Why did you pick this program?
When I started looking at study abroad programs, I knew right away that I wanted one where I was going to be totally immersed in the language, and Paris is the capital of the francophone world, after all.
It didn't help that I totally fell head-over-heels the last time I was in Paris and I knew that I just had to come back. It's full of museums, huge green spaces and is just so beautiful. To me, we should really be asking "Why didn't you pick Paris?" to everyone else.
Once I decided on Paris (the easy part) I found a program that offered me a lot of flexibility. I wasn't totally set on whether I wanted to take classes at a French university, intern or really anything to start. IES gave me a lot of options, from my housing preference to my internship.
What do you wish someone had told you before you went abroad?
Don't try to compare your study abroad experience to what you'll see on Instagram. That's a very curated snapshot of someone else's life without any context. Study abroad is wonderful and amazing, but you still have to go to class and do your laundry and go to work.
You may be thinking that everyone else's trip may seem so glamorous while you're writing a ten page paper on de Beauvoir, but you're really just not seeing their math book out of the picture. Study abroad is an amazing, wonderful thing, but if you get caught up in the social media bragging race, you'll miss out on your own wonderful experience.
What is the most important thing you learned abroad?
That I'm very confident and self-sufficient. If I could figure out how to live totally on my own, figure out a cellphone plan, navigate international borders and more in my second language, then I'm way more capable in English than I'd what I'd assumed. I basically lost my fear of having to do things without someone holding my hand, and as a life skill I think that's truly important.
What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?
DO IT. SIGN UP, GO! Run, don't walk to the study abroad office, I promise you that this will not be something that you regret.
You don't need to go study abroad crazy and backpack around forty countries or take all your classes in another language if that's not your speed, there's a program out there for everyone.
This is such an amazing opportunity that's so enriching and satisfying that I encourage everyone who has the chance to take it.
What was the hardest part about going abroad?
The hardest part about going abroad, at least for me, was leaving my family back in the United States. I only live about an hour away from where I grew up when I'm at school, so this was the longest I've ever really been totally on my own. I couldn't just pop home at any time, and I missed a few holidays.
Even though my mom came to visit, I did miss the availability of the people you love being nearby. I didn't realize how much I under appreciated the ability to just have dinner on a weeknight with my parents and brother if I felt like it until it was totally off the table as an option.
What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?
One day, I was sitting on the metro towards the end of my stay in France. I was reading a book, on the line 6, which is an overground line that passes the Eiffel Tower.
Two American tourists got on and were fumbling with guidebooks, trying to figure out which stop they needed (never mind that under the name of the stop there was a sign saying "Tour Eiffel"). One of them came over to me and half screamed: EXCUSE ME, EIFFEL TOWER? I pointed at the sign and showed them where they wanted to get off.
He then turns to me and goes "you know, you have excellent English for a French person. Where'd you learn?" I just smiled and sat back down. I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was Pennsylvania, where I grew up.
I love that, because it sort of sealed the deal in my mind that I'd totally integrated into Parisian culture and that I was indistinguishable from a native Parisian to the untrained eye. It was also the only story I told my host mom (a very proper older lady) that got her to laugh out loud the entire time I lived with her.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
A piece of advice I'd give is that the best way to succeed at the goals you make during the first week of the program is to fully commit yourself to speaking French. It's hard for the first two weeks, but after that it makes an enormous impact on your speaking and confidence. Also, they're not kidding: wear all black, short boots and a scarf and you'll be set to blend right in with the rest of Paris.