Why did you decide to study abroad with IES Abroad?
Savannah: I chose the study with IES based on their reviews. I went abroad my sophomore year—a year earlier than intended since my dad was on sabbatical in Toulouse, France, and my whole family would be living there for the year—and so I was crammed for time when choosing a program.
My campus advisors at our Study Abroad Office highly recommended IES, and after intensely researching reviews online about other IES programs, I knew that I would be in good hands and have a good experience. IES also had a program in Paris, but I really wanted to be surrounded by a truly “French” city unencumbered by the expense and Anglicization of Parisian life.
Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.
Savannah: My friends and I were trying to buy tickets to go to London for our Fall Break. I mistakenly bought a train ticket that left at 6:30am instead of 6:30pm and subsequently freaked out. At first I didn’t know whether I should ask my host mom for help, or whether I was doomed to simply get to London 12 hours early.
I made the bold decision to directly call SNCF (the main train company in France) and see if I could right the situation. In French, I explained to the representative what had gone wrong. She understood me perfectly and was able to find me another ticket with the correct time on it. She was extremely helpful, but I was so proud that I was able to solve my problem entirely on my own.
Describe your favorite must-have food that you tried abroad.
Savannah: My host family loved raclette. It is traditionally eaten during the winter, but they brought out the equipment early for me. Basically raclette is a type of cheese that is melted in little pans on a broiler in the middle of the dinner table, and then it is poured over ham and potatoes right as it starts to bubble. The combination of melted cheese and potato is very simple, but it somehow seemed that much better when my French host family had it for dinner.
Did you run into a language barrier? Did you ever think you knew more/less of the language?
Savannah: Upon first arriving in France, I thought the language barrier would be practically non-existent. I had been taking French since middle school and had always gotten really good grades.
However, the formal French (or Spanish or German) that is taught in schools is nothing compared to the fast-paced colloquial French used between family members and among teenagers. I had a really difficult time keeping up when I first arrived, but I caught on fairly quickly and am now proud to say that I know French teenage slang!
Do you think your program changed you as a person?
Savannah: I definitely think my program changed me as a person. When I went abroad, I certainly wasn’t shy, but living in a foreign country challenges you to be more open and outgoing than you thought possible. I made many lifelong friends that I learned to trust when I needed them the most. I learned to make my own decisions before checking with my parents first and seeing how the consequences play out.
I learn to navigate in a city I’ve never been to before (bus maps are a godsend) and how to NOT act like a tourist (dress and act like the locals!) But most of all I learned to trust myself. I got along just fine in France, and now I know that if all of a sudden I was dropped into any city on Earth, I would be able to survive in it and thrive.