Read about students' experiences in France!

Name: Lauren Sage
Program: UMSL exchange at University Jean Moulin  in Lyon, France
Major: Biology
Term Abroad:
Academic Year of Sophomore Term

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3 Major Misconceptions About Studying Abroad

Alright so studying abroad sounds cool and all, but it’s too difficult. All of those places are really far away, and it’s expensive, and you have to speak a foreign language...

             WRONG.

Studying abroad is a great experience, which I know you hear all the time. But seriously, you can’t know how cool it is until you try it and you shouldn’t pass it up!

I talk to my friends all the time and basically serenade them from my study abroad soap box, but of course, they’ve heard it all before; It broadens your horizons, you learn about other cultures and about yourself, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity... Etc. Etc.

What I always hear back is basically a medley of worries about cost, language deficits and fear of being so far from home. So I’m going to try to break down these arguments real quick and let you know how people are mistaken on these points.

  • It’s too expensive.

Yes, plane tickets and, in some cases, exchange rates can be very pricey, however, there are lots of scholarships that are specifically for study abroad. When I studied in France, I received UMSL’s study abroad scholarship. Plus Mme. Blank helped me apply for two scholarships from French organizations in Saint Louis. In total, these scholarships more than paid for the price of my round trip ticket, and helped to counterbalance the unfortunate exchange rate.

Also, finding a part time job while abroad is very doable. Being an English speaker is definitely an asset to getting any sort of babysitting/tutoring gig. If you like kids, and you’re studying in a non-English speaking country, parents will love the idea of you helping to teach their kids to speak English. You don’t need to be an Education major to do this, it can consist of as little as just watching the kids and speaking to them in English.

During my stay in Lyon, France, I babysat two boys, who were born in Chicago, where their parents had lived for 12 years. The family, including the parents, wanted to continue practicing English. Besides being a great source of income, working with this family provided me with a really important support system; I still think of them as my French family. They really helped me adjust to the cultural differences because they understood both French and American culture, and they helped me with favors like giving me a ride to a doctor’s office that was difficult to reach by metro and letting me store a couple bags in their apartment while I traveled around at the end of the year.

If kids aren’t your thing, there are plenty of tutoring jobs to be had around campus, helping other students with their English homework. All you would have to do is put up a couple of flyers with a way to contact you and I guarantee you will get replies. I always had students asking me if I was free help them practice speaking English.

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  • I don’t speak a foreign language.

Not all of UMSL’s programs require you to speak a foreign language. There are programs in Ireland, the UK, and Australia, and even if you want to study in a non-English speaking country, you can attend universities that teach courses in English!

And here’s the kicker...

  • I don’t even know anything about any of those places, and I wouldn’t know anyone.

Studying abroad is an intimidating experience, it’s true. You’re far away from home, your family, friends, and everything familiar, but that’s the   point. It is an amazing opportunity for personal growth precisely for these reasons! Plus I can guarantee that you will make some of the fastest and best friends of your life while abroad. See the thing is, all the other students who are abroad have also left all of their friends and so you’re all in the same boat. A boat of people who are open to new experiences. It’s a pretty awesome boat, because honestly, just the fact that you’ve all got the guts to study abroad pretty much means that you’re all open-minded, 

interesting individuals.

I definitely experienced homesickness from time to time, but thankfully, at this day and age, technology allows you to talk face to face with family and friends whenever you want(skype, facetime- take your pick).

All in all, I can honestly say that studying abroad was one of the most rewarding experiences of 

my life. So please don’t let these three silly misconceptions dissuade you from taking advantage of this amazing opportunity.

