An Interview with a CEA CAPA Insider on Their Study Abroad Experience in French Riviera
CEA CAPA interviewed Riley Pruser, CEA CAPA French Riviera Insider, on their study abroad experience.
Q: How did you navigate making friends in the French Riviera, and what tips do you have for students looking to build meaningful connections with locals and fellow international students?
Pruser: Going into this experience I was a little worried about making friends while studying abroad because it can be difficult to put yourself out there. In my experience with CEA CAPA, it was easy making quick friends right away. Although I went alone, I knew that I’d meet my roommates and everyone else in the study abroad program on the first day so that gave me some piece of mind.
Also, there’s an orientation day for all international exchange students at SKEMA Business School and that’s where I met some of my fellow international students. There’s also a group of students at SKEMA who put together events for students to hangout, socialize, and meet each other. These events are usually every weekend and there’s an account on Facebook that provides all the information for the events. So, there are many ways to meet new people and become friends with them when studying abroad in the French Riviera and going to school at SKEMA. My advice is to put yourself out there and find the people you click with most.
My friends and I hanging out where we liked to do cold plunges at a place called Billionaires Bay at Cap D’Antibes.
What travel tips do you have for students exploring the French Riviera and surrounding areas? Any must-visit destinations, transportation insights, or cultural etiquette advice to share?
Pruser: When traveling around France, it’s easiest to take the train to most places, however it adds up and gets expensive. If you’re traveling to surrounding towns or the airport often, I highly recommend buying the Zou pass for the Côte d’Azur. It’s around 90 euros and it’s so worth it. With this pass, you can travel by train from Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur an unlimited number of times during the semester abroad. I unfortunately didn’t know about it until I had a month left of my study abroad program, but I most definitely spent more than 90 euros taking the train to Cannes, Nice, Monaco, the airport, and other places on the French Riviera.
Also, it’s serious business having a train ticket because security officers randomly check everyone’s ticket on the train and without buying a ticket you can risk having to pay a 50 euro fine which isn’t worth it because the tickets are cheap when going in between playing like Cannes and Nice. Also, it’s sometimes difficult to buy a physical ticket at the train station and then you must validate the ticket but sometimes the validation machine won’t be working and if your ticket isn’t validated you risk having to pay that same 50 euro fine.
For that issue, I just downloaded the SNCF Connect app onto my phone and you can put in your departure and destinations and then select times and dates and pay over the phone and then receive a digital pass that’s already valid and you don’t have to go through the trouble and stress of figuring out your ticket at the station and you don’t have to worry about validating it. Some of my friends purchased a train pass for unlimited access to the bus and train on the Zou Région Sud website too.
This is the SNCF app icon - a quick and easy place to buy train tickets vs. at the kiosk and validation machine at the station.
I think that we saw all the must-see destinations on the French Riviera during our study abroad excursions and day trips. If it wasn’t for CEA CAPA excursions, I probably wouldn’t have experienced several destinations and I’m grateful CEA CAPA took us because they were all so great.
Furthermore, when traveling outside of the French Riviera, I recommend bringing shower shoes to wherever you’re staying. I always stayed in a hostel, and I always brought a pair of rubber flip-flops because in hostels you either share a bathroom with everyone else in the room or you share it with the whole floor, and it’s just more comfortable showering in that environment in shower shoes.
And lastly, if you don’t have Google Maps, it’s a good idea to download it and use it instead of Apple Maps if you have an iPhone. Google Maps is way more reliable and accurate. For some reason Apple Maps can get confusing in Europe and will lead you not where you’re wanting to go but Google Maps was always more updated and accurate.
How did the CEA CAPA academic environment in the French Riviera differ from your home institution, and what strategies did you use to adapt and succeed academically? Any tips for balancing coursework and exploration?
Pruser: The academics abroad and at SKEMA Business School varied heavily from my home institution. First off, at my home institution we have about an hour session twice a week for every class but at SKEMA we had a three-hour session with a fifteen-minute break halfway through once a week for each class. For example, I was in four classes and on Tuesdays I had class from 8 a.m.-11:15 a.m. and another class in the afternoon I had a class from 1:15 p.m.-4:30 p.m. and then on Wednesdays and Thursdays I had one class in the afternoon from 1:15 p.m.-4:30 p.m.
Also, the midterms and finals were very serious and different from school back in the states. There was a designated midterms week, and the institution organizes all the exams for each course, not the professors. I was unlucky with this and had midterms span across three weeks instead of them all being during midterms week, which didn’t really make a whole lot of sense but that’s just how it was. Then for finals, the last two weeks of the term are finals weeks where there are no classes but finals going on every day for two weeks. For all the exams, there’s a designated room and time that you’re told in advance and there’s no exception to being late and you must turn your phone off and if you’re wearing a smartwatch, you must take that off. These are exams you should study for because there isn’t an option to have notes and they’re most of your grade.
