Alumni Spotlight: Gemma Gonzalez


Gemma Gonzalez is a recent graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she obtained a Bachelor's in Applied Psychology and in French and Francophone Studies. Her ultimate career goal is to work as a counselor to help those struggling with mental health problems.

Why did you choose this program?

The program that I chose is a faculty-led social services internship in Paris, France that is offered only to students at my university. I decided to participate in this program because it allowed me to combine my love for the French language and culture with my passion for helping others. I interned at an agency that offers services to homeless adults. This internship program allowed me to learn from clinical psychologist at the agency, as well as from other professionals in the helping field. I also had the opportunity to learn about the French social services system through visits to other agencies in the city of Paris.

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

The internship placements for my classmates and I were coordinated by a professor at my university. The study abroad office then partnered up with CEA to help us with our logistics, such as housing and health insurance. CEA also gave us an orientation of Paris, which included how to get around the city, where to shop for groceries, how to keep ourselves safe, among other topics. CEA was also kind enough to let our professor, who traveled with us to Paris, hold our internship class at the CEA Center and provided us with all of the necessary equipment.

Most of our cultural activities, like museum visits, were coordinated by CEA who also provided us with tour guides. Our apartment had everything we needed, from home appliances to cooking utensils (and it had a view of the Eiffel Tower!!). Some things my classmates and I organized on our own include booking our plane ticket and getting ourselves to the airport at the end of the program.

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

For future students going on this specific program I would also say to try to learn as much as possible from the professionals that you meet in Paris. My program was only five weeks long because it was during the summer semester. I would tell anyone studying abroad in the summer to make the most out of their time because those five or six weeks are going to pass by very quickly.

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

An average week in my program consisted of having class on Monday and working on our term paper. My classmates and I would go to our internship sites on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, then do something fun in the afternoons. On Friday we would regroup to visit museums and other social services agencies. We had Saturday and Sunday off, but we would oftentimes get together with our professor to do more sightseeing.

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 that my French-speaking skills were not good enough. Although I had been learning French for years before going to Paris I felt nervous about interacting with the people at my internship site and with the locals. When I arrived in Paris I realized that my French was better than I thought. There were times where I did not know how to say some things in French. But people where very understanding and would help me with that. They also appreciated my efforts of speaking mainly in French to them.

What are some places people should visit or foods they should try out?

Aside from the Palace of Versailles, and the summer carnival at the Tuileries Gardens, visiting Hotel de Ville was one of my favorite things about my time in Paris. Hotel de Ville is Paris's city hall, and it is situated steps away from the CEA Center. I think of this magnificent building as a mini Palace of Versailles. It is very beautiful both on the outside and the inside, and even has a Hall of Mirrors. My group's visit to Hotel de Ville was coordinated by my professor, but I believe that you have to call a few weeks in advance to book a visit. I also suggest trying the pistachio creme brulee at Cafe du Rendez-Vous by the Catacombs. This delicious dessert is the perfect combination for anyone who loves both pistachios and creme brulee!