Elizabeth Surratt - 2013 Program Participant

Concert on the beach in Biarritz, France

There was a free concert on the beach on one of Elizabeth’s last nights in Biarritz

What attracted you to study abroad?

I love to travel and experience new cultures, and I wanted to improve my French proficiency before entering college-level French classes in my first year at a university, and I decided studying abroad was the best way to mix the two. I knew that immersion would be the best way to become more confident in my ability to speak French, and that I would make a lifetime of memories by going to a new place with a whole new group of people.

Why did you choose Biarritz?        

I knew I definitely wanted a program that emphasized French language, and Biarritz was the SPI program that focused on both French language and culture. I had previously spent two weeks in Nantes, a small town in the Northwest of France through an exchange, and I wanted to experience a different part of France. And being from Florida, I couldn’t pass up spending two weeks at the beach!

Study abroad students in Paris, France

Elizabeth’s Biarritz group exploring Paris before taking a train to Biarritz

Why did you select SPI Study Abroad specifically?

I loved the equal emphasis SPI Study Abroad put on language acquisition and cultural experience. The combination of the homestay, daily language classes, and cultural activities seemed to me the best way to make the most of a trip to France. I also liked the autonomy it afforded me; we had plenty of free time every afternoon and on the weekends so that we could tailor the trip to get the experience we really wanted.

What were your housing arrangements like?          

I stayed in the apartment of a single woman who had been hosting students through SPI Study Abroad for years. I stayed with two other American students, a German student, and a Spanish one. Our host mom provided us with breakfast every morning, a (huge!) bag lunch to eat during our school day, and a communal dinner for all of us in the evenings. One of my favorite times of the day was eating dinner together and learning so much about the different cultures and countries we all represented. My host mom was also a fantastic cook so every meal was fantastic.

What was a normal day like as a high school student in Biarritz?

I think what I liked so much about SPI Study Abroad is that there wasn’t necessarily a “normal” day because there was so much variety in our activities. But generally, we would wake up and walk to class at our language school, where we were broken up into different levels. In our classes we would discuss current events, our personal experiences, as well as literature and history, and sometimes go over grammar concepts. Then we would eat lunch before we embarked on a fun afternoon activity. These ranged from salsa dancing in the square, to surfing lessons, to exploring a nearby town. We would also usually have some free time to shop around or go to the beach. At night we would have dinner with our homestay and then maybe head back to the beach to hang out and watch the sunset (usually happened at 10:45 p.m., definitely not something I was used to).

Students on the beach in Biarritz, France

Some of Elizabeth’s group celebrating a birthday on the beach in Biarritz

What was the most memorable experience you had during your time abroad?

I have incredibly fond memories of our hike in the Pyrenees Mountains. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and after we took a train up to the top and enjoyed un café at the restaurant there, we spent most of the day winding our way down the mountain, taking in the stunning beauty of the landscape. At one point our guide led us to an oddly-placed rock and explained that it was the border marker between France and Spain. I can now say I’ve been in two countries at once!

What advice would you give to other high school students interested in studying abroad with SPI Study Abroad?

First: do it. It was one of the most fun experiences of high school and I would go back in an instant. My other piece of advice would be to go for as long as your schedule permits. I chose to go for two weeks, and I could’ve stayed for another four. It seems scary to commit to living in another country for four weeks, but I promise it will fly by and you will enjoy every second of it.

Why would you go back to Biarritz if you had the chance?

Biarritz is an incredible little beach town. First, it is absolutely stunning. The beach is beautiful, and there is a great mix of lively, built up beaches and more secluded, quieter ones. The people there are also incredibly nice. They were always willing to engage us in conversation on the sidewalk, the bus, or the beach, and were very patient with our fledgling French. Biarritz is in the Basque region and I loved learning about Basque culture and experiencing how unique it really is.

Hiking in the Pyrenees Mountains

Elizabeth got to stand in two countries (France and Spain) at once during a hike in the Pyrenees mountains