For studying, I found it best to go sit down in a café for a few hours and study for everything or get together with fellow students in class and study together. Also, aside from the exams, the only other grades you really have are if the teacher adds in some other sort of project or quiz throughout the semester but there isn’t really homework like there is in the U.S. So, when balancing coursework and exploration it was easy since there wasn’t really homework.
If I planned to travel somewhere I took my iPad with me to study while on a plane or a train and that’s all I had to do to succeed. It helped a lot to study during the downtimes of traveling to different places. I also did this during excursions abroad. We were usually on a bus for at least an hour so I could study and grind out whatever work I needed done by bringing my iPad or laptop with me on the excursions. Just remember that you’re not only there for traveling and exploration but also for academics and that’s the most important part of going.
This is me studying at Copenhagen Coffee Lab in Antibes.
Copenhagen Coffee Lab was my favorite café to study at for midterms and finals and just hang out at in general. They have a wonderful matcha latte and all their pastries and food options are also great. The workers are very kind, they have free Wi-Fi and the environment was good for me to get work done.
Share your favorite weekend excursion or day trip from the French Riviera. How did these experiences contribute to your personal growth and cultural understanding?
Pruser: My favorite excursion with CEA CAPA was our day trip to Grasse and the hilltop villages of Gourdon and Saint Paul de Vence. On this trip we went on a private bus to Grasse, France, where we toured the oldest perfume factory in Grasse, Galimard, and learned all about the processes behind producing perfume. After the tour we made our way to their workshop room where we made our own perfume. It was so amazing and fun making my own perfume, but harder than expected. While making the perfume, they give you a paper where we wrote down specific measurements of each note (base, heart, and top) that we put into our perfume. Everyone got a number so that way if you ever want to reorder your perfume online, the factory has yours on file. However, my partner and I weren’t really feeling the scent of our perfume when it came to adding in the final top notes. So, we just started adding more of what we knew we liked. That said, we had no clue how many milliliters of each type of note we added into our perfume so we can never reorder it again since it’s truly one of a kind. But truthfully, that kind of made it even more fun.
This is our little perfume-making station.
The three rows of bottles are the three notes that go into perfume, and they are all different scents. Then, we had a paper to record how many milliliters of each note we put into our perfume along with a graduated cylinder and a beaker that was used in the process. After making perfume we stopped in two hilltop villages Gourdon and Saint Paul de Vence. At both locations we got great views spanning across the French Riviera.
Gordon's panoramic view of the French Riviera.
Gourdon is rated one of the most beautiful villages in France and sits on the edge of a rocky spur that juts out above the Loup River.
Saint Paul de Vence's view of the French Riviera.
Saint Paul de Vence is home to many artists and painters. It's one of the oldest Medieval towns on the French Riviera and is known for its modern and contemporary art museums and galleries.
What activities or resources did you find most helpful to connect with your home culture or maintain a sense of familiarity?
Pruser: I picked up the habit of watching the sunset every night and that was my time in the day to just relax and enjoy my time in Antibes to reflect on my day and experiences. During sunset hours was when I called my friends and family back home and talked to them if they weren’t busy. I’m not big on journaling but I think that if you’re going out in the evening to watch the sunset and journal and just relax for a little bit it is a great way to cope with the feelings of homesickness.
The sunset on my final day in Antibes.
This was the sunset on my last day in Antibes and it was one of my favorite sunsets out of all the sunsets I watched. Both pictures above and below were the sky at the same time, just one way facing west and the other facing east.
One of my favorite sunsets.
For this sunset, I went up the lighthouse in Antibes that is about a 20 minute hike. I don’t think there was ever a bad sunset in Antibes, and this was a great way to just relax and enjoy France.
What are your recommendations for students seeking authentic cultural experiences in the French Riviera? Any lesser-known events or off-the-beaten-path activities that you discovered during your time abroad?
Pruser: I think that if you’re seeking to find an authentic cultural experience in the French Riviera your best bet of finding that is to make friends with locals. And when you go literally anywhere, I suggest asking the French people (specifically workers at places) for their suggestions on what to do and where to go and all that. I had authentic cultural experiences when I went to a BBQ with French locals I met. It wasn’t a typical BBQ like in the U.S. so experiencing a French BBQ hangout was so cool. Also, by asking locals their recommendations are how I discovered the possibility of going up to the lighthouse and that there’s a whole little museum up there and hangout spot. One time when I went up there, they were having a little event where everyone was dancing and hanging out, having a good time. Also, I suggest walking around with friends and wandering into places and checking everything out. This’ll help find places that you wouldn’t find on social media or Google. And lastly, our CEA CAPA leaders Mélanie and Ella were French locals so if we had any questions, we asked them. With their help and CEA CAPA excursions we discovered authentic cultural experiences abroad.
