Matthew Cullom - 2013 Program Participant

Why did you choose to study abroad?

View of Biarritz, France from across the bay

Matthew enjoying the view of Biarritz from afar

I chose to study abroad because I wanted to leave my comfort zone, become immersed in a new culture, and perfect my French language skills.

Why made you choose Biarritz as opposed to other cities in France?

I wanted to study abroad in Biarritz because it offers so many different cultural and athletic activities, and has a more homey feel than big French cities like Paris, Marseille, or Lyon. As someone who has grown up surfing, I was initially drawn to Biarritz due to its reputation as the surf capital of Europe. But, I soon realized that Biarritz has so much more to offer including a unique Basque-French culture, a great sense of hospitality, and a diverse population. 

Why did you choose SPI Study Abroad?

I chose SPI’s program for a variety of reasons. First, I absolutely wanted to live in a homestay where I would be forced to speak the French language at home. Secondly, it offered a unique blend between formal instruction, cultural activities, and a sense of community amongst other participants. Finally, it was the only program I found situated in a smaller, dynamic French city like Biarritz.

Whitewater rafting in the Pyrenees

Rafting in the Pyrenees

What are SPI’s housing arrangements like for students in Biarritz? What did you like about your housing?

Everyone is paired with at least one other student from SPI Study Abroad in a homestay family. I lived with a family of three. Both parents were extremely welcoming. The best part of the arrangement was that my host-father taught French as a second language at a local institute. He always corrected my French in a gentle, constructive fashion, which I greatly appreciated. The couple had a six-year-old son Matteo who absolutely loved to talk and helped my progression as much as my host father did. 

What does a normal day consist of for a high school student in Biarritz?

A normal week day consisted of going to class for three hours in the morning from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Our homestay family would leave breakfast out and pack us lunch. In the afternoon, we either had organized cultural activities by our SPI Study Abroad leaders, or free time to go to the beach, explore the town, and hang out with friends.
Walking through the tide pools in Biarritz, France

Exploring the tide pools at sunset

What is your most memorable experience from your time in France?

My most memorable experience was ordering a sandwich at a local stand, chatting with the worker, and being mistaken for a French teenager. It showed me how much my French had progressed throughout the program.

What was the biggest challenge you faced?

The biggest challenge abroad was trying to get locals to speak French with me. It is fairly obvious to the locals who is a tourist, and they sometimes assume you cannot speak their language. But, once you prove you truly want to practice and are capable of speaking decently, they really appreciate your effort. 

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

I would advise students interested in studying abroad with SPI to speak as much French as you can and really get to know you homestay family, the locals, and international students. You have an opportunity to gain a new global perspective. Make the most of it!

How has studying abroad affected your future plans?

Studying abroad made me realize I want to pursue international studies. It was a key experience that helped me choose to attend Georgetown University and study international relations. 

Would you recommend SPI Study Abroad to others interested in studying abroad?

SPI Study Abroad students in Biarritz, France

Friends from SPI

I would wholeheartedly recommend studying abroad with SPI. They provided a comfortable, immersive program that advances your language skills, introduces you to a new culture, and makes you become a more independent, globally conscious individual.

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

If I could study abroad again, I would study abroad in San Sebastian with SPI Study Abroad. I visited the city briefly during a tour of Europe last summer and it blew me away. The town has a great mix of a a charming, traditional culture and a vibrant, youthful community with so much to offer in terms of cultural and outdoor activities. I ran into an exchange student from SPI one night who really enjoyed her time in San Sebastian and highly recommended the program.