Alumni Spotlight: Becca Sunoo

Becca is a French major at Pacific Lutheran University. She has been studying French since elementary school, and the passion followed throughout university. Becca is a highland dancer, and an avid historical fiction reader.

Why did you pick this program?

Becca Cotton Candy

I chose to study through IES Abroad Nantes because of its intense focus on language and culture immersion. Nantes appealed to me because of the homestay program as well as the ideal end goal of bilingualism. I wanted a program that forced me to speak French all of the time. I didn't get a break at home, in fact that's where I learned the most through conversations with my host family.

What do you wish someone had told you before you went abroad?

I wish somebody had told me not to be afraid to make mistakes. I was very timid my first month abroad, scared to make the tiniest grammar mistakes in public. But, what I soon realized was making mistakes is how you improve the most. And, there are worse things than being corrected by a smiling baker who is already impressed that you are trying to speak French!

My host mom even told me she thought it was adorable when I made small errors, but always ended the laugh with a lesson on how it should be said. My French would not be as good as it is now without the many mistakes I learned from.

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

The most important thing I learned was the significance of solo adventures. Whether that was sitting in a cafe by myself or traveling the whole country of Spain without a travel companion, I really learned a lot about myself as an individual and I discovered passions I did not realize I had. We are too focused on what people think of us to branch out and explore. I stepped out of my comfort zones too many times to count, and I do not regret a single thing!

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

Becca at Versailles

DO IT. Seriously, this is one of the most life changing experiences as a college individual. You learn about yourself and a different culture. It's exciting and frightening, but worth every minute of discomfort for the lifetime of memories.

What was the hardest part about going abroad?

The hardest part about going abroad was being separated from my friends and family, not only by an entire ocean, but by 9 hours. It was difficult to find times that worked for everybody to talk - iMessage became our best friend. The experience taught me to be more independent, though, and I would not change that.

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

One of my favorite memories was when I wandered into my host family's kitchen at about 10pm one night to find my host dad shucking oysters. It was the most casual thing to him, and he just looked up and exclaimed, "Ah, Becca! Care to join me?" (All in French, of course!)

Becca with host family

So I sat with him, chatting about random subjects and slurping down fresh oysters for about half an hour, before he realized that this even would go perfectly with a glass of wine. I'll never forget that night!

What made this experience unique and special?

Nantes is not a city well-known to people outside of Europe. It’s rich in history and the architecture is beautiful. I would say the most unique thing about Nantes is the mechanical elephant. IES Abroad Nantes made sure we took many trips, both educational and fun-filled. We were able to see Mont-Saint-Michel, the beaches of Normandy, and many castles of the Loire Valley that wouldn't have been as easy to get to without help from the wonderful staff and program leaders.

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

My third weekend in France, my host family announced to me that we were going to drive to Paris for a family gathering. I had never been to Paris before, and what better way to explore the city for the first time than with my French host family!

I stayed at my "host uncle's" fancy apartment in the heart of the city, about five minutes from the Eiffel Tower. The family all went to evening mass, then celebrated with a delicious, traditional French dinner (complete with three types of wine and champagne). This was the perfect way to break the ice with my new host family, and my first experience keeping up with dinner conversations at full speed in a foreign language.

The best part was that I was able to stay in contact with my host uncle, and stayed with him a few times before I headed back to the states. I had a French home in Nantes, and a home in Paris. Parfait!

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Becca's theater class

I would say to take advantage of the wonderful classes offered at the IES Center. While it was an experience to take a class at the local university, the education system is not what I'm used to, and the professors aren't as helpful as the ones through IES. If you want to branch out your social circle in France, participate in the sports offered through the university or go to conversation club, but the classes were much better at IES than the university.

What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions or future path?

I have a much broader world view, and a part of my heart will always be in Nantes. I still find myself thinking and saying some things in French without even thinking about it. I try to stay in contact with my host family quite regularly to not lose that special relationship we developed. Most importantly, I will never taste cheese, butter, or bread the same way again!

What was your favorite meal in France?

Tartiflette! My host mom made the most amazing dish - potatoes, bacon, reblochon cheese, and onions! It made the house smell amazing and tasted just as good.