Monica Quiros - 2015 Program Participant

View of La Conciergerie from Quais de la Seine in France

My favourite view in Paris: la Conciergerie from quais de la Seine

Why did you decide to go abroad?

I think the best way to learn is through experience, and I don't think there's a better experience than being fully immersed in a different culture. In business, global awareness and cross-cultural communications are becoming increasingly important, so as a business student I thought an international program would help me develop not only personally, but also professionally.

Why did you choose your IES Abroad?

I knew I wanted to be in Paris and that I wanted to take courses related to business, so I started looking at the programs that offered that. I decided to go for IES Abroad because it seemed like it had the kind of support I wanted while abroad (I ended up being right and I couldn't be happier that I chose this program).

What was your favorite part about Paris?

I had never been to Paris, so it was mind-blowing living there. It is both a global cosmopolitan city and a historical one. That was probably my favourite part: it was the perfect combination of modern and historical so I got to experience both "big city life" and the traditional French ways; because of that, it also provided a great learning environment. For my history or art and architecture class, we would actually go and see/experience what we were studying.

The Louvre in Paris, France

Day at the Louvre Museum in Paris

What made your experience of studying abroad unique?

You know when you ask people what they like the most about their school/town/country, etc. and they usually give that really cliche answer: the people? I hate that I'm doing this, but that is what I'm going to have to say: the people.

The staff and professors in this program were out of this world.

The program is small, so I guess you have more face time with them, but I never expected them to be as involved with the students as they were. You could tell that they legitimately cared about getting to know us. The day I walked into orientation everyone already knew my name. I was there during the Paris attacks and you would expect them to provide support (which they absolutely did), but they went beyond what they had to do and did small things for us like have food during that week, because food makes people feel better and they wanted us to be comforted.

There is a professor with whom I discussed a project I'm working on, and even after I left Paris she sends emails with things she thinks could interest me for my project. They really are amazing and to me they made all the difference in my experience. I can't image being able to build those relationships in every program.

In what ways did the local staff support you throughout your program?

They were there for ANYTHING 24/7. The support for "official" program events (field trips, classes, etc.) was great, as expected, but I was amazed by how they weren't annoyed when we were bugging them with the small things all the time. They were there when you had to ask about serious matters, like where to find a doctor or how to deal with cellphone carriers, but they also went the extra mile if you had to ask where to have a good eclair or what museum to visit over the weekend.

I visited Barcelona during my time in Europe and it happened to be that one of the staff members had lived there so I asked for recommendations; she brought a colour-coded map with restaurants, sightseeing, and night-life places (I meant it when I said the extra mile).

Like I mentioned, I was there during the attacks and their support with that was also incredible. They accounted for everyone, kept us in the loop, and always placed our safety first. They provided outside professional resources, but also everyone was available if we needed to reach out and discuss anything.

Ocean view in Santorini, Greece

Solo hike from Fira to Oia in Santorini, Greece

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

I spoke some French before I got to the program (enough to understand and make myself understood) and I wished I had spoken more French since the beginning of the program. I was with a host family, so I practiced with them, but I didn't start speaking French to the staff until after a month or two; I wish I had used the opportunity to practice more.

Describe a day in your life in Paris.

I'll start with the commute since I actually really enjoyed it. I lived a little outside of Paris so I would walk 10 minutes to the metro. I loved the walk and the coolest thing was when I started seeing the same people every day, it made me feel like I was a part of the city already. Anyway, I took the metro to the center. I usually got there early so I would chat with whoever was at the front desk and then go to class. After (or between) classes I would have lunch (there were a ton of places around to grab food).

Every week for my art history class we would go somewhere in the city for the class, so that became part of the routine as well. If I didn't have art history, I would usually stay at the center and "work on homework", but realistically I would hang out with other people at the program. The center has a great environment and I think I got lucky with the people I met, but I don't think I had ever laughed as much on a regular basis as I did in Paris.

After the center closed I would take the metro back home, where I would have dinner with my family. This was probably one of my favourite parts of the day, especially as my French improved and started feeling like I could have real conversations with them. Food was always good and I became closer to them so the conversations and interactions became more natural.

What was your favorite thing to do during your free time?

I don't think I have a favourite one. I absolutely loved walking around the city because there was always something new to do. If anything, I would say visiting new places was one of the things I enjoyed the most, whether it was a new museum, a new city, or another country.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

In spite of my Mum's fears of me living with strangers, whom I might or might not have liked, for four months, I stayed with a host family. I wanted to improve my French and to be fully immersed in the culture and I thought that was the best way to do it. What I liked most about it was feeling like I was actually experiencing French culture through the food, the language and interactions, and even the physical space in which I was. I improved my French and became close with the family, so it was also nice feeling like I had a home and people to go back to at the end of the day.

Group selfie in Normandy, France

IES Abroad trip to Normandy, France

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

I don't know if I can say that life here is different, but I am, so it seems like it. My aspirations (both personal and professional) changed during my time abroad. I feel like I know myself better, so the way in which I interact with people and the way I see things are different. Going abroad motivated me to go after what I want, so I feel like I am less conforming now. I felt very empowered while abroad, for some reason, and I was afraid coming back home was going to dilute that feeling, but I when I feel it fading away, I go through my pictures or talk to my abroad friends and it reminds me of who I want to be. I also got a tattoo to remind me of that; I'm not saying everyone should get one, but I think it reflects how deep of an impact this experience had on me.