Karisa Desjardins - 2014 Program Participant

Garden of Versailles in France

Jumping for joy in the garden of Versailles!

Why did you choose to study abroad in Paris as opposed to other cities in France?

During my junior year of high school our language classes took a week tour of Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris. I had always thought of Paris romantically, like most do, and as soon as we arrived I fell in love with the architecture, the culture, and the language. After just three days in Paris I knew I had to come back. So when it came time to choose my study abroad location I was determined to find a way to study in Paris! I was encouraged to study in other parts of France, and I did look at other programs, but I couldn’t pull myself away from the semester of my dreams in Paris.

What set CEA Study Abroad’s program apart from others when you were comparing study abroad programs?

Something that set CEA’s program apart from others was the cool videos they had on all their different study abroad locations. I really loved hearing about students’ experiences in all of their programs! And there were some videos of students in Paris, which helped me visualize what living in Paris might be like.

The Louvre in Paris, France

Walking through the Louvre after class one day, it was nearly empty!

Why would you encourage students to study abroad during their collegiate career?

I think I would encourage students to study abroad during college because it really is the experience of a lifetime. When in your life will you have the time to live in another country for four months? Answer: Maybe never! I am also a strong believer in gaining a global perspective on the world and on my own life.

Studying abroad opened my mind to new ideas and different ways of thinking about life, relationships, politics, history, and more. We can learn so much just by exploring other cultures and ways of life.

What was a typical day like as an international student in Paris?

A typical day in Paris for an international student could include a few classes and plenty of free time! One could fill their free time with a trip to the Louvre or maybe a local cafe for some coffee and study time. You would sometimes find students just exploring the streets of Paris and all of the different arrondissements; or you had the student like me who finished classes and rushed off to pick up her au pair kids and brought them to the park for the afternoon. In a city like Paris, you can’t be bored, there are endless opportunities and places to see.

What was your favorite course and why?

French Civilization and Culture was my favorite class. We learned about the history of France and how that has shaped the country and culture today. This class helped me step back and see the world from a different perspective. I grew up with the inherent idea that the United States was the best place in the world, and this class shifted this idea entirely. I love where I’m from, but it was important for me to see the flaws that I had ignored and learn that there is room for improvement.

Inside the French Senate building in Paris, France

Karisa and her friend taking a selfie at the French Senate during La Journée du Patrimoine; a day when all government buildings are open to the public

What was your favorite activity outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your program?

I think my favorite activity outside of the CEA Study Abroad program was just exploring the city with my friends or on my own. Paris is the perfect city to walk around and I spent many days trying out new cafes and searching for cool thrift stores in the Marais or in Montmartre.

What is one place you recommend every student studying in France visits while abroad?

Visit vineyards across France. It’s easy to travel around France, vineyard tours are inexpensive, and it’s a great way to experience French culture. Not only that, but you will meet people from different regions of France. It gave me a greater understanding of the French culture overall.

What was the most memorable part of your study abroad experience in Paris?

My friends! I went off to Paris without any friends by my side and ended up making friends with some of the greatest people I’ve ever met. I never expected to bond so well with the people in my program. They are such wonderful friends and they really made my experience in Paris  better than I had ever imagined.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a international student in France?

One of the biggest challenges was the language barrier. I took French in high school, but I am nowhere near fluent. The first few weeks were difficult because I had so many questions, but no way to express myself to those around me. Through forcing myself outside of my apartment and learning to be comfortable with every awkward language situation, I finally got a grip on the French language; but it did take a long time to feel comfortable!

Female college students

A photo of Karisa and her friends from the CEA Program at their Thanksgiving get-together - Photo Credit: Ruby Xie

How did the CEA Study Abroad staff support and guide you throughout your program to help you have a successful experience?

From the beginning they were there for support, questions, and just to chat about life in Paris. It was easy to get to know them and you could tell that they love what they do. I always felt comfortable talking with the staff and they were always willing to help out students and give them advice. Studying abroad can be really fun, but there are definitely some tough transitions, so it was a relief to have some staff to talk to when things weren’t going as well as you had planned.

What advice would you give to other students interested in studying abroad in Paris with CEA Study Abroad?

Take advantage of some of the unique classes they offer! They have a class on french wine, a few on fashion, and even a photography class. These are classes you wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to take on campus back home, so try out something new!

What makes Paris better than other French cities for study abroad in your opinion?

The fact that there is history down every cobblestone street, beautiful architecture around every corner, the best public transportation of any city in the world, and the fact that you will never run out of things to do, from museums to cafés to local markets! Paris is the city that never sleeps.

What impact has studying abroad had on your life?

It changed everything! It’s so hard to put into words how study abroad has impacted my life. I have a confidence in myself that I’ve never seen before and it seems that I now have a clearer vision of my future. Overall, studying abroad helped me grow personally and I think it is an experience that will continue to shape who I am throughout my life.