Abraham De La Rosa - 2009 Program Participant

In Saint Goustan, France

IES Abroad orientation field trip in Saint Goustan, France

What made you choose France as your study abroad destination? Why Nantes rather than Paris?

The main reason why I decided to go abroad was to further develop my French. Paris is the capital and with so much tourism, I knew that if I was to live in Paris a lot of people would be speaking English around me. I was looking for a city and a program in which I could completely immerse myself in the French language and culture. Nantes seemed like the best option. It’s a nice medium size city, but still felt charming like a town. There are not that many foreigners in the city and it’s two and a half hours away from Paris.

You attended a presentation on study abroad that made you realize it was an option. What other barriers did you face in your quest to go abroad?

That is correct. Being a first generation student, I did not know that study abroad was a possibility. After I attended the study abroad presentation at Hope College, everything that followed was quite a quest. I had to figure out how to apply to a study abroad program and how study abroad fit with my degree and 4-year plan. Luckily, my study abroad director at Hope College was great, and she walked me through the entire process-- from applying, to finding classes that fit my general requirements, even financial aid.

After I had a plan, the biggest challenge was trying to talk to my parents about studying abroad. For my family, the most important thing was that I graduated on time and completed my degree. They were just as unfamiliar with the idea of studying abroad as I was at some point. Additionally, I have never been so far away from home. Eventually, and after some convincing, they understood and supported me on my decision.

In front of Mont Saint-Michel, France

IES Abroad semester field trip to Mont Saint-Michel.

Why did you select IES Abroad over other study abroad organizations?

IES Abroad had an all-French program which is what I was looking for. The only housing option is homestays, which I thought was a great opportunity to understand first-hand the French culture, and the field trips looked great. My French teachers also strongly recommended this program since precious students had studied abroad with IES Abroad, and they could see how much their language skills improved with only one semester.

What was a normal day like as a student in Nantes?

Throughout the week there were different activities with the IES Abroad Conversation Club, which included French university students and IES Abroad students. We would normally go to different places in the city and have various activities, so it varied a little. However, a “normal” day for me started at 9am or so. I would go to the IES Abroad Center and then have my first class of the day at around 10am. After class, I normally prepared a sandwich in the IES Abroad kitchen and ate with my peers. If the weather allowed, we would sometimes bring our food to the park that is just across the street from the Center. Right after lunch, I would have one or two more classes depending on the day.

After classes I would go for a run around my homestay area. My homestay was located around the University of Nantes area, so there was a little bit of forest and parks which made for a very enjoyable run. Once I was done, I read a little bit for my classes or did some homework just until my host mom arrived. Since I am a fan of cooking, I would help my host mom prepare dinner as much as possible. It was a great opportunity to learn some French culinary skills and cooking vocabulary, as well. Once the dinner was done, we would all eat together and then head over to the living room and talk a little more.

What is your favorite memory from your time studying abroad in France?

My favorite memory is probably our orientation field trip. Right after we arrived in Nantes, we had field trip around the Vannes region. This field trip allowed me to get to know my peers in the program and acclimate to my surroundings. I think my favorite memory from that field trip was seeing a chateaux for the first time. It was when I was walking through the gates that I finally realized that I was indeed in France and not just dreaming. 

Study abroad student with host mother in Bordeaux, France

Abraham with his host mom in their vacation home in Bordeaux.

What was the biggest challenge you faced abroad?

My biggest challenge was without a doubt the language barrier. Even though I took four years of French in high school and four semesters in college before going, when I arrived to France I felt quite unprepared. The first two or three weeks were a little difficult. However, the language immersion made me improve my language skills exponentially, and two months later I felt much more confident.

You are a first generation Hispanic student. What advice would you give to other minority males who are unsure if study abroad is for them?

Only during your time in college will you have the opportunity to live in a different country for an extended period of time and study. Later in life we all have responsibilities and jobs, and you can visit a city, but you are unable to deeply understand the culture. Studying abroad allows you to grow at a personal level and also professionally.

The Hispanic population are the fastest growing minority group in the U.S. After graduation, studying abroad will allow you to stand out in either grad-school applications or job interviews. I know first-hand that it can be intimidating and challenging to figure out the system and the requirements to study abroad, but where there is a will, there is a way. Ask your study abroad office for help, they will be more than glad to help you!

How has your experience studying abroad impacted your life?

I always say that studying abroad opened my eyes to the world. It allowed me to see how little I have experienced the world and how much is out there to discover. I always say that I got the traveling bug, since I continue to look for opportunities to explore different places and cultures. Now when I travel, I don’t just go to the touristic places, but I look for cultural connections and try to understand the culture a little more than just superficially. I purposely try to immerse myself everywhere I go.

At Les Machines de Iile in Nantes, France

During an IES activity in Nantes, at Les Machines de l’ile.

I became much more independent and view the world much more open mindedly. When something is different from what I am used to, I try to understand why is different. I do not automatically jump to conclusions and think “it’s different, therefore it is wrong”. I look for similarities and try to understand why something is different. I always look for in-betweens. This perspective has allowed me to communicate and work much better with people.

Lastly, study abroad led me where I am professionally. I am currently working within the study abroad industry, and hoping that others have the same life-changing experience that I once had. 

If you could study abroad again, where would you go?

There are many places I would have loved to study abroad to be honest. However, if I were to choose one, I’d choose Rome. I’m quite interested in art and history, and after visiting Rome three times, I can see why everyone says that “Roma non basta una vita”. There is so much art and history to see and discover, that I would have loved to learn more about the city and its history.