Ian Schwenke - 2015 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

A love for travelling, and my French major.

Why did you choose American Institute For Foreign Study (AIFS)?

They had a connection with my school and offered a very reasonable price. However, I have learned now that AIFS is a wonderful company in general, and I'd love to do another program with them if I could.

Cannes, France
The city of Cannes from above

What was your favorite part about Cannes?

Talking to new people and experiencing new things on a daily basis. Plus, the city of Cannes is like a resort, beautiful year round and constantly charming.

What made your experience abroad unique?

The wonderful people I shared the experience with; at the international college you meet interesting people from all over the world, and it was definitely worthwhile to talk to as many of them as I could.

Is there anything that surprised you about Cannes?

It was really easy to get around the rest of southern France, and the town really did feel like home by the end. I think if I get the chance to go back it would still all feel very familiar.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

Sandrine, the local AIFS director, is absolutely incredible and willing to help you out with pretty much anything. She answered a lot of my travel questions, from plane tickets and train tickets to more local things, such as hiking routes in the area and bike rentals. There is also a great support staff at the college.

A beach in Cannes, France
The beach in front of the college

What was the hardest part about studying abroad?

I'd have to say the hardest part is just the first week. Getting used to a new place can be hard, but it's well worth it, so get out there and make friends! Also, stay off Netflix!

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

Spent even more time at the beach while I could before it got a little chilly. Also just never to spend time in your room and explore as much as possible. I made a point to never use Netflix and it was well worth it.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

I would wake up and go to class from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., which was the regular language class. Right after class we would all go get lunch at the cafeteria, which normally took about an hour. Afterwards everyone would either relax in the courtyard for a while, take a quick nap, or go down to the beach.

For dinner we would go to the grocery store down the block and get a baguette, cheese, meat, and wine all together for about $4 (yes, a bottle of wine is $2). We would hang out in the courtyard and play music at night or maybe go back down to the beach. It was incredibly relaxing.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

The beach! Also, I frequently took long walks through town and went hiking in the nearby mountains.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before studying abroad in France?

I wish I had known the exact semester schedule so I could have planned for my week long break ahead of time; this took quite a bit of budgeting. In addition, I wish I had know that there are special train fares for students and passes you can get to get discounted train fares for a certain period of time. This is not super necessary, but nice to know.

View from a dorm window in Cannes, France
The view out my window, you can see the ocean, views were either this good or better!

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

It was pretty easy. They are very used to communicating with foreigners there because it is both a port city as well as a famous center for the film festival every year.

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

I loved living in the college dorms with all international students. There are about 300 or so that live in the dorms on campus, so it was lots of fun.

Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Cannes?

Pretend like you're taking a vacation to the beach and think about what you would bring. Remember all your swimming stuff because the water is beautiful, but also know you can get space-consuming items, like towels or flips flops and such, for very cheap once you get there. Also, consider some hiking boots and athletic clothing; even if you aren't an avid runner or walker, you'll find yourself walking a lot, and maybe even wanting to go for a hike on the surrounding mountains.

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

You will have a VERY hard time coming back to the United States, so make the most of it, keep a journal, and take a lot of pictures.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of studying abroad is?

I think the biggest benefit is getting a more worldly view, in general. Leaving your country and discovering what else is out there is incredibly important. In addition, I think meeting new people that are not familiar with your language and culture is extremely beneficial. Also, if you are anything like me, it helped me find out what I really want to be doing after college, as well as really personally justified my French degree.

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

I want to keep traveling, so after college I am doing the Peace Corps (I just got in!), and I am very excited about it. Studying abroad has reaffirmed my love to travel.

College courtyard in Cannes, France
The main courtyard of the college

Would you recommend AIFS to others? Why?

AIFS is an amazing program; I have stayed in very good touch with the company and they always check up on me. They are very responsive to questions and comments, and always make sure everything is going as smoothly as possible for the individuals in the programs. They really do seem to care and seem motivated that students have a good time studying abroad and learn a lot. AIFS is an incredible company in general.

If you could study abroad again, where would you go?

I am actually going to go abroad again in a few months. I am in the Peace Corps going to Benin, West Africa. I feel like my time in France has inspired me to want to visit more Francophone countries to improve my language skills. But of course, if I could afford it, I would go back to France in an instant.