Sarah Maier - Program Participant in Pau, France
Why did you choose the program that you did?
I chose to study in Pau, France because I have been studying French since I was a freshman in high school and am a French minor. I’ve always loved learning about the French culture and wanted to experience it first-hand. I also was able to practically complete my minor and really improve my French in just one semester.
If or when you study abroad again, where would you like to go? Why?
I could always happily return to the cities where I’ve already studied, and with my academic focus being Europe, I can see myself in any number of countries there, but I am very eager to see new cultures as well. Thailand, China, and India are just so different from what I’m used to that I would love to study in any one of those three.
What are some of your favorite highlights from your time abroad?
I absolutely loved living with my French host family. I was able to see how a real French person lives, and I was able to really improve my French just by talking about average, every-day things with my family. I also really loved exploring the southwest of France. Most tourists only see one or two large French cities, but I got to see some really cool places I would have never been able to see otherwise.
In your experience, what are the major benefits of studying abroad?
I think studying abroad really opens you up to so many opportunities in the future, and not just through your career. You really learn a lot about yourself when you’re out of your comfort zone and facing new cultural challenges.
What were some of the special/unique things you were able to do or see?
I really loved being able to hike in the Pyrenees, they’re absolutely beautiful! I also spent several days in French and Spanish Basque Country, which is very unique and beautiful. I was also able to see the prehistoric caves of Gargas, where there are hand prints on the walls deep underground, which was amazing. I also loved visiting the Beret museum and factory. To many people, the beret is a huge cliché that only tourists like, but in southwest France and the Pyrenees it has real cultural significance, so it was really cool to learn about. And of course, I was able to get a real French beret!
What was a funny cultural experience?
Well there was this one incident my first few nights there with my French host family’s cloth dinner napkins. At my house, cloth napkins are for special occasions, used like regular napkins, and are tossed in the wash afterward. My French family, and many other families as I found out after talking with my friends, didn’t really use their napkins at all. They never leave their laps and by the time the meal is through they’re perfectly clean and go back in the cupboard. I didn’t realize this until my second dinner with my host family, when I was given the same napkin in a special turtle napkin ring. I knew it was the same because of the sauce stains from the lasagna the night before. Oops!! They never said anything but I noticed, and I felt really embarrassed. I adopted French napkin practices after that, but I was always given a special napkin kept separate from the rest.
What did you learn about yourself?
I learned how to be independent, but I also learned really how important my support system – my family and friends – are to me. When I was abroad and facing all these new challenges, I had to face them myself. But I also knew that I wasn’t alone, I had my family and friends (abroad and at home) cheering me on the whole way.
What’s one thing you would have done differently?
Four months was an amazing length to study abroad, but I wish I had gone for another semester or stayed into the summer.
Now that you’re home, how has study abroad impacted your life?
I met so many great people while I was abroad that I plan to stay in contact with forever - my friends, host families, and teachers were all just such wonderful people. A year ago I couldn’t have even spoken with some of these people because of language, but now I consider them some of my closest friends.
What are you doing now?
I’m continuing my International Business studies at the University of Nevada and working at the USAC office on campus encouraging other students to go abroad.
What, in your opinion, are the biggest myths students believe about study abroad?
Cost is probably the biggest one. First of all, it was worth every penny. I will have my whole life to work and make money, but this was a once in a lifetime experience that I wouldn’t trade. Also, I found that my tuition, housing, and living expenses abroad were actually less than they are here. True, I spent some money traveling, but I know it was a lot cheaper while I was there than it will ever be again.
What advice would you tell students trying to decide whether or not to study abroad?
Do it. Don’t even hesitate.