Before I came to college, I knew that I wanted to study abroad during my undergraduate career. After lots of research and contemplation, I finally decided that I wanted to go to Aix-en-Provence with CEA the spring of my junior year – Spring 2010. I chose this program because Aix is the perfect sized city – not so overly large or metropolitan to where I couldn’t get to know the city very well, and not so small that I felt like I was trapped. Aix has, indeed, turned out to be a very pleasant city to live in. It is a lively college town with numerous fashionable boutiques, quaint cafés, running fountains, and pleasant greenery. I went with CEA as my program because they were always incredibly friendly and helpful in my communication with them, and I had gotten many good reviews from friends – and now I LOVE CEA. Our on-site program directors in Aix are top-notch: they are very hard workers, always planning wonderful trips and events for the students, and they will answer any question and help you out in any situation. Needless to say, I am obviously pleased with my decision!
University life in Aix
Students test into levels 1 through 5 at my school (Institut d’Etudes Françaises pour Etudiants Etrangers) based on their French language ability, and I tested into level 5. The school building itself is really old, and just as pretty as the rest of the architecture in the Provence! One thing Aix is known for is all of the elaborate doors around the city, and the passageway into the university is no exception. (Interesting side note: doors here used to indicate wealth and high-class status, which is why they’re so intricate and attractive in Aix.)
Class times and requirements change for each level. For level 5, each course has a main section and a language section, each with a lecture time of 2 hours per meeting. At the end of the semester, you are expected to pass a final exam and, thus, there is limited assigned homework throughout the year. I have definitely appreciated and learned from my classes this semester – I’m currently taking courses in French Political Life, Poetry and Modernity, and Translation. Fortunately, the low amount of homework gives you plenty of time to discover the city, and to travel in and outside of the region. So, not only do you learn from coursework, but also from mingling with the locals.
CEA also takes their students on excursions around your study abroad area, which is really nice. We’ve had lots of enjoyable day trips to Les Baux de Provence, Roussillon, Isle sur la Sorgue, and many more. We even took a longer weekend trip to the Camargue region, where we went horseback riding on white ponies through marshlands and saw wild pink flamingos – no joke. These trips with CEA let the students experience areas close to where they live that they may not have thought to visit themselves. This way, the students get acquainted with their own city, and the region that surrounds it. Perfect, right?
Studying abroad is an amazing experience. There are always one or two obstacles that come up – but that’s life, how could you not expect some hardships? While I have the most incredible homestay that any student could ever ask for, it is true that most students who are in homestays are a bit less social than the students in apartments. This is logical because the apartment students are constantly around each other while the homestay kids are a bit farther away and somewhat isolated. You just have to be active in getting in contact with others and making time to meet up with people. Luckily, I do have a roommate in my homestay. I would not have changed my mind had I known of the differences in social life. Living with host parents has been a wonderful experience because I get to practice the native language every day, and I have gotten to know a very delightful couple with whom I hope to keep in contact for a very long time.
When I do return to my home university in Kentucky, I hope to get involved in the Education Abroad office in order to encourage other students to study abroad – because it’s awesome! And, of course, my new sense of independence and global awareness will stick with me wherever I go: future courses, careers, relationships, conversations, etc. If I had to give advice to future study abroad students, I would tell them to not be afraid and don’t let anything hold you back, regardless of personal or financial situations. There are tons of ways you can raise money to study in a foreign country – you just have to look for them. I applied for and received scholarships to study with CEA in Aix because I filled out application after application in efforts to generate funds for study abroad. Also, when I left for Aix, I was in a 4 ½-year relationship, which I did not let keep me from leaving the country. In fact, it just gave him an excuse to come visit me in the south of France.
On a Lighter Note
I must also say that my iPod Touch has been one of my best friends while I’ve been here. Not only does it allow you to listen to music during down time, train and plane rides, etc., but you can also download useful apps for texting home (for free!), finding train tickets (SNCF app for France), Skype, weather, translators, random games, and pretty much anything else you could want.
Aix has been such a wonderful experience for me. The food is unspeakable, the atmosphere is laid back, the people are beautiful, the views are magnificent – it’s possible that there’s not anything that I don’t like about the city. I’ve gotten involved in so many activities that have undoubtedly enhanced my time here – volunteering at a local technical school, taking cooking classes, going on trips to local institutions – and I’ve formed many friendships that I feel could last a lifetime. Studying abroad improves your life in so many ways, and I highly suggest it.
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