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Study Abroad Student Profile: Caroline

How and when did you begin preparing for studying abroad?
During the fall of my sophomore year I met with my WCAS academic advisor, and she encouraged me to look at study abroad programs. I was initially interested in doing a summer program, but given that I was a political science major interested in international relations with good French language skills, she suggested I look at programs at Sciences Po in Paris.

How did you financially plan for study abroad?
My parents covered airfare costs to Paris and I examined different sources of funding for study abroad. I applied for the Benedict K. Zobrist scholarship and IPD fellowship (which I was eventually awarded). The IPD fellowship was a great way to cover living expenses in Paris. Additionally, I worked closely with the Financial Aid Office and Study Abroad Office to understand how my financial aid package would apply to my program costs.

Why Paris?
Studying at Sciences Po in Paris represented the perfect intersection of my interests. I’d studied French language since freshman year of high school and am a total Francophile. Sciences Po is an incredible school with an amazing reputation in France and in the international community, so it was a great opportunity to study international politics at a premier international school. I knew that it would give me an advantage in my academic and professional career to study foreign affairs from a different perspective than the American.

What courses did you take?
I had French (level 5), Political Economy of the EU, Decision-Making in the EU, France in the European Union, and Dynamics of Law-Making in the EU.

Which course was your favorite?
French classes were always fun because our professor interwove grammar and vocabulary lessons with cultural commentary and insights into Parisian society, but my favorite course was definitely Decision-Making in the EU, an interactive class with a former fonctionnaire who worked at the EU representing France: we were able to simulate the legislative process of the European Commission and Council and debated actual legislation in class. It was a phenomenal way to understand the decision-making framework of the European Union.

How did the courses fit into your academic path?
Excellently! Receiving 4 political science credits just about completed my major in political science, and the fact that the courses were directly credited on CAESAR (with grades recorded) made the process much easier for me than if I’d had to petition for credit.

What did you do during your free time?
I loved to explore Paris and I loved to spend time with my host mom and friends. I arrived with a guidebook (which was indispensable and so informative) and marked what I wanted to see. One day could be the fabulous museums, like the Louvre or the Musee d’Orsay, or more hole-in-the-wall places like the Maison du Chocolat, Angelina on Rue de Rivoli, or just walking through some beautiful and famous neighborhoods - with friends or by myself. Having dinners with my host mother and host brother, and their guests, was a great way to practice my French and learn more about French culture – we once talked about violence in the banlieux and how it compared with urban crime rates in the US at dinner. Another cheesy but fun thing I loved to do in Paris was to go to the cinema alone, to see a French film without subtitles. A challenging but fun way to learn French.

Was it easy to meet local residents?
Yes and no. Because I was on a Northwestern program with a majority of American students, I didn’t know very many French students. However, I quickly connected with the few French students that were on the program, and still keep in touch with them. My host mother and I connected instantly and still keep in touch regularly via email, and I’m friends with her and her son on Facebook. I didn’t form any terribly deep bonds with other local residents, but reached a point of comfort where I greeted the bakers at my local bakeries and we recognized each other and chatted a lot. Generally all of the shopkeepers/patissiers/boulangers in my neighborhood were friendly and we’d always part with a “bonne soiree!”/”bonne journee!” Contrary to the stereotype, I found everyone in France to be kind and polite. 

What were your favorite local places?
There was a fabulous bakery near my apartment (near the Alesia stop on the line 4 metro) that was actually ranked as one of the best in Paris, Dominique Saibron; I also lived near a Gaumont cinema where I liked to go to matinees and challenge myself in French by watching French films without subtitles. I loved the St. Germain-des-Pres neighborhood where Sciences Po is located – there they have Laduree, Café de Flore, amazing boutiques!!!, and several cute lunch spots to grab an Orangina and sandwich-crudites between classes.

What were your living accommodations?
I lived in a 3-bedroom apartment in the 14th. It was a block or so from the Alesia and Porte d’Orleans metro stops and part of a very cozy and friendly complex. (The gardienne, Mme Janvier, had an adorable puppy that greeted me as I walked home every evening). I had my own room with a queen-sized lit japonais, a large desk and desk lamp, enough outlets for all my electronics, and a large closet with shelving. I also had a lovely balcony that looked out over the garden and from which you could hear the noise of children in the nearby school playing during lunchtime. I had my own bathroom and all the necessary amenities there (shower/bath/mirror, even a hairdryer). My host mother lived down the hall in her room and there was a dining room/living room as well as a kitchen where we mostly ate together.

