Olivia Bolek - 2015 Program Participant

Eating baguettes on a street in Nantes, France

Baguette time in Nantes

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

Since I was a little girl, I have wanted to travel and see the world. As soon as I found out about study abroad opportunities, I knew that I must do that, it was not an option!

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

I have always been interested in France and the French language, but did not have my heart set upon it when I started college. I sort of just fell into the French major, realizing that it was the perfect fit for me. Right away I started looking into the French-speaking study abroad programs and I developed a gut feeling for Nantes. I spoke with professors about the different programs and students who had studied in each of these programs. They all confirmed my inclination towards Nantes; I heard nothing but wonderful things about the city and the program, both academically and socially. It wasn't too much of a debate for me.

What was your favorite part about Nantes?

I loved that Nantes is not a touristy city. I really got a good sense of French life and was forced to use and practice my French, which is exactly what I wanted: a total cultural immersion. I really liked the size of the city as well; it wasn't too overwhelming for a small-town Ohio girl, but there was still plenty to do and explore.

At the base of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Eiffel Tower at last!

What made your program one-of-a-kind?

It is one of the oldest and best known IES Abroad programs. They are well-established and efficient. They know what students are feeling and experiencing, what they need, what they want, and how to help them adapt to French culture. What really makes this program is that they truly care about each student and his or her experience in France.

How did the local IES Abroad staff support you throughout your program?

How did they not? They were always very kind and understanding, but outside of that, they made sure we knew that they were there to help us. We could go to them with any little problem or question, whether it be academic, about our host family or social life in France, or about our futures. They always made sure we were doing okay. It was also nice that they celebrated our birthdays monthly and our end of the semester events were very nice.

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

I suppose I wish I would have been slightly more proactive in the sense of making French friends, initiating activities with my host family, and exploring Nantes. I can be shy sometimes, and in general I did very well abroad and came out of my shell more, but being more proactive would have made my stay there that much more fun!

Students in a park in Nantes, France

Loving Nantes!

Describe a day in the life of your program.

I would get up and ready for the day, eat breakfast at my host family's house, which usually consisted of cereal or toast and tea, and then take the bus to the IES Abroad center. I always enjoyed the short walk through town from my bus stop to IES Abroad; I loved passing all the little shops just opening up for the day and the beautiful natural history museum. Then I would have class for most of the morning and make and eat my lunch in the IES Abroad kitchen with my friends.

Often I had a class after lunch at some point. So on days when I was busy with homework and internship applications I would stay and work in the IES Abroad center before and/or after my class. When I didn't have much going on, my friends and I would wander the streets of Nantes, usually stopping at some boulangerie for a yummy afternoon gouter (snack).

I then went home and ate dinner with my host family around 7 or 7:30 p.m. After dinner we sometimes watched the news together and then everyone would say goodnight and go to their own room to read, watch TV, do homework, or whatever they wanted before bed.

What did you enjoy doing most outside of your coursework?

Exploring Nantes and other local cities. And does eating count? Haha. It was always fun on the weekends to decide what we wanted to do, where we wanted to go, and what food we wanted to try!

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

I lived in a homestay. My host family lived about 25 minutes from the city center by bus (with traffic), so they were in a neighborhood of houses and didn't live in the stereotypical French apartment. I really liked the area where we lived, I felt very safe. Honestly, my favorite part was my host family; they are such wonderful people! I am an only child and my host family has four children, three at home, so living with siblings was so much fun for me, I loved it! We all got along very well. That was also by far, the best way to learn about the French culture and language.

Chenonceau, Loire Valley in central France

Chenonceau, Loire Valley

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

It has opened my eyes to a whole new way of living and thinking. I'm not just stuck in my American bubble. I now realize the things that I really don't like about the U.S., but it also made me grateful for what I have. I have become more tolerant and have an even deeper desire to learn about and experience other cultures. I also want to learn more languages. I now have a new outlook on life. I have a better idea of what I want for my future.

Study abroad has made me more adventurous, made me want to see even more of the world. 

I've also realized that dreams are tangible. Where in the past I would have thought, "Oh that would be wonderful if I went there or did that some day, but it probably will never happen." Now my line of thought is, "What can I do to make this happen?" Everyone can live the life they want, you just need to take action, take the first step.