One year, two programs...
I opted to spend my junior year abroad in Paris, France, and when I made this decision, I had no idea what I was in for. Composed of two study abroad programs, three different academic institutions, two jobs, two different apartments, one volunteer trip, voyages to four countries in addition to my explorations within France, and new friends and acquaintances from around the globe, I would say my experience was extraordinary indeed. It started in August 2010, with the USC Paris fall program. Being that this semester was quite guided by the USC/Accent staff, I did my best to make it more authentic and interesting by getting a babysitting job for a Parisian family through “Le Repertoire de Gaspard”, and traveling to three countries: Spain, Morocco, and Belgium. Through this program I enrolled in some amazing courses that dove into the Beat Generation and other travel writings, encouraging me to continue my voyages, and take any available opportunity to see every bit of the world that I could.
Since I was able to check off most touristy ‘must-sees’ in this first semester and really get comfortable as a (temporary) Parisian, my spring semester with the Sciences-Po program felt a lot more free—it was a whirlwind of experiences that completely contrasted my seemingly unbeatable fall semester. This time around, I lived in a “chambre de bonne” maid’s room in the 6th arrondisement, with other US students as my neighbors. I integrated into a life in Paris that has truly enhanced my life—academically, culturally, and socially. Sciences-Po’s classes placed international students with local ones, and I signed up for the school’s ensemble to meet even more student musicians, from France, Russia, and Australia. We practiced once a week and had three concerts. It was an amazing way to not only find a more relaxed environment than a classroom to talk to other students, but also get an opportunity to sing and create music. The most influential aspects of this semester however, were my work and volunteer experiences. I worked as a barmaid/waitress at the Frog and Princess pub in my neighborhood, which was an easy method to dive deep down into yet another level of Parisian society. Furthermore, my colleagues came from around the globe—France, England, Canada, Singapore, New Zealand, and the USA. I spoke much more French, became close friends with locals and other world travelers like myself, and learned a lot about how people can have incredibly varying worldviews. My volunteer experience was eye opening. Through the WWOOOF program (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), I was able to live on a farm/bed & breakfast in Normandy for two weeks, learning so much more than I could have anticipated, regarding the ecological alternatives to virtually any household/outdoor task. Working with my ‘host’, we put in floors, painted signs, cooked/baked, planted in the garden, and more. She taught me much about the inner workings of the farm industry, and the immense benefits of living organically and independently/sustainably.
Balancing all these activities and responsibilities—school, work, spending time with friends and making new ones, and exploring the city—pushed me to live in a setting of expedited learning, especially about Paris’s society and culture. It really seemed like a ‘behind the scenes’ method of studying abroad, and was quite different than even those amazing experiences of those who were even on the same programs as I.