Why did you decide to study abroad with AIFS?
Caroline: I chose AIFS because they looked like the greatest overall fit. Their program included a lot, from flight packages and meal plans to internship opportunities and constant excursions. Overall, it was a great “bang for your buck” deal. AIFS included excursions to London, Florence, Paris, and Provence, in addition to all the side trips throughout the week (Gambling at the Monte Carlo casino? Check. Kayaking through France’s version of the Grand Canyon? Check).
AIFS also coordinated internships at the Cannes Film Festival, and through their help, I was able to work for a company that let me blog and film inside the festival – an amazing opportunity. AIFS has on-site directors who took care of us, too. I didn’t realize how helpful that would end up being until one of my friends got a serious kidney infection, had to go to the hospital for two nights, and our director took care of everything.
What made this study abroad experience unique and special?
Caroline: It’s hard to translate what made it so special, and I think a lot of people who’ve studied abroad have trouble pinpointing exactly their highlights as well. All I know is I came away with dozens of lifelong friends, a proficiency, finally, in speaking French, postcards from all over Europe, extensive knowledge of four metro systems that would have confused the daylights of me back in January, and an incredible desire to go back to Europe again. It was so special because I got to do things I only dreamed about before. It’s the most fun, and it’s the most you’ll ever learn in one semester. And the best part is I learned the most outside of the classroom.
Describe your most meaningful souvenir and why you love it?
Caroline: My most meaningful souvenir would be a gift I gave to someone at home: an old Édith Piaf record. I love her music, and she’s one of the classic, quintessential French singers, so the record wasn’t that hard of a find, actually. But it means a lot because of where I found it: at the big weekend flea market in Cannes. On my first full day in the city, my roommate and I walked around Cannes to explore the city. We ate crepes at a café on the beach, we discovered the docks full of sailboats and yachts, and this big flea market was one of the last things we found, right in the center of the town by the hôtel de ville. The market had paintings, jewelry, antiques, and of course, old French LPs. Thus, this souvenir still represents some of my initial wonder and excitement to be in Cannes.
Where was your best photo taken and what was it of?
Caroline: It’s nothing fancy, artistically, but it means a lot to me. Before going to Cannes, I joked about meeting Marion Cotillard, my favorite actress, and just jaunting down the red carpet together. Well, when the festival came around in May, I did get to walk down the red carpet for a couple of movie premieres, and I did meet Marion Cotillard one morning outside a press conference. I spoke to her just briefly, long enough to proclaim my love of her movies and ask for a photo, and amazingly enough, I did all of that in coherent French. So, that’s my favorite photo, hands down. She was incredibly nice to just a regular fan like me.
Do you think your program changed you as a person?
Caroline: Absolutely, it did. Before studying abroad, I had only spent at most three weeks away from my family. When I studied abroad, I knew no one in my program, so I was incredibly nervous. Add to that, I’m a bit of an introvert, so I wasn’t sure how I’d do without the comforting network of my fiancé, friends, family, and pups back at home.
So, with that said, going abroad allowed me to grow up away from all those comforts and training wheels that were with me at home. I learned to be more independent and resourceful. Sure, on spring break, I got completely lost in Venice (cold and drenched to the bone, might I add) and I almost didn’t make it home that night because my map got destroyed and I don’t speak a word of Italian – but I survived. Studying abroad lent me a new confidence that I didn’t have before and a new appreciation for different cultures and people.