Carolyn Alessandra - 2014 Programs Participant

Student abroad in Bruges, Belgium

Carolyn on a visit to Bruges, Belgium.

Why did you choose to study abroad in France?

After studying French for so many years, I knew I wanted to go to France. When I was doing college tours my junior year, I asked every school about their study abroad programs. I wanted to have the experience of living in another culture, speaking only that language, and completely immersing myself in their lives. I believe the best way to learn a language is to throw yourself completely into it, and that is what the study abroad experience is. You put yourself into an entirely new world so you can become a part of it. I wanted to live life away from the small bubble I grew up in, and a whole new country was the perfect step for me.

Why did you choose Paris out of all the possible cities in France?

As a Freshman in highschool, I had to decide which language I wanted to take (my middle school didn’t teach languages). While most students took Spanish, I decided to take French, mainly because I wanted to be different and partially because my dad spoke French almost fluently. That first year of French changed me; I became a Francophile. I started listening to French music, I’d watch movies in French, and I spoke to my friends from class in French even outside of the classroom. I constantly dreamed of going to Paris, or France in general. That’s when I decided.

What about IES Abroad made you choose them for your program abroad?

I chose IES because they had an amazing offering. While it was less expensive than other programs, it also offered so much more for me. As a theater major, doing study abroad, especially in the host language, is not very common. I knew I wanted to take French classes, and IES not only 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.

Where did you stay while studying in France?

I lived in a homestay with a family surprisingly similar to mine. I had a roommate from my program, however we each had our own rooms. The family had an 18 year old son who would help us with our French homework, and we would help him with his English homework. The parents were very kind, always helped us with whatever we needed, and would kindly correct our French errors to help us better our language skills. The family also had three older children who were either married or off at school, but would visit every now and then. We had dinner together three times a week, where we would talk about a huge variety of things in French. It really helped to improve my language skills.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Enjoying a Paris landmark, the Eiffel Tower.

What did a normal day look like for you in Paris?

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 six 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 all lit up every day was breathtaking. I also spent a lot of time visiting local shops, patisseries, and boulangeries. 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 four months is NOT enough time!

What experience during your study abroad program stands out in your mind?

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, I took a theater class at Université Saint-Denis, and I tried to get involved with theater abroad as much as I could. The best experience I had was after emailing 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 the biggest challenge you faced abroad?

My biggest challenge was homesickness. I was completely fine leaving home, and going to college it never affected me. But, being thrown into such a different world immediately without knowing anyone was very difficult for me. 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. 

Versailles, France

Carolyn on a trip to Versailles.

What are the top reasons you’d go back to Paris in a heartbeat?

The number one reason I would return to Paris is for the food, all of the pastries and delicious crepes. However, there are so many reasons I would go back. Four months is not enough time to see everything that there is to see in Paris. I want to go back to finish seeing all the sites that I didn’t get to see, such as Pere LaChaise cemetery or the Buttes Chaumont Park. In addition, Paris is just beautiful. I could wander the streets of Paris for days and never get bored. Every building is beautiful, every site worth seeing. I want to see every artifact in the Louvre. I want to wander through every arrondissement and explore every corner of the most beautiful city in the world.

How has studying abroad in Paris impacted your life back at home?

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. 

Would you recommend your IES Abroad Paris program to others? 

Of course! My program was extremely organized and the staff were very helpful in preparing us to go abroad. I was very confident that everything was in good hands, and that I was well prepared to move into such a huge city. They had orientations for every possible worry you could experience or think of while going abroad, and they were all very valuable lessons to listen to. Also, the program, while challenging academically, understands that we are American students who want experiences abroad. We did not have classes on Friday and were able to travel and explore. During the week, classes ended early enough to wander the city for a bit before dinner time. However, during the week, there was a fair amount of homework. 

If you could change one thing about your program, what would it be?

I would ask for more events with the entire program so that we could have met more students at the beginning. We had orientation classes but after that, we had nothing. There were people I still didn’t know by the end of the program, and it was only 46 people in the program. 

Study abroad students having dinner in Paris, France

Welcome Dinner.

What important tips can you give to future study abroad students?

When you are abroad, you will have many (possible) once in a lifetime chances, but if you don’t want to spend the extra money, you won’t have the experiences. You want to let yourself enjoy every possible experience and purchase souvenirs and gifts to bring home. Every person has a different way of life, but I worked three jobs the summer before the program in order to have the money to buy things and experience as much as I possibly could. If you want it, go get it. 

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

I honestly don’t know. I want to be somewhere in France to practice my French, but I don’t think I have a preference. If not France, I would want to study in England at a theater specific program.

Did you experience any kind of reverse culture shock upon re-entry into life at home?

My first experience with reverse culture shock was when I went to purchase something that was advertised at $12.50 and I got to the cash register where they asked for $13.96. Darn taxes! My second experience was when a friend asked me to meet them on the second floor of one of the buildings at school, and I couldn’t remember if it was the third or second floor because Europe has the ground floor.

If you could go on another IES Abroad program which one would you choose?

Nantes to practice French. Possibly Amsterdam because I want to visit there. Or Berlin for the same reason. Another choice would be in Italy because I would love to learn Italian.