Top Five Reasons to Select the Program
- The staff really takes it upon themselves to integrate students into the French and Parisian culture. During my semester abroad, they organized several field trips that really allowed students to get to know the city, the language, and the people. These field trips included visits to the Louis Vuitton Foundation, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the neighborhood of Montmartre, and the Montparnasse Tower.
- If you are looking to really advance your French language skills, then the IES Abroad French Studies (Paris) program is the one for you. French is spoken almost exclusively at the IES Center, and both the professors and the IES advisors are really supportive in helping students grasp and enjoy the language. Students have endless opportunities to speak it.
- The IES Center is located in the heart of Paris, right by one of the city's main metro lines. Students can very easily get to all of Paris' biggest attractions from the Center, usually in under twenty minutes.
- The IES Center is also located right off of Rue Daguerre, a street in Paris known for its array of restaurants, bookshops, clothing stores, and, of course, bakeries. Students have a myriad of places to explore in between or after classes.
- Paris is a city in which one can never be bored. There are countless things to do and see, both during the week and on the weekends. Every day spent there is an adventure filled with exploration and discovery.
What I Wish I Would Have Known Before I Went
- Despite the stereotype that suggests otherwise, French people are actually really friendly.
- If you wear contacts, make sure to bring plenty of contact lens solution with you. as it is hard to find in France. (The same goes for good deodorant.)
- Public restrooms often cost money (usually around the equivalent of one US dollar). Keep this in mind when budgeting.
- It is actually easy to travel throughout France (and other parts of Europe) via train. Consider looking at the train schedules (and prices) before purchasing any airfare.
- The Parisian metro is pretty efficient, but there are occasional times when it breaks down or is under repair. Keep the phone number of a taxi service on you at all times, in case this happens.
A Funny Story or Situation
I've always been a fan of big breakfasts, but I knew that I would likely eat smaller ones in France. One morning, shortly after I had arrived, I prepared a breakfast that consisted of a bowl of Cheerios, a banana, an apple, and a cup of coffee (a meal which I considered small). My host mom soon came downstairs with her three-year-old grandson, who was staying with us at the time. Her grandson's eyes grew immense as he looked at my meal and he said, "Wow."
My host mom looked at him, looked at my meal, and then laughed. She explained to him, "Yes, every morning, Abigail likes to eat a BIG breakfast," putting extra emphasis on the "big."
I was so confused, because I honestly did not think that my meal was that big. On the contrary, I actually thought my meal was rather small. But then when I saw what they were eating for breakfast, I understood why they thought my meal was large by comparison: all they ate was a slice of bread with jam and a small cup of tea. No wonder I was so amusing.
After talking with other students in my program about their host families, I realized that these really small breakfasts were just a French norm. And, as a student who wanted to integrate herself as much as possible in the French culture, it was time I made some modifications to my diet.
Cheerio, Cheerios. Bonjour, bread.
An Embarassing Situation
One day, I was shopping in a store along the Champs-Elysées and decided to purchase a dress. When I was checking out, the cashier said something to me in French that I did not understand. I asked her if she would repeat herself, but even after she did, I still did not understand. She then switched to English and asked, sounding rather annoyed, "May I please see your ID?"
I mumbled back an embarrassed "Yes" and then gave her my New Mexico Drivers License. She looked it over, turned to her colleague, and said in French, "This girl is from Mexico, but she sounds American. Don't they speak Spanish there?"
I was slightly taken aback by the fact that this cashier was talking about me as if I were not standing right there in front of her. But then I realized that she thought that I did not speak French, and then I became amused. As she was finishing up my purchase, I said to her, in French, "I'm actually from New Mexico, which is part of the United States. Some people speak Spanish there, but most speak English. I just so happen to speak French, as well."
The surprised look on the cashier's face was priceless and even though the entire situation was awkward, I felt proud for standing up for myself, especially to somebody who definitely speaks French better than I do. That was actually really the only "bad" experience I had with the locals in Paris, as most were very understanding of the language barrier. However, it did boost my confidence and it only made me want to improve my French even more. So, in a way, I can thank the cashier for that.
The Teacher From Whom I Learned the Most
I had the pleasure of taking a French Phonetics class with Sonia Gourévitch whilst I was abroad and I think it was in this class that I learned the most. Madame Gourévitch spoke exclusively in French during class, and she made students want to speak French exclusively, as well. She never once made students feel uncomfortable or ashamed to speak French, no matter how many mistakes they may have made. She taught students of all the different phenomes in the French language, as well as the best way to enunciate and pronounce different types of words. She also brought to attention little things that non-French speakers may not recognize. It was definitely thanks to her class that I not only became more fluid with the French language but also more confident.
I recommend living with a host family whilst studying abroad. I lived with a single Parisian woman and two other Americans. My host mom really took it upon herself to speak French most of the time and to teach my roommates and I about the French culture. I do not know if I would speak French as well as I do or if I would love Paris as much as I do were it not for the daily exposure she provided me. I enjoyed very much having meals with her, not only because she was a good cook, but also because our conversations were meaningful and insightful. It was not just small-talk with her. We talked about probably everything under the sun.
With that being said, there are some limitations involved in living with a host family that students should be prepared for. The first thing is that, even though you are living with a host family, it may not necessarily feel like you are a part of that family. My host mom was, for me, merely another housemate; she never once felt like a relative of mine. (This is not necessarily a bad thing-- it wasn't for me, at least-- but it is something to anticipate.) Also, you will have to adapt to the cultural differences, which will be far more prominent with a host family than it would in a single apartment or dormitory. Sometimes these differences can be a tad overwhelming, especially in the beginning of the semester. Just make sure to give yourself some space when you need it, but do your best to approach these differences with a positive attitude.