Alumni Spotlight: Maura McManus


Maura McManus studied abroad in Paris, France, through the IES Abroad Paris - French studies program from January - May 2013. Maura hails from the Midwest and is a junior at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She studies French, Italian, and global studies, and will graduate this May with a B.A. French studies. She intends to pursue foreign policy and human rights work.

Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.

Maura: IES Abroad gives students the opportunity to volunteer or complete an internship as one of their courses. I chose to do an internship and was placed at a not-for-profit organization called Association Caméléon. This internship allowed me to practice my French in a professional office setting for 10 hours/week, which is something that I could not do at my home university.

At Caméléon I performed a variety of tasks including translation and the editorial work. This opportunity not only helped me to improve my French skills but also gave me valuable experience working with human rights, which is the field in which I wish to pursue a career. Completing an internship in a foreign country and in a French-speaking environment is a phenomenal experience and looks great on a resume.

What was the best place you visited outside of your study abroad city?

Maura: I am going to cheat and pick three places - I tried to narrow it down but just couldn't. First up, the Alps. I am not a big skier, and the biggest slopes that I have mastered are the great, artificial snow-covered mountains of Wisconsin, but I nevertheless decided to ski in the Alps. The breathtaking views of the mountains and the mile-long runs (that were frighteningly steep) were amazing.

Secondly, the D-Day beaches in Normandy. The experience was moving and made me feel so incredibly proud to be an American. Lastly, Cinque Terre, Italy. Five small, quaint towns along the country's western coast are connected by a beautiful hiking trail. The trail takes you through the towns, up hills, and through fields all along the Mediterranean coast. I highly recommend visiting all of these places!

Describe your program socially and academically.

Maura: IES focuses equally on academics and cultural immersion. Students must take one grammar course (determined by a placement test), and the other courses are electives. These include photography, History of Paris, French politics, an internship, etc. Students may take classes at an outside university such as the Sorbonne, too. I took 16 credits and was in school from 10am - 2pm Monday - Thursday. This left weekday afternoons for my internship and having fun!

There are no classes on Fridays, so IES plans optional outings to museums or local sites of interest. The classes involve excursions, too. For example, Art and Architecture met at the Louvre every other week. Additionally, IES runs a weekly conversation group with local French speakers and offers optional weekend daytrips to other French cities for a small fee.

Describe your favorite must-have food that you tried abroad.

Maura: As with suggested places to visit, I am going to take the easy way out and tell you about multiple must-have foods from my semester. Let's face it, you're in France - everything is a must-have! First, pistachio macaroons. All flavors of macaroons are great, but pistachio is out-of-this-world.

Next, eat all of the bread and cheese that you can. Go to boulangeries and try the various baguettes, preferably warm from the oven. As for cheese, the same rule applies: try them all. Taste Camembert, Brie, and fromage de chèvre. Try the staples at restaurants: French onion soup, steak-frites, and quiche Lorraine. Nutella spread is overrated – Speculoos spread is to die for. Crêpes are good, but brioche bread from the boulangerie is even better. In other words, eat a lot and you can't go wrong!

Did you forget to pack something important? Did you feel as if you were missing something?

Maura: You're going to bring too many clothes. It will inevitably happen. There are two things that I missed, though. First, a rain jacket or umbrella. It seemed to rain daily in Paris, normally just in the morning, but that was as I was walking to class. I bought an umbrella and it was a great purchase.

Second, boots. I had heard that it never snowed in Paris, so I thought that I would be smart and save space in my suitcase by leaving out boots. In reality, however, there was snow on the ground for the first two months of the semester and rain during the last two. A versatile pair boots that work in rain and snow would have been a great thing to have!