I was inspired to go abroad by an earnest desire to experience other cultures and expose myself to people who don't think, act, or look like me. I have many friends that have had positive study abroad experiences, and that further encouraged me to pursue my desire to go abroad.
Why did you choose to attend IAU College?
I chose this program for a few reasons. Firstly, even though studying at IAU meant a lot of extra paperwork (since my university doesn't partner with IAU, yet), it was very worth it. My home university had limited options for summer study abroad in France. I did not want to go to Paris, because I wanted a smaller-city experience. IAU's campus in Aix was perfect for this. Aix is a small city with a large-town vibe. There is a lot to do, from shopping to nightlife to music and art festivals, and excursions to other coastal towns are an easy bus ride away. So, my first reason for choosing the program was the location.
Another main reason I chose to study with IAU was for their French Honors Program. With this program, I stayed with a French family and took two classes over the summer entirely in French. In addition to the readings and writings which immensely improved my language abilities, both of my professors had planned out-of-the-classroom activities in the community and surrounding area to gain cultural and academic experiences. One such activity was a day trip to Marseille (all expenses paid for by IAU!). Our professor, who lives there, took us around to different neighborhoods and sights so that we could see the many different cultures represented in the port city. We also got a healthy exposure to the southern accent in French!
The final reason that I chose to study with IAU was for the supportive staff and good reputation I had heard from other former students. I knew that others had had positive experiences with IAU, and after completing the program, I can see why. The faculty and staff are very present with the students, ready and eager to help them succeed, both academically and otherwise. As a program that has been around since 1957, they have wonderful systems in place to make sure that each student is set up for success, and this support and intimate knowledge of the town was invaluable to me during my stay.
What was your favorite part about Aix-en-Provence?
I loved that Aix was a student town. With there being other French universities in the city, I could meet local French people also attending college. Also, Aix had a lot of options in the summer for things to do, including trying out new restaurants, spending time with friends in one of many parks, and going to various art and music festivals. It is also a good location from which weekend travel to Marseille, Cassis, La Ciotat, and other destinations is very possible.
What made your experience abroad unique?
One unique thing about my experience was a weekend trip to Morocco that I took with my friend from the program. IAU allows students to travel freely, all we had to do was submit a form online so they could know the details of where we were for safety reasons. The trip to Morocco, although it put me over budget, was SO worth it. My friend and I experienced a culture unlike anything we ever knew or could experience in Western Europe, and we had some incredible opportunities, such as riding a camel over one and half hours into the Sahara desert and camping there overnight and having a genuinely caring and knowledgeable local guide who taught us a lot about not only different sights but the people, culture, and traditions in Morocco.
My take-away from that experience is to be open to new opportunities, even if it means going against a plan or over a budget!
How did the IAU staff support you throughout your program?
IAU organized the homestays, in which we were provided with six dinners and seven breakfasts per week. We were on our own for lunches as well as one dinner per week. This set up was ideal for my friends and me because we got to have a balance between time in our host families and getting to know locals, and then also spending time on our own or with friends, trying out restaurants and exploring the city on our own. The IAU staff was very present and available for students, to talk about everything from academics to cultural adjustment to feeling lonely.
IAU also organized the administrative side of registering for classes; all I had to do was choose which classes I wanted. However, because Indiana University doesn't currently accept transcripts directly from IAU, I had to apply through Northern Illinois University, a process which incurred several extra fees and a lot of paperwork. As stated above, though, this administrative headache was worth it because I got to have a wonderful study abroad experience in the south of France, something I wouldn't have gotten if I had simply studied abroad with an Indiana University program.
IAU assisted us with arrival day/meeting our families, but buying our plane and/or train tickets was completely up to us. IAU also had organized excursions every weekend to various parts of France (generally within the southern region) through their partnership with a local travel guide named George. These day trips ranged from 25 to 35 Euros plus the cost of food, and were great because all the details of the trip were planned by someone who knows the region very well and could tell us interesting information on where we were going. Trips with George were a good balance of organized tours within the group and free time to explore as we desired.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
This trip was the first time in which I bought my plane and train tickets completely on my own, and I ended up paying more money than I could've if I had known what I was doing. I wish I would have used multiple sources, including STA Travel, to search for flights, and not just Google flights, which was a mistake. I wish I would have been aware of discounts specifically for students, too.