 

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Name: DeMarko Timmons
Program: UMSL faculty-led program for French language to Strasbourg, France 
Major: Biology and French
Term Abroad:
 Summer semester during junior year

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When I first arrived at the University of Missouri Saint Louis I majored in BS Biology and minored in French. During my first semester of school I was enrolled in French 1. My past experience, three years in high school, didn’t compare to how much grammar and conversation skills I gained here at UMSL. French 1 was intensive for me, even after hours of countless study I had barely caught the hold of things. Mid-terms were around the corner and I had to find a solution fast, and during this time is when I found my solution. I was surrounded by friends on campus who were native French speakers or who studied French since grade school. I started observing the way they talk, the way they wrote, and started to emerge myself in the French culture. I would always try to speak French around them and they would let me know what needed to be corrected. Eventually I started to gain conversation skills past the beginner’s level. After completing French 1, 2, and 3, I realized with my minor I would only have a few more classes to go before completing it. By the time I took French 4 and 5 my interest for the French culture and language had doubled.

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After talking to my French advisor I looked into studying abroad. Being a biology major not many programs could fit both French classes and biology classes into my curriculum abroad. After doing some research I ran into advertising about the Strasbourg program in France.  It was perfect because I could use the summer to earn six French credits and pick back up my biology classes in the school year. But still I wasn’t satisfied, after taking on the summer French program I realized again that my French learning would come to an end. And that’s when I decided to become a double major in Biology and French. By being a French major I was able to take on the Strasbourg program in the summer and return to UMSL to take more French and Biology classes. To make things better the program was led by two French teachers who I had in previous French classes.

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Earlier this year I received an e-mail from the study abroad office stating that I was accepted into the program. It was time to start getting my passport, travel plans, and savings into place. During the first Strasbourg orientation the Professors gave greater insight on what the program was about. The location, the atmosphere, the gastronomy, everything felt so close at this point. Soon after the orientation I bought my plane ticket. The professors advised us to fly into Frankfurt, Germany because the Strasbourg airport wasn’t that adequate for international flights. But going to France, how could I possibly pass up the opportunity to visit Paris. After consulting with the professor I bought my roundtrip ticket to Paris and booked the bullet train to take me from Paris to Strasbourg.

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When I arrived in Strasbourg it was it was like nothing that I had ever seen. The buildings, the culture, the people were all different from what I was accustomed to. Strasbourg was a beautiful city filled with color and great architecture. I stayed in a residence hall with the other 11 participants. Living in a dorm allowed me to easily connect with the other students and make going out together a lot more fun. Each day we would meet up in the morning for class and stop at one of the many boulangeries for breakfast. We studied at the University of Strasbourg; it reminded me of being inside a museum. Each day the teachers would have a fun activity planned out for us such as a boat cruise, museum visits, and field trips to nearby castles and breweries, the European parliament, and even going inside the Strasbourg Cathedral. And every week we would meet up with a French native to gain more insights on the French culture.

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After the program was over I traveled back to Paris with classmates and we stayed for about 4 days. We visited the Notre Dame, the Louvre museum, l’Arc de Triomphe, le Champs Elysees, and of course the Eiffel Tower. 

I’m extremely happy to have gone abroad and was able to experience the French culture. I only have a few more classes to go before completing French major and hoping to return to France to experience more of the culture. In order to give back to the community I’m now a study abroad advisor here to help incoming international students transition into the American culture.

Name: Natalie Fenton
Program: Semester Exchange at the Université Catholique de l’Ouest in Angers, France
Major: Modern Languages - French, and Psychology
Term Abroad:
 Fall semester during junior year

 

During the fall semester of 2012, I studied abroad in Angers, France at the Université Catholique de l’Ouest. I arrived in Angers on July 31st after a very long journey from Saint Louis with my bags stuffed within an inch of bursting. The month of August was occupied with an intensive language program called CIDEF where exchange students from all over the world united in one common language: French. This month was by far the most beneficial of the five months I spent overseas because it felt the most holistic to me and I met great friends with whom I still very close.

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As a benefit of being connected with CIDEF, throughout the entire semester I had the opportunity to participate in excursions such as visiting the most prestigious castles in all of Europe, going to the coast and taking a boat tour of the Gulf, and touring the Normandy beaches.  

