to talk to throughout the semester. If anything went wrong, they could handle it. They could provide a free, English-speaking therapy service, when culture shock took its toll. But, most importantly, they were there to help us through any difficult moments and celebrate our successes, all throughout the semester!

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

Spend time with French people! It was tough for me to jump into a new city for a whole semester, where I didn't know anyone other than a couple students from Haverford, but friends come quickly! All the students in my program were really kind and fun to spend time with, which made the initial transition to such a new place much easier. I definitely benefited from a lot of their patients, especially at first, when they'd sometimes gently correct my accord with certain adjectives, or my pronunciation of other words.

Overall, though, a task that seemed incredibly daunting at first--talking in a second language with a native speaker of that language for hours on end--rapidly developed into a deeply gratifying one. We went on picnics together, we went out for drinks together, we shared fun and exciting moments together! And, there is nothing like sharing a picnic on a warm night in May with close friends, all while you don't even realize you're speaking a second language--it's just that automatic. Not to mention, one of my friends found me a job with her theatre company at a *huge* theatre festival in Avignon for the summer my semester abroad, which means that, thanks to my incredible friends, my abroad experience doesn't have to end so fast!

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

I'm not sure if I can speak for the average Sweet Briar student, just because we all pursued such unique adventures, but I can at least speak out of my own experience:

From Monday to Thursday, I would have all of my classes. The program director and I guaranteed that I wouldn't have any Friday classes so that if I ever wanted to travel one weekend, I wouldn't be so encumbered by a Friday afternoon class that would limit my time in a different city. I'll take the sacrifice. After everything finished off, I'd take the metro back to my host family's apartment in the 11th district of Paris (what we like to call "boboland," since it's a pretty gentrified, hipster-filled area). We'd share dinner, catch up about what everyone had been doing, and just generally talk for a while.

Throughout many weekends, the travel bug didn't hit me too hard, so I visited a few different cities, especially several ones with the Sweet Briar program, but I was quite content to stay in Paris most of the time. I'd often see 2-3 plays each weekend with friends from my university classes, since student tickets purchased at the Sorbonne Nouvelle ticket office normally cost around $10-12 for some of the best seats in every theatre. Otherwise, I'd catch up on work, relax, eat some delicious French foods, go on picnics, see movies, visit museums (all for free, thanks to the "Art History" student ID that Sweet Briar gave us!), and go on adventures throughout the city. There was always a lot to do, living in the best city in the world.

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

I think that my biggest fear related to studying abroad was about whether I'd be able to make French friends over the course of the semester. I'd been in France beforehand, but I mostly congregated with other American students, since it was much easier just to speak in English and not really branch out much. It took a lot of discipline--and nervousness--to actually reach out to a bunch of the students in my classes. But, I realized nearly immediately that these worries were pretty much all for naught.Whereas I had been so worried about what they would think when I wouldn't say everything exactly correctly, they thought my French was adorable, and they were more than happy to help me out when need be.

What is the one place you would recommend visiting in Paris?

The Rue Mouffetard is a small road in the middle of the 5th district of Paris, surrounded by large and busy streets, that may be the cutest in the entire city. It's filled with almost-tourist restaurants, with fixed prices for three-course meals, and fancy wine, cheese, and chocolate stores, but I've never seen any American tourists over there. This street has a lot of heart, too. I would highly recommend visiting the Théâtre Mouffetard, the most famous marionette theatre in the country, and going out for dinner afterwards at La Fontaine de la Mouffe, where the escargots and the chocolate fondue are to die for. The owner, Angélique, is one of the sweetest people I met in my life. For the best crêpes au nutella in Paris, you can walk over to Au P'tit Grec for an unexpectedly delicious gastronomic masterpiece. You'll thank me later.