Describe a typical day in your life in Aix.
An average day for me on this program looked like this: wake up around 8 a.m. and eat breakfast with my roommate, walk 15 minutes to IAU together, have my first class until lunch time, buy my lunch and eat it in the "cave" (a student lounge in one of the buildings of IAU) with friends from my class, and then go to my second class. After that, I had free time to do homework, go to a boulangerie or cafe/bar with some friends, or go back and take a nap. In the evening, I'd have dinner with my roommate and host family, and then my roommate and I would work on homework in our room or just talk, getting to bed around midnight. That was the general schedule Monday through Thursday.
Aix is a great student town, but there are lots of tourists, especially in the month of July. Even so, it was a fun town to spend time in. Friday through Sunday, each weekend of my six week program, looked different, with various trips to Cassis for the beach or hiking les calanques, a trip to Marseille for paddle boarding with our host family, hiking Mont Sainte Victoire with my roommate, and excursions with IAU's travel partner, George, to Les gorges du Verdon for kayaking, lavender fields, or the ancient city of Arles.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoyed going to see live music at festivals and in bars, exploring the city of Aix (shopping, restaurants, cafes, bars) with friends, and taking short trips to other cities in the region (Cassis and Marseille were two favorites).
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
The homestay experience is a great opportunity to further your language skills, get an inside understanding of the culture, and develop relationships with locals. My experience was mostly positive. I was in a family of a single mom and had 12 year old host sister, along with my roommate. They were kind and providing to us, despite a few misunderstandings.
One experience I particularly enjoyed was when our host mom and sister took us paddle boarding in the Mediterranean. Overall, I was very thankful for the opportunity to stay in a host family and would strongly recommend it to others.
What is one thing every student should know before attending IAU College?
Every study abroad student should know to not worry about what your experience will be (i.e. what you will get to post to Facebook, what others will think of your experience, what other people on your same program get to do that you don't). I, as well as other friends and students, shared feelings of worrying about missing out or about what we "should" be doing on the weekend, for example. Instead of wasting time worrying like that, I advise future study abroad students to live in the moment and seek out experiences because you personally think they will be interesting or rewarding.
Friendship will come and Instagram-worthy photos will come, but at the end of your program you want to have fond memories of different experiences and people, not memories of constantly wanting to be in another place with another person.
I was concerned about making friends on my six week summer program, and yes, the first week was difficult at times. Any new environment takes a certain adjustment period. However, I was surprised that not only did I have fun with the friends I made while in Aix, but I made close friends that I will remain in contact with long after the end of our program. This was one positive surprise that came without me expecting or planning for it to, but came simply because I was able to live in the moment while I was in France.
Now that you're home, how has your time in France impacted your life?
My biggest fear going into my program was being able to adjust well to a new culture, new food, new friends, and new schedule. I overcame it by acknowledging my fear and using strategies to move past it, such as doing something familiar when I was homesick (I kept an almost daily journal, I'd listen to some favorite music, or Skype friends or family) and making an effort to go out and spend time with other students, even if I felt scared or like I didn't feel up to it. The truth is, to some degree, everyone has that fear of how transitioning is going to go, and how making friends will go. It helped to have a roommate to talk to about this, and knowing that the IAU staff was there to listen and help, too, was comforting.
I moved on from this fear more and more as I let myself have new and exciting experiences without worrying about what they would be like, but simply enjoying them for what they were. This ability to conquer fears and anxieties about new situations gives me confidence as I go on in my life to have many more new, scary, exciting experiences.
Would you recommend IAU College to others?
I would definitely recommend both IAU College in general, as well as the French Honors Program in particular, to others.
Elizabeth is a student at Indiana University in Bloomington, where she is majoring in psychology and clinical psychological science and minoring in French and business. In addition to her recent study abroad experience in Aix-en-Provence, Elizabeth studied in Saumur, France, for six weeks during high school. She has also served AmeriCorps as a sports and recreation coordinator for New Hope Family Shelter and worked as an undergraduate teaching assistant for Indiana University’s Psychological and Brain Sciences Department.