Alumni Spotlight: Carolyn Alessandra


Give us a little intro!

Carolyn: Lyn is a Theatre major with a double minor in French and Managerial Economics at University of California, Davis. She focuses on Stage Management hoping to one day stage manage the Tony Awards.

Why did you pick this program?

Carolyn: I chose IES because they had an amazing offering. Being less expensive than other independent programs, it offered so much more for me. A theatre major studying abroad, especially in the host language, is not very common. I knew I wanted to take classes in French, and IES offered that, but they also were one of the only programs that offered a theater-related course.

In addition, I loved the fact that it is an American program in Paris, but you can also take advantage of classes at local universities-which I thought was an amazing opportunity. I also chose this program because it offered orientation trips and other excursions to various places around France so we could learn more about the culture. It was a very good program for someone looking to fully immerse themselves in a country and its culture.

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

Carolyn: I was able to learn so much about myself while abroad. I found an independence and a strong side to me that I didn’t know I had. I discovered my ability to stand on my own and not rely on others emotionally. Additionally, my French skills improved greatly while I was abroad as well as my love for French culture.

This helped me to understand other cultures and their differences. I also found an ability to sympathize or see various sides to arguments because living in another culture, you learn about different ways to do things you’ve done your entire life, therefore you learn how to understand differences and varying opinions-something I always struggled with.

What was the hardest part about going abroad?

Carolyn: My biggest challenge was homesickness. I was completely fine leaving home and going to college and it never affected me, but being thrown into such a different world immediately without knowing anyone was very difficult for me. You notice how different everything is and you miss the "normal" things you know from back home-such as the electric plugs.

You also start to realize huge cultural differences you never thought you would experience-culture shock. While it was a hard adjustment, I learned that it is a lot easier to stay busy and plan things throughout the semester to look forward to, like trips or visits or plays. When you have something to look forward to, like a trip, it is easier to stay focused and be excited and to live in the moment.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

Carolyn: I am a theater major studying to be a stage manager and so I was very interested in theater while abroad as well. I went to see shows and I took a theater class at Université Saint-Denis and tried to get involved with theater abroad as much as I could.

The best experience I had was after email multiple theaters trying to meet the stage managers, the stage manager from Centre Pompidou responded and allowed me to come into the theater to talk to him. I got a private tour of the theater, met technicians, received copies of his major paperwork, and got to speak to him about theater and his experiences. It was an amazing way to improve my language skills while also doing something that I love!

What was a normal day like as a student in your program location?

Carolyn: One of my favorite parts of my day was taking the metro. The Parisian metro is a very strange, yet interesting place. I was lucky enough to live in a nice neighborhood in the 16th that required me to take the metro line 6 to school. This is one of the few lines that runs above ground, and luckily it runs on the Bir-Hakeim bridge over the Seine and past the Eiffel Tower.

Being able to come home from classes or dinner at night and see the Eiffel Tower al lit up every day was breath taking. I also spent a lot of time visiting local shops, patisseries, and boulangers. I really enjoy food and I always tried to go buy local delicacies or a baguette sandwich for lunch.

And of course, you have to buy a pastry at least once a day. After classes, we would take the metro to various sites or even random stops and explore the various neighborhoods of Paris- there is so much to see and 4 months is NOT enough time!