That semester, I was lucky enough to travel. I went to Brussels, Belgium; Disneyland Paris; Lille, France; Berlin, Germany and Liverpool, England. My best friend came to visit me as well and that was a much needed taste of home after I had spent so much time away. Overall, I am so grateful I had the opportunity to grow as young global citizen and I would not trade my experiences for anything.

Name: James Bragado
Program: Strasbourg French Language
Major: History & French
Term Abroad: Summer After Junior Year

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For the Strasbourg Program in 2015, we stayed at the Foyer de l’Étudiant Catholique (or the “FEC”). It is an historic building turned into a dormitory for international students consisting of several buildings surrounding a central, private courtyard. There is Wi-Fi, a cafeteria which serves good, cheap French fare, and a coin operated washer and dryer on the premises, as well. I felt safe the entire trip, as students must enter the FEC via a gated courtyard (to which the students are given the code), then use a key to enter the dorm, and finally enter their room with another key. The rooms are rather small but sufficient for the trip, and include your own personal shower, toilet, sink, and mini-refrigerator. However, by the last week several rooms were suffering from plumbing leaks, and the public square behind the building can be very active (i.e. loud) at night, especially on the weekends. Nevertheless, the location is phenomenal, being situated in the lively, historic, central island of the city, close to all sorts of restaurants, galleries, squares, monuments, and stores. Overall, I would recommend staying at the FEC, though at the end of your trip you will certainly be ready to move on to cozier accommodations!

Of course, one should not stay long in their rooms during this fantastic study abroad opportunity. We were constantly busy with adventures and excursions organized by Professors Trapani and Landers. For me, the most memorable were: our cooking class at Cuisine Aptitude, where Chef Sébastian instructed us on how to cook ratatouille, sautéed beef, and Peach Melba; an outing to the medieval mountain castle of Haut Koenigsbourg; a jaunt through the countryside on the Route des Vins; and a tour of the Schutzenberger Brewery, from the roof of its towering buildings to the cool caves beneath the ground where they used to store their beer before refrigeration. Besides the arranged exploits, the streets of Strasbourg offered many diversions, like free tango lessons in front of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, daily farmers markets and flea markets, wonderful music performances and amazing art festivals, and playing pétanque in the many parks and squares.

All in all, it was a magnificent, once in a lifetime experience. The language immersion aspect is priceless, and my speaking skills increased three-fold during my trip. I will never forget talking in French to a fish vendor one afternoon, impressing him to the point where he notified the other nearby merchants of how well I spoke French, leading to a fun, real conversation amongst us all. And that is what impressed me the most—the French people. Don’t believe the stereotypes. Try and speak French to them, and they will be incredibly welcoming, kind, and appreciative of all your efforts.

As far as recommendations for making the program better, I would just push more on the immersion aspect amongst the students. Too often, the other students would talk in English during parts of the program, yet the goal was to better our French speaking skills by utilizing that skill as much as possible. Otherwise, I think it was excellently planned and executed.

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Name: Alexis Bates
Program: UMSL faculty-led program for French to Strasbourg, France
Major: Biology
Term Abroad: Summer program during her Sophomore year

Read about all of Alexis's study abroad travels.

Alexis in France

My name is Alexis Bates. I was a part of the 2017 Strasbourg Program. I spent three weeks in Strasbourg, France experiencing a new life. When I applied to study abroad, I didn't really know if I was interested in going. I knew I wanted to Study Abroad some time but I didn't think I would be able to study abroad so soon. I got accepted and I was really excited but I knew that I probably wasn't going to go. No one in my family had ever been out the country and for me to know that I could be the first was so unreal.

