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How to Balance School, Travel & a Social Life while Studying Abroad

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The sun's gentle glow seeps through the navy blue curtains of my apartment, and walls are tinted yellow from the weak light. It’s 8:30 on a Thursday morning. Class starts at in two hours, so I have plenty of time to shower, get dressed, whip up an omelet, and be on my way.
 My walk to class

After solid week of class at IAU in Aix en Provence, I can say that I’ve adjusted pretty well. My French, Literature, and Creative Writing classes meet twice a week for an hour-and-a-half. Photography meets on Wednesdays for three hours, and my Introduction to Wine class meets for an hour every Friday. While the structure of each class is similar to what I’m accustomed to at home— a mix of lectures and discussions— there’s a new dimension to studying that I hadn’t experienced before: Excursions.
 A Roman coliseum in Arles

After just one photography class, we traveled to Arles for the Rencontres de la Photographie, a three-month-long art exhibition. We piled onto the bus early Sunday morning, then drove for nearly two hours to Arles. We saw five exhibits that day, each more different and creative than the last. Not only were we able to see and apply the techniques we learned in class, but we also got to experience the culture of a French city other than Aix.
 One of the works featured at the exhibition (Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari, from the magazine Toiletpaper)

Beyond excursions, class sizes at IAU are very small. While most of my honors classes at the University of South Carolina are capped at 15 to 20 people, it’s often an entirely different crowd in each class. There are roughly 130 people enrolled at IAU, so it’s natural that I would see several familiar faces in my classes. Kallie, another CEA student, and I have our literature and photography classes together, and I’ve already begun to get to know others in my classes.

Because so many of us are studying similar subjects, it’s been easy to form study groups. The study sessions we have in Aix are vastly different than any I’ve had in the U.S. Meetings are still half work, half play, but the atmosphere is entirely different. We don’t hole up in a windowless study room in the library. Instead, we go to our favorite café, and settle down at a wide table with a window that overlooks the Cours Mirabeau. The café has a soft, airy atmosphere, and it’s easy to settle down for several hours of work.

 My most resent study session with Mikey, Chloe, and Brinkley

It feels like I have all the time in the world to travel, study, and meet new people, but at the same time, I’m acutely aware that the next three months will fly by. I’ve already had to adjust my time management skills. It’s still early in the semester, but I’ve learned a few ways to manage the stress of scheduling my life abroad.

  • Keeping an organized calendar. I use an agenda pad to mark important dates for class trips, CEA excursions, personal plans, and due dates for classwork. Mapping out my semester lets me see and plan around my busiest weeks.
  • Remembering I’m here to study. As I begin to get caught up in the thrill of being in France, I have to remind myself that I have to do my assignments for class. I create windows of time in my day to dedicate to studying. That way, I can keep my evenings and weekends free for travel.
  • Making time to relax and spend time with friends. Yes, school’s important. But in a study abroad program, there is just as much to learn outside the classroom. My friends and I jump at every opportunity to experience French culture.
 CEA’s first wine tasting at la Cave d'Yves

I’ve determined that the pursuit of knowledge is pretty universal no matter where you go. It’s important to stay on top of my assignments, but just as important to learn from life around me. Stay tuned for more Aix-citing updates on my travels abroad!
 Getting crepes with Hannah

Madeleine C. is the Fall 2016 CEA MOJO in Aix-en-Provence, France. She is currently a junior studying English at University of South Carolina.

Madeleine Collins is the Fall 2016 CEA MOJO Blogger in Aix-en-Provence, France, and is currently studying at University of South Carolina.
 
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