The Quindecim’s Study Abroad section is a section for students both preparing for and returning from their study abroad experiences. This article features interviews from Paige Beverly (‘20), Olivia Robertson (’20) and Esther Tulchinsky (‘20) who spent the Spring 2019 semester in different Francophone cities through the Institute Field Exchange (IFE) programs in Brussels, Paris, and Strasbourg, respectively. Here, they talk about what it was like to live and intern in a new place for five months.
Why did you choose the city that you did?
Paige Beverly (Brussels): “I had honestly heard a lot of great things about Brussels…and it was recommended to me by my advisor. At first, I wasn’t sure…but after weighing my options, I saw that Brussels had a lot to offer in a small city…I felt like Brussels offered me the best of both worlds – a place where I would feel comfortable, but also have an enormous amount of opportunities.”
Olivia (Paris): “So, as an art history major, I chose to go to Paris because I thought that that would have the most resources for both French and art history…because they put you in an internship…I thought that they would probably have better art history internships in Paris, because they have a strong museum culture, and because I’m more interested in specializing in French art.”
Esther (Strasbourg): “I didn’t want to go to Paris because it was way too big, and I felt like everyone there spoke English, and I wouldn’t have the same kind of experience in French. Brussels seemed very…architecturally frigid. I’m very happy with how small and nice Strasbourg was.”
What were your goals for the semester?
Paige: “So, going in, my goals were honestly to gather research…I do plan to pursue a career in education, so it was really important to me to see how different education systems worked in comparison to the United States, and I felt like that could give me some more perspective on the education system that I was used to…Another thing was just to gain…more of a sense of independence, and truly experiencing something outside of my comfort zone.”
Olivia: “I wanted to get better at French … [and] hopefully make friends, but all my friends ended up being Americans, just because they were the other IFE people. I definitely thought I was going to hopefully make some French friends, but it didn’t really happen; I kind of had a French friend that I made after [the study abroad] at an Italian camp later in the summer, but not while I was in Paris.”
Esther: “To learn French, to get some experience, because I got lucky with an internship that actually had to do with what I wanted to do in my actual career, so speaking French in a workplace environment was what I wanted.”
What was a routine that you enjoyed there?
Paige: “I had an internship in a primary and secondary school, so, of course I was following a routine schedule, Monday through Friday … I really did enjoy that because it gave me insight on what my life is going to look like after graduation if I decide to go into teaching, and the dedication it’s going to take. Also, I lived fairly close to shops and things in Brussels, so I just enjoyed taking time for myself, taking walks on Sundays, just enjoying the nice and quiet because nothing’s open.”
Olivia: “During the first half of IFE, at the Paris office, there’s this nice little bakery that’s kind of behind it…I would go to for lunch and stuff. It was a lot cheaper than all of the other ones [and] it had really good sandwiches for less than four euros, which is pretty sexy. When I was at my internship … I listened to podcasts and stuff on the bus.”
Esther: “Since Strasbourg was pretty small, it was easy to walk from one place to another, and from where I lived, you could see the cathedral…Walking to work, and walking past Petite France, is just a very nice experience – to see all the architecture and be a part of all of that.”
What was the most difficult aspect of the experience for you?
Paige: “I think it was difficult to get comfortable enough to make friends there; a lot of my coworkers were a lot older than me, and it was hard to branch out and meet people outside the IFE. They encourage you to do it, but it’s easier said than done, so it was a lot of me time, …so that was a hard thing for me, not having the people around me that I was used to but also branching out to meet new people – eventually it became easier with time.”
Olivia: “I feel like getting used to the language and culture is a very obvious thing. I think European men are a lot more aggressive, so if you go out…or even just walking on the street, you’re a lot more likely (in my experience) to get catcalled. For me, adjusting to the internship [was difficult]; … some of my friends had internships that were a few days a week but because the French laws say that if you have someone full time for a certain length of time, you have to pay them, a lot of places didn’t want to have full time interns…I was one of the few people who was 9:30 AM to 6 PM every day, and then … adjusting to that and being in that kind of work environment was hard.”
Esther: “In the beginning, it was definitely the language, because Strasbourg – part of the reason I chose it is because not as many people spoke English – but, in Strasbourg, there are a lot of people that don’t speak any English at all. So just navigating at first was a little difficult, … but you figure it out.”
What would be some recommendations for students preparing to go abroad?
Paige: “Do your visa on time, that’s so important…Also, go in with as much information as possible, no matter what program you’re interested in or what you’re doing so that you kind of know what to expect. Also, don’t be so afraid to go outside of your bubble.”
Olivia: “Something that I did when applying to IFE is that I tried to start doing all of my IFE application stuff as early as possible. So just trying to get stuff moving kind of early if you can and not waiting until the end to get everything done. Travelling when you’re there, trying to hang with people, I wish that I had done a foyer with meals and that I’d made more French friends and that didn’t happen, but that’s my recommendation.
Esther: “Be yourself out there…people in Strasbourg are like the people around here, except they speak French. So don’t be afraid to hang out with them because they’re actually really nice.”
By: Emmanuelle Peterson