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