Mackenzie Luttinen - 2015 Program Participant

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I wanted to expand my worldview. A lot of my friends and family kept on telling me that Europe had the same kind of culture as the United States, and I never really bought into it. I always have been interested in why cultures have certain mannerisms, and I felt that the only way to truly understand was to fully immerse myself in a different culture.

Park on Ile Saint Louis, Paris, France

My favorite place in Paris, the park on Ile Saint Louis, looking over the Seine

Why did you choose CEA?

CEA offered a variety of options for housing; for the Foyer, they provided breakfast and dinner every weekday, which was really nice since food can get pretty expensive in Paris. Also, my program sent us on excursions to other parts of France, which was a lot of fun. We got to go to some really nice restaurants, and we even stayed in a chateau when we did our overnight excursion to the Loire Valley. They also had a lot of variety in programs at my location; there were business, language, full immersion, and liberal arts programs.

What was your favorite part about Paris?

My favorite part was the location of my housing. I lived on an island in the Seine River. There was a little park at the tip of the island where you could see down the Seine, and it didn't feel like you were in a big city. I loved going there for lunch, to relax, or read a book. It was serene and it was the first place it really clicked for me that I was living in Paris. It was a little private slice of Paris, because while the hustle and bustle of the city is fun, it is also nice to be alone in a quiet green place.

In your opinion, what made your program unique?

CEA gave us a lot of opportunities to explore our host country's culture through excursions to places that we wouldn't have been able to get to easily otherwise. They booked a coach bus for us to go to Normandy our first weekend in Paris, and halfway through the program we had an overnight excursion to the Loire Valley. These are both places that are too close to take a plane, but too far away to take public transit, and I loved exploring outside of Paris.

In addition, the CEA staff hosted Ateliers, where we would go to the CEA center and try French food and wine, or Sorties, where we would either get to walk around little known parts of Paris or go to a music show or ballet. I felt like I was able to see a lot more than I would have on my own; without CEA, I would never have known about the Belleville area of Paris, which is so diverse and has some really good Algerian food.

A view of Paris from the top of Notre Dame

The view of Paris from the top of Notre Dame

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff were really important to my program in particular, as I was in Paris on November 13th, 2015 when the attacks happened. I was scared out of my mind, but CEA was constantly on call, prepared to help us by any means necessary. They made sure that we were in a safe place, that we knew what protocol was for checking in for the next few days, and that students who were outside of Paris had a way to come back with the reinforced border security. CEA was helpful in figuring out what was safe to do and where was safe to go in the weeks following the attacks. CEA responded to our needs within moments of the first attack, and made me aware of the problem before I knew it was one.

I know several students in my program who had planned on going out to one of the restaurants near one of the attacked locations, but they got the notification right before they were about to leave and stayed home instead. CEA was more helpful immediately than the U.S. Embassy, who did not address the problem until several days later and could not address the immediate problems that CEA was on call for the entire weekend. The CEA staff were nothing short of heroic in the days that followed the attacks and I am forever grateful for the services that they provided us, including an onsite English speaking therapist. If I studied abroad again, I would choose CEA.

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

I wish I had traveled outside of Paris more on my own. They have an expression in Paris, "Metro, Boulot, Dodo," which means “Metro (the public transit system), Work, Sleep.” It's always go, go, go in Paris, and while I did go to Prague one of my last weekends there, I do wish that I had carved out some time to go to Amsterdam or Italy too.

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris with one of my best friends: Halloween style

Describe a day in the life of your program.

On a typical Wednesday, I’d wake up, have a breakfast of slices of baguette with jam, a large glass of orange juice, and creamy hot chocolate. I would then walk across the bridge Pont Marie from the little island that I lived on to right bank Paris. It was about a fifteen minute walk to the CEA center, where I had most of my classes. I would pass by several chocolate and clothing stores along the way.

After learning about trade in South Korea and human rights in Sudan in my classes, I would walk to the local Boulangerie, pick up a Tarte Salee and a tiramisu and eat it in the Archives Nationals, a cute park inside of the largest Mansion House still standing in Paris. Next would be my class at Novancia, where everything is taught in French. I took the 11 to the 4 Metro line, the underground train system, to get there, and when I did I would switch off English and start soaking up as much French as I could before the class period was over. It was a lot of extra studying, but I know my French improved drastically.

A few hours later and I’d step back off the Metro, walk across Pont Marie where I could see the Seine River sparkle with reflected lamplight that no photo could properly capture. I’d pause on the bridge and soak up the experience, which was overwhelming at times; at the end of the day, I would always find my slice of serenity in the view, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

La Sainte Chapelle, Paris, France

La Sainte Chapelle, a breathtaking church inside the Conciergerie

What did you like to do in your free time? 

I liked visiting museums and churches, since they are all free if you are a student in Paris. I think the best part about being a student of French culture is being a student in French culture. My favorite site was the Sainte Chapelle, which is one of the oldest churches in Paris and has beautiful stained glass windows which far trump those of Notre Dame, plus the wait is significantly shorter.

There is such a rich history in each of the sites that you can easily get lost in time.

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

I lived in a residence hall where they provided breakfast and dinner on weekdays, and coffee, tea, and hot chocolate on weekends. I liked not having to worry about making dinner every night; especially around the end of the program, it can get really difficult when you're trying to pack to leave your program, taking finals, and then you have to add on top of that figuring out what to make every night for dinner. It was nice to have a sense of security when it came to food, especially since food prices are so high in Paris.

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

I don't look at situations the same way that I used to. I would always look at situations in other countries and say "that's just like the U.S." and think that all cultures had many similarities, with only a few differences. But recently I've been listening to people say stuff like "Paris is having the same problems as the U.S." or they will try to compare completely different situations from the U.S. to France and it bothers me because I know that there are thousands of years of culture and individual experiences that make up the French lifestyle; to compare that to the U.S., which is practically a child in comparison, is dumbfounding to me. I have such an expanded view of what culture is now that I have been removed and reintegrated back into my own. It feels weird even walking down the street and hearing really loud cars, or having strangers talk to me on the street. I am so glad I studied abroad, because if I hadn't, I would probably be the same person who thinks a protest in the U.S. is the same as a manifestation in France.