What was your greatest challenge?
It was hard to live away from home and not be able to text/instant message/call my family and be able to speak to them immediately, in the same time zone. I could also get lonely sometimes, but the best way I think one can get over those feelings is going out and walking and looking to see what the city has to offer. If you’re bored or lonely or tired, it’s probably better to be bored, lonely, or tired in Paris than any other city in the world.

How did living in Paris improve your language skills?
Very much! Not only was the instruction in French language classes challenging but effective, learning and walking around in the city gave me the sense of the vocabulary people use in different settings, whether shopping in the grands magasins or the local bakery, or out with friends. I strengthened my pronunciation, confidence, and mastery of standard French while also picking up a lot of useful Parisian slang.

What was your fondest memory?
It’s hard to decide. I spent an amazing day doing touristy things when a friend from Vienna came to stay – including going to the Champs d’Elysees & Arc de Triomphe, getting falafel at L’As de Felafel and vintage shopping in the Marais, buying a macaroon and eating it on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower, dining in St-Germain after a shopping trip and ending up drinking a bottle of wine on the banks of the Seine. That day definitely stands out in my memory as a picture-perfect day.

Has study abroad influenced how you perceive yourself?
I feel much more confident now. It’s hard to believe that at freshly-20 years old I packed two suitcases and got on a plane, alone, across the Atlantic Ocean to a country where I knew no one, kind of spoke the language, and proceeded to live there for 4 months. Paris is hardly the wilderness, but it was foreign to me nonetheless, and I feel that in living and thriving abroad I proved to myself, my friends, and family that I am someone who can adapt to different cultures/environments and succeed in them. The experience opened my eyes to the possibility of living and working abroad, which does not sound as scary as it once might have.

How will you apply the skills you developed by studying abroad?
I plan to travel and work in different global cities throughout my career, and studying abroad helped me become more comfortable with traveling and adjusting to new environments.

Has study abroad influenced your career path?
I’m going into a career in international affairs and studying abroad was definitely a catalyst for that. I made a lot of friends with similar interests at Sciences Po and gained perspectives on the kind of work that is done at the international level.

What is the best piece of advice you can give to incoming students?
Don’t waste a single moment of your time in Paris! Get out of your comfort zone and find a new comfort zone in Paris. Try not to speak English all the time or hang out with only Americans. Don’t be intimidated by the stereotype of the French as rude or pushy, but fit into their culture by being polite, modest, and friendly. Appreciate the good things in French society and think critically about the things you find unusual or different – whether it’s different attitudes toward women, minorities, etc. Keep an open mind and know yourself!

Study Abroad Student Profile: Stephen

How and when did you begin preparing for studying abroad?
Because I’ve worked in the Study Abroad Office since I was a freshman, I was thinking about studying abroad for a long time before I applied. I looked over the different affiliated programs on the website but received the most useful information from my advising appointment with Michelle Gere. I also spoke with my academic advisers regarding my plans. Fall Quarter sophomore year is when I seriously started planning.

How did you financially plan for study abroad?
I receive financial aid from Northwestern, so I was happy to find out that this aid could be used towards my study abroad program. Being that I was in Madrid for an entire semester instead of one quarter/trimester, the cost was greater than a quarter at NU. I took a close look at my financial aid package and budgeted my money carefully. This meant limiting some of my spending while abroad, but I don’t think that negatively affected my experience in any way.

Why Madrid?
After speaking with several past Spanish professors, I chose this program because of its reputation for having strong professors and classes. I also wanted to live in the city because I never had before.

What courses did you take?

  • Spain and the European Union
  • Cervantes and Don Quijote
  • Translation through Film and Theater
  • Spanish Film

Which course was your favorite?
This is a very difficult question because I truly enjoyed all of the classes. I would have to say that my favorite class was the translation class. The professor was wonderful and had a great sense of humor. By translating English movie and theater scripts into Spanish, I was able to learn many new colloquial phrases and idioms.

How did the courses fit into your academic path?
Considering I am a Spanish major, the courses I took while abroad almost all went towards my major. I am hoping to receive a political science credit for the European Union course.

What did you do during your free time?
I was never without something to do in Madrid. There are plenty of museums and parks to explore, and the nightlife is great. I did some traveling to Barcelona, Rome, and London on the long weekends that were spread out over the semester. Some people traveled much more often, but I actually liked spending whatever weekends I could in Madrid – traveling too often can become tiring or stressful.

Was it easy to meet local residents?
One of the biggest regrets I have since returning from Spain is not taking the opportunity to meet more local residents. There are many ways to get to know locals, whether it be signing up for an “intercambio” (language exchange), hanging out with host siblings, or getting to know locals in your classes (if you take any at the local Spanish university in the spring). That being said, it’s also easy to fall into only spending time with American students, which I found happened to me.

