Alumni Spotlight: Sophie Ricciardi

Sophie started identifying as a traveler after a few meaningful summers spent abroad during her high school years. This time away proved to be impactful as she spent the last twelve months engaged on a Gap Year, determined to fit as much as possible into her transition year.

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Why did you choose this program?

Prior to the start of my gap year, I did some basic research on other students' successful gap years and the various ways they filled their time. I quickly came across the USA Gap Year Fair, and signed up immediately. After an informative presentation by a general Gap Year Advisor, I met the representatives at EF. I explained to the team that I was looking for a language immersion experience that was time flexible.

Given the other elements I had planned into the year, I knew a standard September through December course would not fit my needs. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that EF courses begin every Monday. I was also happy to be given the option between a student residency and a homestay. After more independent research, I ultimately decided to enlist in EF given their years of experience. Their history in language immersion speaks volumes to their ability to run a course successfully.

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

Despite having made the initial connection with EF on my own at the USA Gap Year Fair, I was further encouraged by my independent Gap Year Advisor to invest a portion of my Gap Year at EF. Aside from this advice, I enrolled and organized my time at EF on my own, and found this process to run fairly smoothly.

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

I think my general advice for anyone on the verge of going abroad for an extended period of time is to put yourself out there. I can speak from my experience at EF that had I not approached a group of existing students at breakfast at the residency on my first morning, I would likely not have been introduced to a handful of students (none of them were American!) who would become the closest friends I made all year.

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

An average day at EF Paris is fairly straightforward. (I appreciated the regularity of the program after a few haphazard months of traveling.) I was enrolled in the intensive course which meant my days ranged from three to six hours of class.

On a longer day, I would begin class at 9, and would have three hours of general French classes. The topics in such classes are similar to that of your typical French class in the States – Grammar, Writing, etc.

After a quick lunch (often sushi as the Asian food scene is quite impressive in the area surrounding the EF campus), I would head to an elective course, such as French Journalism or Fashion. After my elective, I would take a Communications class which emphasized our ability to produce the language, as well improve our oral comprehension.

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

This is a tough one. I think I was concerned that my insecurities with my pre-existing abilities in French would prompt me to avoid immersion. For example, I was concerned that I may not apply myself outside of the classroom, therefore failing to take advantage of perhaps the most rewarding part of language immersion.

I overcame this issue more quickly than I expected, primarily by observing my peers interacting in French from our very first lunch breaks. It was certainly a lead by example experience, and proved to me that despite my abilities not being completely polished, there was still great value to communicating in French whenever given the opportunity.

How long do most students study at EF Paris?

This is also a tough one, there's such a range. During my time on campus, the school did receive an influx of Swiss-German students on spring break, all staying at most two weeks, but some even one. Nonetheless, my roommate was also on a Gap Year and spent the entirety of the year at EF Paris, developing her French skills.

I stayed only one month with EF, but if I could do it again, I would not recommend less than six weeks. I felt it took the first two weeks to get back into the groove of the language, and from there, an additional two weeks would have allowed me the opportunity to refine my French skills even more so. Additionally, I was not keen on leaving the great friends I had made.