I didn't decide I was going to go until two months before it was time for me to depart. I did everything late and at one point I thought that I wouldn't be able to go because my passport didn't come until the week it was time for me to get on the plane. I learned so much and I experienced a lot.  I got to know how it feels to travel alone. It's almost like I grew up and had to take care of myself with none of my family by my side. I was put in situations where speaking French was my only option and that was probably one of the most challenging of them all.

My French vocabulary increased and I feel a lot more comfortable with trying even I got get it wrong. Another big thing I had to learn was to pace myself when I got lost. There were several situations where I wanted to explore and got lost. It was very scary but I was able to overcome the fears. Overall, studying abroad is an experience that has now opened my eyes to wanting to travel more, encouraging my family to travel and telling people tips and tasks I had to learn when I was there. 

Name: Anthony Beesley
Program: UMSL exchange through l'Université Catholique de l'Ouest in Angers, France & a non-UMSL program in Seville, Spain
Major: French (Spanish minor)
Term Abroad: 
Academic year during senior year

When I studied abroad, I got a glimpse of the big world outside my home. Cultures I had only heard and read about were suddenly the fabric of my daily life, putting my own background into sharp perspective and teaching me to appreciate ways of thinking and living I hadn’t encountered before. I did things I had never imagined I would do, from kayaking along the rocky coast of Portugal to riding a camel by moonlight on the dunes of the Sahara. I made friends who helped me push myself to get out, visit new places, try new foods, and simply have fun. It has been the most formative and memorable experience of my life.

As a French major, I had originally planned to spend a year in France with a view to completing my degree there, but when my advisor told me this could be accomplished in just one semester, I decided to get the most out of my trip by moving on to Spain. I am so thankful for that decision, because my experience in each country was unique and wonderful in its own way.

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Life in Angers, France, was essentially my introduction to European academics. Since I took classes with French students, I had to get accustomed to a new kind of class schedule and a new way of navigating the semester: each of my classes met only once a week for three hours, sometimes skipping a week here and there, and there was barely any homework. Since my grades mainly depended on the results of the final exams (four-hour essays), my focus had to be on thoroughly understanding the lectures and on perfecting my composition skills. But France was more than just school, of course: I visited several other cities, saw some famous monuments, and tasted the world’s very best food. Paris was, naturally, on the itinerary, and I found myself in a surreal moment gazing up at the magnificence of the Eiffel Tower, which I’d only seen before in movies and pictures. My final trip took me north from the port of Marseille all along eastern France, through the charming streets of Aix-en-Provence and into several of Lyon’s famous pastry shops, until I alighted from the train for the last time to explore the Belgian city of Brussels.

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While I expected good things from Seville, Spain, from the day I arrived there it was clear to me that this experience would be the most brilliant one yet. My host mom—my host grandma, rather—was my first contact with Spanish culture, and a stunning introduction to the fast-paced Sevillian accent. Since I’d been a little shy in France, I made a big effort to meet people and go places during my time in Spain, and this really paid off. My assigned intercambio, a Spanish student named Julio, liked to show me the nooks and crannies of the city center, where he’d lived all his life. When I traveled to other cities, I would always go in a group with the international friends I’d met. We even ventured across the Strait of Gibraltar and took a tour of Morocco, where my French language skills proved useful once again. While at home in sunny Seville, we savored the Spanish cuisine, feasted our eyes and ears on Flamenco, and soaked up the excitement of the Semana Santa processions and the splendor of the Feria de Abril. My university studies were also very enjoyable, although the classes were designed for exchange students and thus followed the American model. The return to a familiar routine didn’t hurt, at any rate, and actually helped me to focus on the cultural experience instead.

To any student thinking about study abroad, I encourage you to put aside any doubts that may be gnawing at you and just go for it! Even if you’re not very outgoing or simply tend to be a homebody, this experience will prove to be the most worthwhile thing you’ve ever done. And it’s easiest done now. Though my study abroad is over, I’ve still got the sweet taste of Europe in my mouth, and I dearly hope for the chance to go back there again.

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