What were your favorite local places?
I had a favorite café where I would study and have coffee before class. It was neat to get to know the people working there. Sometimes I would go with friends to get churros after class or go to a museum in the evening when the entrance was free. My favorite museum was definitely the Reina Sofía.

What were your living accommodations?
I lived in a five-bedroom apartment in central Madrid with a host family (an elderly couple and their two 40-ish children) and another American student studying on a different program. I had my own room. I always spoke Spanish while in the household, which was great to build conversational and listening skills.

What was your favorite aspect of living in a Spanish home?
It may sound pretty unexciting, but I really enjoyed watching the news with my host family during meals. It gave me a chance to see global events through a different perspective and hear commentary from my host family about these issues. Also, the food was great!

What was your greatest challenge?
In the beginning, it was finding my way around the city. I’m sure I looked like a lost tourist for the first couple of weeks, walking around with my map. After a while, I had no problem getting around. It also took some time to get used to some of the peculiarities and vocabulary of the Spanish spoken in Spain. Almost everyone has a period of “culture shock” in the beginning of the semester, so talk about it with your friends; chances are they’re going through the same thing.

What was your fondest memory?
My fondest memory had to be walking around central Madrid in late-November and December right before the program ended. All of the streets were decorated with lights for the holidays and by that point, I really felt at home in the city.

How did living in Madrid improve your language skills?
Using Spanish everyday in Madrid and taking all my classes in Spanish most noticeably improved my speaking abilities. I also didn’t realize how much I had improved until I returned to campus and found myself more easily grasping the texts in my Spanish literature classes and being able to express myself more completely in my writing.

Has study abroad influenced how you perceive yourself?
I am more confident in my ability to live independently in new places. After experiencing the adjustment to a new culture in a new city with a new language, I think I am better prepared to face these kinds of challenges in the future, whether it be adjusting to life outside of college or traveling.  I also used my time abroad to adopt a healthier lifestyle, which is something that I’ve kept with me since.

How will you apply the skills you developed by studying abroad?
I don’t think there’s a choice but to start using these skills right away. Like I said, I already use them in my language classes. I also make sure to stay current with global events and look at issues with different perspectives. It’s also not just about using specific skills; studying abroad will definitely impact the way you look at the world and help you grow as a person.

Has study abroad influenced your career path?
Study abroad confirmed my interest in pursuing a career in law. While I was there, I wrote a research paper about some of the legal issues surrounding the structure of the European Union. I’m sure I’ll get the chance to use Spanish, perhaps regularly, in my future career.

What is the best piece of advice you can give to incoming students?
The best advice I can give would be to take advantage of every opportunity you have while abroad. See as much as you can, do as much as you can, and meet as many new people as you can. It’s rare that you get the chance to do something as unique as studying abroad, so enjoy every minute of it.

Before you leave, talk to a returnee. It really is the best way to get a good sense of what a typical day will look like abroad, what adjustments you might have to make, and what difficulties you may face.

So, talk to me. I work in the Study Abroad Office and am more than happy to speak with anyone interested in studying on this program. My email is syanni@u.northwestern.edu.

Student tips

For detailed feedback on study abroad programs, view the program evaluation binders in our office. They provide an invaluable fellow student perspective on our affiliated programs.

Below, you can also read general study abroad tips from returnees.

