Alumni Spotlight: Keara Engelhardt


Keara is from Minneapolis, MN and went to school at DePaul University in Chicago, majoring in French and Sociology. She enjoys laughter, adventures, and naps.

Highlights: The highlight of my study abroad experience was being on spring break in London and Edinburgh, gallivanting around the town with two of my best friends while trying new foods, meeting new people, and getting to see a lot of things that I'd heard about forever (like the London eye, Abbey Road studios, riding on a double-decker bus, watching a rugby game, and sitting in Kensington park).

The highlight of my overall experience was learning about myself, how much I can adapt to new situations, and what I retain from my experience (I picked up some new habits that I still have after a year). I learned that, even though I was nervous (or, more appropriately, scared out of my mind) to study abroad for four months, and even though it was really easy to focus on the difficulties and the things that you miss, it takes a surprisingly short time for you to fall in love with your new home and everything in it. It is exhausting to have to constantly be trying to do things in an unfamiliar way, but you'll be amazed how much you pick up in a matter of weeks. These things stick with you, and you can't help but change your perspective on your life abroad as well as your life back home; when you return, you'll be different, hopefully for the better.

Morning: Every morning I woke up around 8 and took a shower (I was lucky enough to have a mounted shower head, whereas most in France are handheld). I had breakfast with my host family (mother, father, and three little boys, so cute!), which usually consisted of butter on homemade bread, fruit, and hot chocolate. I then proceeded to get dressed for the day, pull my school stuff together, and make my way to the Anatole France métro station. My commute was about 40 minutes long (including a train transfer in a very busy station). I tried to read "Le Matin" every morning, which was a sort of news publication available in every train station; that way, I got to practice my French, and learn about local issues at the same time.

Afternoon: School at IES Paris consists of 5 classes, all taught in French. Monday/Wednesday only featured one class, and Tuesday/Thursday had three. Everyone has to take one language development class, and everything else is up to the student. I took History of France, French Cinema, and French Immigration (all lectures). The teachers were (fort eh most part) very animated about their subjects, and they had a lot of information to impart; sometimes it was hard to keep up with them because they tended to speak quickly. It can be very difficult to motivate yourself to study, but I tried to do as much of my school work as possible at school, so I wouldn't have to do it later. Lunch usually consisted of a baguette from the bakery next door, perhaps a panini or a gyro if I felt like splurging. Since money was tight, thanks to the tricky dollar-euro conversion rate, I didn't want to spend all of my money on food.

My fifth class took place at the Institut Catholique de Paris on Fridays (Sociology of the Working World), and it was honestly one of the most challenging things I've ever done in my entire life. The teacher spoke at a rapidfire pace for three hours at a time, and my grade depended 100% on my final project; talk about pressure! Still, every day I had to go to that class, I came away incredibly drained and confused. But after I finished it, I had a huge sense of accomplishment.

Evening: I had dinner with my host family three nights a week, and they made a point of introducing me to a lot of different kinds of French food. We would talk about school, local subjects, my life back in the US, and their life here; it was a great way of practicing French while getting to know them. The kids were adorable (ages 9, 4, and 8 months), and I played with them whenever I got the chance. On nights when I didn't have dinner with my host family, I would either make dinner for myself (which was a bit tricky because their kitchen was absolutely tiny), or else I would meet up with friends from school and go out for dinner. Every week we had a conversation club where we could practice our French with real French-speaking students. The weekends were usually reserved for visiting local attractions (the Eiffel Tower, the Latin quarter, Notre Dame and the surrounding area, and the chateau de Fontainebleau made the top of my list).