Alumni Spotlight: Noah Van Dam

Noah is a very outgoing kid who loves to travel the world and experience new cultures.

Why did you choose this program?

I heard about this program through a friend. She gave me a book of all the different programs MEI had to offer. My mom and I started going through them together, imagining how much fun you could have on each of these different programs.

I’m in French Immersion, and we noticed the France and Switzerland program that is available for all students interested in French. I chose this program because I felt like I wanted to improve on some of my French skills, and what’s a better way to improve than doing so in France and Switzerland?!

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

Once you decided to sign up for the trip, you have to fill out a bunch of information. MEI Academy first sends you and your parents a username and password so you can access the official website of your specific program (mine was France and Switzerland). Once you get that information, you fill out a bunch of questions that vary between health history, academic history, and sign a bunch of waivers.

On your own, you have to give your passport information and also pay some early deposits. One thing that I thought was really cool is that we had to make our own Facebook page and join a class with everyone who’s going on the program. This way, we could share to our fellow classmates about who we are and also learn early about who you’re going to be spending your trip with.

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

You might be a little nervous or scared of going to a new continent or a new country on your own, but you absolutely have nothing to worry about. On our trip, we had no problems with items being stolen or anyone being approached. MEI Academy has been staying at the hotels that accommodated us so they trust the people working there.

Also, don’t worry about being alone because MEI makes sure you switch roommates every time you switch locations. I thought that was a great idea because you get to meet so many new people and make lots of friends. Just be nice to everyone, and people will be nice to you in return. You’ll have the time of your life with the most amazing people who will make you feel safe and make the trip a lot more fun!

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

An average day for an MEI student goes like this. You wake up at around 6:30 AM and go for a morning workout. I personally loved having these because it got the blood pumping, and I felt more energetic. After our workout, we would go back to the hotel where half of the students go eat breakfast and the other half go take showers and change. It’s usually half of your roommates doing one while the other half does the other so it’s more efficient.

At around 8:30 - 9 AM, we start our day. We usually have our first lesson in the morning and we have them in local parks or famous landmarks. It’s a different location each day, which is awesome. At around 11 AM, the teachers usually give us free time to explore and buy ourselves some lunch. I like this because this way, you’re not all together (but always in a group of four) and you can do absolutely whatever you want – shop, eat, explore, take pictures, chill in a park, go swimming.

At around 1 PM, we would meet in our designated meeting spot and we would walk a bit as a group, and the teachers would show us some cool areas or famous landmarks. From 2 to 4 PM, we would have our afternoon lesson. These lessons would also be held in a unique classroom area. We would eat dinner from 6 to 8 PM, and the food was really good. These restaurants were planned specifically to have great service and excellent food. The teachers pick everything based on previous experiences.

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

Personally, my biggest fear was getting stuff stolen on this trip. I like to make videos of my trips so I had a bunch of valuable items that I brought to help make my videos awesome. I brought my computer, GoPro, and hard drive. My biggest fear was that I would end up getting my items stolen in a hotel or by someone on the street.

Thankfully, the teachers explained that they choose hotels that have excellent security and where MEI had stayed at in the past. They’ve had pretty much no items stolen from the hotels in the past few years, and the teachers are welcomed by the same hotel staff each year.

Second, you shouldn’t be worried that every second someone might attack you on the street and try to mug you or something. Don’t spend your whole trip with that mindset, or it’s not going to be very fun. You’re always in a group of four to make sure you’re never alone. When you’re in a group, you feel a lot safer and less of a target. If you don’t want to be a target on the street, don’t look like a tourist! People only try and steal from you when you look vulnerable and don’t know what you’re doing.

In France, speak as much French as you can and don’t talk to the people trying to sell you items from the black market. Act like you live in that city, and no one will bother you. Also, the teachers will make sure nothing will happen to you, and they will protect you and make your safety their number one concern.

What were the teachers like?

The teachers made this trip so much fun, and they will make sure you have an awesome time! Basically, in the France and Switzerland trip, you will be put in a class depending on your level of French. We had three classes – French Immersion (Grade 11 and 12), Core French for Grade 11, and Core French for Grade 12. In my experience, the immersion kids always did their lessons together and all the core kids (Grades 11 and 12) did their lessons together too.

Now let me start telling you about these teachers. If you get one of them on your program, they will make your trip a lot better.

First up, we have Ayanna. Ayanna was the only girl teacher on the trip, and I thought of her more as the “boss”. She was the teacher of the Grade 12 Core Class. She’s had the most experience of teaching on the France and Switzerland trip and she even went on this program when she was a student! She definitely knows everything you need to know and what to do. Ayanna loved to socialize with the kids and was a really nice and sweet person to approach. The one thing that really amazed me about Ayanna is that she was always so calm and chill no matter the situation. I never saw her get stressed if we didn’t get somewhere on time or anything; she always thought of the positives in everything.

Next, we have David. David was one of the male teachers on trip and he taught French Immersion. He was my teacher. It was David’s first time on the MEI France and Switzerland trip but he already was a natural. Throughout the trip, he thought about how he can make learning more fun. We would have interactive quizzes where we would have to do a challenge before answering the question. He also always loved to play sports with us.

The thing I liked about David is that whenever you needed help on anything, no matter where you are or what time, he will try his best to help you out. I remember it was 11:30 PM and everyone was tired from walking back from the Bastille Day fireworks, and I asked if he could help me with my subjonctif, and he did! The whole walk back. He really cared for everyone’s safety and did his best to make sure everyone succeeded.

Finally, we have Alexis. Alexis was the other male teacher who mainly taught the Grade 11 Core Class. My first impression of Alexis was that he is this super friendly guy that you just want to talk to. It was his second time on the France and Switzerland trip, but he’s also a French citizen! Alexis is a great guy who loves to make sure that all kids had the best time. He had all of these stories to tell and life lessons to keep.

One of his passions was for sports, and he loved playing sports with us. The one thing I really liked about Alexis is that he could talk his way into anything. He could convince people to get us access to go to the top of Notre Dame or bargain for a sale on t-shirts. He taught me a really good life lesson, “you never know until you ask.”

If you get any of these teachers on your program, you should look forward to an awesome trip!