When young Americans choose to experience studying in the southwest of France
Studying abroad: for some it sounds like college students’ euphemism for an extended vacation, for others it is a self-imposed challenge to overcome fears, some relish in a reverie of international adventure and educational experience, while for others it can be daunting and suffocating with pre-departure paperwork. This semester twelve students attending the University of Las Vegas in Nevada decided to take the leap and experience studying abroad in Pau, a charming city in the southwest of France. Two of the aforementioned students decided to share their experience studying abroad: Betty Alvarez an art major with an emphasis in photography and graphic design and Marco Marin an economics and international business major.
- Betty (left on the picture)
Betty’s desire to study in France began when she felt stagnant in her art work and needed to find a new spark to fuel her artistic drive. For her, “learning a new language seemed to be the most reasonable solution and also the most mentally stimulating.” Betty arrived in Pau in September of 2011 and shall soon return to the United States, completing an 8-month educational journey at the Université de Pau et Pays de l’Adour (UPPA) where she took primarily French language courses. Each semester she took three language courses accompanied by a conversation class and electives: perspectives on contemporary France, government and politics in France and French literature. According to Ms. Alvarez, these courses proved to be enriching and informative and helped her adjust to daily life in France. She also added, “classes in France are different in that we are much more personal and relaxed with our professors. I spoke with them as an equal and was always helped one on one when I needed it. Half of the time I didn’t realize I was learning. It is all about the experience.”
“This experience,” affirms Betty “has probably shaped me beyond my comprehension. To be honest, I never saw myself doing this. It has been one of my lifelong dreams to come live in France. I took a chance and made a decision that changed my life for the best. I have not only grown as a person, but as a sister, an aunt, a student, and an artist. It goes so much deeper than just intellect. I think I came here with random expectations and stereotypes that drastically changed once I got here. I noticed a lot of Americans had a hard time adjusting to it all. Most Americans viewed the French as rude and held grudges against them. I love how blunt the French are, it’s how I am so I am really fond of it-I love the honesty. I think it was shocking to observe it all, but in a pleasant way. The good and bad parts of the French society have helped me become a better person. Coming here helped me view myself from an outside perspective; I have analyzed myself so many times and realized what kind of person I want to be. France has done so much for me in the aspect of growth in a personal sense. I couldn’t be more grateful for all that has occurred in France, all beautiful, life-changing things.”
When asked if she thought learning French for beginners was best in the United States or France, Betty unhesitatingly affirmed that studying in France is the best option because one is taught by a French person whom was raised with the accent, the dialect, the grammar and the culture. Studying abroad in France, “you aren’t just learning a language, you learn everything about France. You gain new friends, new family, and so much more.” Her new family and friends are fellow American classmates and Palois, natives of Pau, a city she feels is her second home. Pau is a city in the southwest of France well-known for its Jurançon wine, its view of the Pyrénées Mountains, and Henry the IVth’s castle. Situated 40 miles north of Spain, Pau is also host to France’s only 4 star international horse competitions drawing tens of thousands of tourists each year.
Two weeks before Lent, Pau also hosts the Carnaval Biarnés which has roots in the Italian Carnevale but has a more regional twist allowing the study abroad students to partake in the regional traditions. A modern but historically rich city of 85,000 inhabitants, Betty decided to study in Pau because it was the only choice offered by the study abroad program she chose, University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) based in Reno, Nevada. She had never heard of Pau prior to choosing USAC but immediately fell under its charm, explaining that “being in Pau is all about enjoying life. I loved my trip to Paris, but Pau is where my heart is. This is my home. It is full of community. In a town like this, you get to know every little piece of it. You become a part of it.”
For Marco his decision in studying abroad was based on the foreign language requirement for his major. Having taken French in high school and a few semesters in college, Marco felt studying abroad in France was the most reasonable choice as well as a “great way to gain first-hand exposure to the culture and to be able to interact with native speakers.” This April shall mark the end of Marco’s four month study abroad experience at UPPA where he was placed in intensive language courses and a French literature course (a requirement for his French minor). Had Marco remained in Las Vegas taking language courses, he would have taken four language courses one a semester at a time. While taking these courses at the university he noted the efficiency of studying abroad: “Studying in France helped me learn things faster and retain what I learned in class. All the language courses were taught entirely in French which really helped me with comprehension. Before coming to France, I would often forget what I learned in French class and it was very difficult to apply it. Outside of class, there weren’t any opportunities to continue to practice it and I would shut it off completely. In France, there are opportunities everywhere to continue learning and I couldn’t easily ignore it even if I wanted to.” When asked what differences or similarities he noted between French courses and American ones, Marco divulged:
“The classes differed in that instead of moving to a higher level like I would have at home, I remained in the same class but it got progressively more difficulty as the semester went on. In Pau, the language courses were very fast-paced and intensive and we were able to practice conversation skills more than we would have at UNLV. Interactions and conversations outside of class really enhanced what we learned in class. They are similar in that we take class with other American students and the professors are always available and willing to help students during office hours.” Like Betty, Marco chose to study abroad through USAC and was, consequently, placed in Pau. His impression of Pau echoed that of Betty adding that gyi“Pau is a small town but soon after arriving, I realized that it’s a great place to learn the language. The majority of the residents in Pau only speak French and it pushed me to speak the language. Bigger cities in France are international and various foreign languages are spoken there, primarily English. Studying in a bigger city could have possibly hindered my progress when trying to learn French, which is why I believe that Pau wasn’t a bad choice.”
Akin to many other study abroad participants, Marco missed his family, friends and American food products (such as peanut butter which he was able to find in a small corner of the store) but noted that the best remedy was fully immersing himself in the language courses and meeting other students because it occupied his mind and hindered his mind from wandering into his homesickness.
Before arriving, he was nervous not knowing what to expect but “after arriving and becoming acquainted with my surroundings, I felt more at ease and willing to enjoy my time in France” says Marco. At first the language barrier posed a problem and he had to resort to sign language “to ask for things at the store and ask for directions” but as the semester progressed, he felt more comfortable speaking and was then able to communicate more effectively.
“This experience has helped me to become more culturally aware. I was able to interact with various students from different countries and had different cultural backgrounds. Thanks to my semester abroad, I am now able to sympathize with people different from myself and am able to communicate with them effectively. By spending time abroad, I was able to be more independent by being far away from family and friends.”
“I definitely recommend studying in France to anyone who wants to learn the language. It is a great way to start speaking and using everything previously learned from class. It helped me to be more confident in speaking the language and I was able to learn first-hand how the natives speak the language.”