  • “I feel like I have a completely new perspective on the world, a new sense of what is important in life, and what I want to do with my future. Mainly, living for 6 months in such a different place made me realize how people can be just as happy living very different lifestyles. I feel much more independent and grown up now and know that I will want to live abroad after graduating.” – Tulsi Parida, Morocco SIT: Multiculturalism & Human Rights, Fall 2010
  • “I met people who I will continue to be friends with for the rest of my life. The friendships I had while abroad were far and away the greatest part of the experience.” – Andrew Perille, Arcadia Australia: University of Melbourne, Fall 2010
  • “I loved the people I met and just getting to experience a new city and all that it has to offer.” – Clair Wojciechowski, Arcadia Goldsmiths: University of London, Fall 2010
  • “I loved the practicum. I lived in the monastery for a month, and it changed my life. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done, but I learned so much about myself and who I am.” and  “Since my time back, I’ve added a sociology major that I love, and I’m just a lot more comfortable with myself. I know who I am, I know what I need, and I know what I want.” Lucille Pearson, Earlham College’s Japan Study at Waseda University in Tokyo, Fall 2010
  • “It has allowed me to see that I can live life less stressfully as I go to school in the States, that life can be enjoyable while studying!” – Marissa Mosunich, IES Amsterdam Music Program, Fall 2010
  • “I loved meeting people while I was abroad – both Danes and other American and International students. People were incredibly friendly and it was nice to continually meet new people. I also loved meeting people from all different backgrounds, in terms of location, ethnicity, finances, etc. It really helped to widen my outlook and develop a world view point.” – Megan McPhilimy, DIS Copenhagen, Winter/Spring 2011
  • “The biggest joy was having a conversation purely in Arabic, or making a new friend, or hearing some new person’s story. I absolutely loved the weekend when I took off to Siwa by myself, because though I met people along the way, I was speaking with the Bedouin people completely comfortably.” – Frances Alexander, AUC Egypt, Fall 2010
  • “It was one of the best choices I’ve made, because it really provided new perspectives on both my academic and personal life.” – Maggie Elmarakaby, AUC Egypt, Full-Year 2009-2010
  • “Study abroad changed my life by opening my eyes to new world possibilities and brought me to a place within myself that I did not know existed.” – Russell Taff, IES Buenos Aires, Fall 2010
  • “By the time I left, I really felt like I was part of the culture. Getting the opportunity to adjust and adapt to a different way of life and get to know and spend time with Argentines was by far the best part of my time abroad.” – Jessica Woll, IFSA Butler Buenos Aires, Fall 2010
  • “It has given me a greater appreciation for all that I’m afforded in the United States. I’m not a different person now, but I certainly think about things differently after studying abroad. Trust me, it’s a good thing.” – Robbie Levin, IFSA-Butler Buenos Aires, Fall 2010
  • “Personally, I know I have a family in India [after studying abroad], and I know I will be back.” – Jennifer Hemesath, Alliance for Global Education Pune, India, Fall 2009
  • “This program will change you. I think it does so in ways that come to the surface most profoundly when you return, when you are back in the ‘real world.’” – Sarah Haas, Antioch Buddhist Studies Bodh Gaya, India, Fall 2009

France

  • “Living in and getting to know Paris – it was my first time in Paris. I now want to live in Paris for a few years at some point in my life. I love fashion and food and Paris is a perfect place to be for that. The culture is great to discover. There are enough things to do that you can do something new each day.” – Jane Weiss, Sweet Briar JYF (Fall 2010)
  • “[My most positive characteristic about my time abroad was] my homestay! Without a doubt that was the best part. I was really nervous going and living with a family I didn’t know, but my host parents are some of the best people I know. My French father is hilarious, and my French mother is so sweet. I loved living with them, and it was the hardest thing to leave at the end of the semester.” – Kathryn Ferrara, IES French Studies (Fall 2009)
  • “Getting to know the people there was wonderful. I just loved the students in my foyer and the other interns and employees at my jobs. Talking to French students was so interesting, and to share how we saw each others’ countries was extremely enlightening. Truly take time to meet natives, wherever you go.” – Kerry Bickford, Internships in Francophone Europe, Paris, France (Fall 2010)

Chile

  • “I met wonderful people, Chilean and American. My Spanish is vastly improved and so is my confidence. If I can approach people in a foreign country barely speaking their language, then how can I be nervous in America? I can so communicate here!” – Paulina Lopez, SIT Chile: Culture, Social Justice and Development (Fall 2008)
  • “Yes, [I would recommend this program to other Northwestern students]. I have listed on here already many of the shortcomings of the program. It is not perfect, nor is it for everyone. But this was an amazing, life-altering experience and based on talking to other people about their study abroad experiences, I can say that this program offers some really incredible advantages. I don’t know many other people who spoke the host language almost 24/7 and who spent as much time with local people as my fellow SIT-ers and I did. Valparaiso is not a city for everyone, but it is a ridiculously cool and beautiful place and a very special place to live.” – Abby Schwarz, SIT Chile: Cultural Identity, Social Justice, and Community Development (Fall 2010)

Thailand

  • “I feel that I have changed positively in a personal way because of my experiences with my group, with facilitation, and with the people that I met. I feel that I have truly matured since my experience. Academically, I feel that I am now more sure than ever about the direction of my life, and because of such fulfilling work that I was exposed to during my experience, I have been motivated to pursue my dreams even more.” – Emily Srisarajivakul, CIEE: Thailand (Fall 2010)

Vietnam

  • “Yes [study abroad changed the direction of my life] completely and in ways I had no idea it would. Since returning from Vietnam, I have changed my American Studies/History double major to that of American Studies/International Studies and hope to return to the region to work/teach/live after graduation. After this experience, I feel compelled to keep traveling, exploring the world and engaging with my studies in a global context. I feel more confident, content, knowledgeable, settled and inspired in all I do and set out to accomplish after my time in Vietnam. This experience could not have been more enriching and rewarding” – Nora Gannon, SIT: Vietnam (Fall 2010)