Erin Steward - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I was inspired to go abroad for several reasons. The first was, quite frankly, I had to. Luther College (where I go to school) requires that language majors spend the equivalent of one semester abroad in a country that speaks their target language. That being said, there are so many places around the world that speak French (seriously... check it out!), but I had been to France twice before. I can't quite explain to you why this is, but I just feel drawn to the country. Plus, being in the EU allowed me to travel for very cheap to so many places during breaks!

Girl sitting on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland
Living Life "On the Edge" at the Cliffs of Moher

Why did you choose IES Abroad’s program in Nantes?

Originally, I had wanted to travel to Caen, because I was told that there were some neat opportunities there. However, when I looked further into the specific program I was looking at, it was discontinued a little bit ago. From there, I chose IES Abroad in Nantes. Three main reasons brought me to Nantes:

1. The city was big but not Paris big. By this, I mean I could easily go places and such while also being able to go on adventures.

2. IES  Abroad Nantes also had a variety of ways to get involved in the community, and something that was very big for me was giving back to the city and the people that would welcome me.

3. Finally, I wanted to truly immerse myself in the French language and culture. I wanted to try and find a place where people wouldn't speak fluent English and where I would really need to do my best to communicate completely in French.

What was your favorite part about Nantes?

I think my favourite part was the way the city seemed to be constantly reinventing itself. This obviously was not quite the case, but it seemed that I could walk along the same street each day at the same time and find a whole host of new things, people, and events! I loved the sense of adventure that came with exploring with friends.

Girl surrounded by Toblerone chocolate
My host dad was gone for work and brought all six of us kids some Toblerone. My family thought it was so cute that I had never seen such big containers of it that they had my brother help me take this photo!

What made your experience abroad unique?

One thing that made it unique were the "manifestations," or protests against the work law. It was eye-opening for me, as protesting is a much more accepted form of showing indignation in France than it is in the U.S. The manifs would cause public transportation to be cut, so I would learn new routes to places when I would avoid the people and head to wherever the nearest transport started up again. I also think my totally awesome experience with my family played a big part in my love for the program. I honestly don't know how I got this far in life without knowing my French family!

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff was very kind to me throughout my program. The director of the program even gave me a ride home once when the manifs were pretty much in full swing! I loved spending late afternoons chatting with Béatrice, and Eugénie was always there with a smile and an answer to any questions I had. The French assistants were lots of fun to hang out with, and Tiphaine was an absolute gem!

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I wouldn't have been such a worrywart. With everything going on in Europe lately, it seems that the first comment people had when I said I was studying abroad in France was something relating to my safety. In truth, the program does such a good job of organising things and alerting you to any potential problems that I didn't have worried as much as I did about anything!

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

Typical day? That's hard, because I don't think there was much that was typical, particularly because of the "manifestations" that were going on. However, I would say that I would wake up between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., eat breakfast, shower, and then catch the bus or tram to school. I would be at school til between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. each day, and then I would come home to finish homework, eat dinner, and chill with my family.

Door in the middle of a forest
Secret Garden? Or just a door?

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

I spent much of my free time with my host family, who I absolutely adored. We would play badminton in their backyard or watch the clouds, play a game, or watch YouTube videos together. On the weekends, I would go out with friends for a little bit to various establishments in Nantes. When I had a bit of free time at school, I would sit and play the piano! Music is so important to me, and I was grateful that IES Abroad Nantes had a music room in the center where we could jam.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

My accommodation was the absolute best. I was with a host family made up of five kids (plus me made six), a mom, and a dad. There wasn't any one particular thing I liked about it the best. I think it was the perfect fit for me. Being in a home with so many people made me feel very comfortable and there was always someone I could talk to. I was always invited to play a game, help with English homework (only if I wanted), and get help with French stuff if I needed, or whatever.

My family also knew a lot of people in the community and would take me places with them, thereby expanding my new home to even greater reaches for me. Having that sort of "home" environment allowed me to feel like I was truly a real sister/daughter, and that no matter what happened throughout the course of my day, my family would always be there for me.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

I think you should know that it's okay to feel homesick. I did, and let me tell you, I definitely wasn't expecting it. The past few times I had been abroad, it was for shorter periods of time, and so I don't think I had as much down time to reflect on how far away I was from my family and friends. My support network was still there, of course, but geographically removed.

As funny as this sounds, I recommend slowing communication with those people back home (not that you need to stop by any means!) and upping your involvement in what's going on around you while you're there. It takes your mind off things while also familiarising you with what's (and who's) around you.

Les Calanques in France
#lescalanques #beauty 

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

My time abroad has made me much more of a global participant. The news really takes on a new level of meaning and importance when you have established roots somewhere. It also has encouraged me to really get out there and connect with people. I might have been too shy before to initiate a conversation in French with someone, but now I will gladly do that!

Would you recommend your program and IES Abroad to others? Why?

I would recommend my program and provider to others. If you are serious about learning a language and wanting to connect with family and friends in a new location, IES Abroad Nantes is definitely for you!