Meghna Gautam - 2015 Program Participant

Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

At the foot of the Eiffel Tower

What inspired you to study abroad?

I've been learning French since middle school, and I really wanted the opportunity to immerse myself in a French-speaking culture, while simultaneously exploring a new city. I wanted to challenge myself and I figured going to a major city in another country where I didn't know anybody (and where English wasn't the primary language) seemed like enough of a challenge!

Why did you choose IES Abroad’s program in Paris?

I wanted to enroll in French classes abroad, but I did not want to be away from my university for an entire semester. The IES Abroad Paris summer program was perfect for me, because it was enough time for me to get to know the city pretty well and discover places that a typical tourist wouldn't see, while developing friendships and improving my French skills.

What was your favorite part about Paris?

Paris is truly the most magical city in the world! I loved being able to visit the iconic sites, but what I loved even more was discovering the small and lesser-known areas and neighborhoods that make up the city. Furthermore, the city is a major center of economy, politics, education, and style. I was able to experience the fast pace of life in a European metropolis, which is very different from life in the United States.

What characteristics of your program made your experience unique?

I really liked having the option to stay with a host family. I wanted to get as much exposure to French culture as possible and I feel as if I achieved that with my family, observing behaviors and comparing their daily activities to what I'm used to in the U.S. I also enjoyed the course options of the program. I was able to take two culture-based courses, which I felt really expanded both my French vocabulary and my knowledge of past and modern French society.

View of the River Seine in Paris, France

A gorgeous afternoon along the Seine

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The staff was very friendly and approachable from the beginning. Because many staff members were American, they understood the culture shock that sometimes occurs with students, and were very helpful in teaching us qualities of French lifestyle that we American students were not aware of at the time. Additionally, the staff encouraged all the participants to speak in French whenever we were at the center, which was an aspect of my experience which I felt improved my language skills. We were always informed of activities and events happening around the city, and the staff took us on some great trips, both in and outside of Paris.

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

I regret not meeting more French students and locals my age, which would have been a great part of the study abroad experience.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

I'd wake up and get ready for the day, starting with a typical French breakfast: coffee, bread, and jam (homemade by my host mom and so amazing!). Then I'd take the métro to the IES Abroad Center, about 25 minutes away. After my morning class, I had a two hour lunch break.

The center was located on a bustling market street, full of shops, cafés, and vendors. My friends and I would get lunch at our favorite nearby café and do some homework before heading to our next class. Once the second class of the day was done, we'd go out and explore the city, or hang out at our favorite sites and cafés. I had dinner with my host family a few times a week, and if it wasn't family dinner night, my friends and I would meet at a restaurant in a different neighborhood and spend a couple hours together before heading back home on the métro.

Le Palais du Luxembourg

Sunning at Le Palais du Luxembourg

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

I loved taking field trips with our professors, because we learned so much more about the sites and neighborhoods than when we'd explore by ourselves. My “History of Paris” class took a trip to a different location each week, where we saw churches, cemeteries, and other important sites in Paris. My sociology class took several trips as well, to neighborhoods that had many different influences, depending on the demographics and social groups we were currently studying.

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

I stayed with a host family and I'm so glad I chose that option. They were so welcoming and helpful throughout my stay in their home, and always had great suggestions about sites to visit and foods to try. They were especially helpful in teaching me about life in France and the French language, and were interested in learning about my life in America as well. I feel like staying with a family maximized my experience abroad, as it really helped me to understand how families in France differ from ones in America.

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

I think about my experiences all the time, because it really was an unforgettable summer. I made so many close friends that I would not have met otherwise, and we all have great shared memories. I was able to challenge myself and improve my French skills, while trying new foods, exploring a beautiful city, and having a new adventure every day. This experience really made me catch the travel bug, and I can't wait to get out into the world and explore even more.