Tarte Tropézienne aka “La Tarte de Saint-Tropez."
This is a dessert pastry special to France and Saint-Tropez. We got to try some of this on our day trip to Saint-Tropez with CEA CAPA and it was so good that I ended up getting it again at local bakeries in Antibes because they do make mini ones.
Reflect on your language learning journey while studying in the French Riviera. How did immersion contribute to your language skills, and what advice do you have for students looking to improve their language proficiency?
Pruser: I’m a French and Francophone Studies minor so I’ve been learning French for the past three years. This is a difficult language to learn, as any language is, and living in France helped me improve my proficiency, however I had trouble finding people to speak it with to take it to the next level. Before going to France, I had high hopes that I’d leave with a lot higher level of improvement than I did. The sad truth is that there was only one other person in my study abroad program who spoke French at my level. Plus, I went to an English-speaking school, so most of the time I was surrounded by English and didn’t even get the chance to practice and improve my proficiency.
Also, it was difficult practicing my French when going to the store or a restaurant, or anywhere in public because when French people heard an English accent, they immediately switched to English and wouldn’t continue the conversation with me in French. I often let them switch to English but then continued to speak in French in return since that was the one moment where I utilized my skills and practiced the language.
Making French friends is another great way to practice the language, however, that can get difficult. At SKEMA it was hard to do because a lot of the French students already had their own friends and they’re more reserved than you’d think. And for me, there seemed to be a divide between the French students at SKEMA and the exchange students. I don’t know why but those were the vibes I got from going there. I did end up making a few French friends towards the end of the semester and they helped me with my French, and I helped them with their English. Although I only had a limited number of conversations with them those few conversations really helped me, and I think that’s the best way to learn a language.
So, my advice for improving your language proficiency is to also push to speak the language whenever you get the chance and just be determined. If you live with other students who can speak the language, that’s a great way to practice even if no one is fluent, but you must ensure everyone is on the same page.
Overall, the best thing you can do is just try to speak it whenever possible and even if you feel silly just keep trying. I was always afraid because I didn’t sound perfect, and I didn’t know all the vocabulary for certain words or phrases. I always reminded myself that what truly matters is that you can get your point across, and the other person knows what you’re talking about.
Lastly, what valuable insights have you gained from your study abroad experience in the French Riviera, and how has it influenced your personal and academic growth? Any parting tips for students embarking on their own study abroad adventure?
Pruser: By studying abroad, I gained a different perspective on life, travel, and the world. Going to France for my study abroad program was my first time out of the U.S. That said, France and other places in the world just didn’t seem real and they seemed very out of reach for me. But now after literally living there and seeing so many other places I changed my perspective from being out of reach to just being a plane ride away.
It’s crazy to see how my thoughts on all that have tremendously changed, but it’s so true. Studying abroad is totally possible, it’s all up to you to decide how you’re going to do it and make it happen. I want to add that traveling and an experience like this is not for the weak. Balancing school, immersing yourself into the culture and life of your host city, and traveling around Europe isn’t easy whatsoever. It’s very challenging and there are many sacrifices you must make, a major one being sleep, but in the end it’s all worth it.
I also want to include that if you know you’re the type of person who wouldn’t thrive in a lifestyle like that, that’s okay, it isn’t for everyone. I think after everything I did throughout my time abroad, I became more self-aware of the things I like, don’t like, make me feel good, don’t make me feel good, etc. I was put in tough situations at times where I didn’t know what to do, I had nowhere to go, I had no one that could help me, and it was awful and terrifying, and I don’t want to experience situations like that again. But in that situation, I learned a lot and I was ultimately okay. For some context, on my way back to the states my flight out of Nice got delayed so I missed my connecting flight to Munich that was going to take me home. So, I was stranded by myself at Munich airport with nowhere else to go for a night until my flight at 6 a.m. the next day.
That’s another thing to remember that every little moment and experience is a learning experience good or bad. I also want to include that throughout my journey abroad, I think all of my limits were tested to the max and that’s what made me more self-aware and well-rounded. Studying abroad helped me gain not just insights on other parts of the world and traveling but a lot about myself as well. As for parting tips, I say just go into it with an open mind and don’t have any expectations other than it's not going to be perfect.
Riley Pruser is an alumni insider who studied abroad with CEA CAPA in the French Riviera, France, during the Fall '23 semester.
Read more about our CEA CAPA Content Creators.