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5 Ways to Optimize Your Study Abroad Experience in France

June 07, 2024
by CEA CAPA Content Creator
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A study abroad student wearing sunglasses posing for the camera in front of a fountain

Study Abroad Success: 5 Tactics I Used in Aix-en-Provence, France  

Hey there! I’m Amelia Tsering and I’m a junior political science major and philosophy and women’s studies double minor at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. I had the pleasure of studying abroad with CEA CAPA in Aix-en-Provence, France in Spring ‘24. While there, I took courses at the Institute for American Universities: American College of the Mediterranean, which is right in the heart of Aix. I took six hours of French classes per week, in addition to nine hours of political science and international relations courses. I absolutely loved my time there and learned so much. I’m eternally grateful to this place for such a transformative experience. While it was bittersweet to leave, I felt fulfilled and confident that I made the most of my semester abroad. I wanted to share a few things that I did while abroad that helped me maximize my experience and become immersed in French culture.  

A study abroad student wearing sunglasses posing for the camera in front of a fountain

Amelia in Aix-en-Provence (photo taken by Nathan DeBoef)

French Language 

The French language can be so difficult, and it’s daunting to try to speak with locals, but always just try your best! In every country I visited (but particularly France) people really appreciate it when you make the effort to speak the local language. It can be scary to try, but it’s the only way to improve. Enrolling in language courses is incredibly helpful, as it provides the best environment for immersion and learning. Sometimes when you’re learning a language, people switch to English if they realize you’re an English speaker, but don’t let this discourage you! It’s totally fine to switch to another language that’s easier for both of you to understand, but often, if you continue speaking your best French (or any other language you’re learning!) people will switch back and continue the conversation in French!  

Two study abroad students smiling at the camera in front of a river and a bridge in the background

Amelia and Joeligh Underwood in Paris, France (photo taken by Hannah Young) 

The best way that I learned to get comfortable with practicing French is through daily interactions like in shops and restaurants. I remember struggling to communicate during my first week in France. Wanting to put a shirt on hold at a store was a significant challenge, but looking back, it was a great learning experience. Now, I feel much more confident and less nervous when speaking French to others. Getting comfortable with simple dialogue is a great step towards longer conversations.  

Culture  

Doing some research on cultural differences where you’re going is so important and something I recommend for any country you visit, but especially your study abroad host country. We went over some cultural differences and norms here during my orientation, which was so helpful. There are certainly differences in France – particularly in public – people don’t tend to smile at strangers there and it is expected that everyone is quiet on public transportation, which is so peaceful! You should always say “bonjour” and “au revoir” when you enter and exit a shop and when you’re in a restaurant, you must ask for the check when you want it since you can sit for as long as you want.  

Speaking of restaurants, another wonderful way to engage with culture is through food! In France, bakeries that make bread freshly every day have the label “boulangerie” and if you want a classic baguette, you can order a “baguette traditionnelle.” A lot of people buy their bread and fresh produce daily rather than weekly in France, which is easy to do in Aix. There’s a daily market in the centre ville and there’s a clothing market three times per week as well as a flower market three times a week! I took a French cooking class through CEA CAPA excursions, which was such a fun way to learn more about the food culture there. I loved trying new cheeses and pastries and attempting to make French classics! Visiting the markets, boulangeries, and fromageries is both delicious and immersive.  

Travel  

Being in Europe means that it’s so much easier to travel and go to new countries than it is in the U.S.! One of the best decisions I ever made was prioritizing both getting to know France and traveling outside. I encourage you to get to know the region that you’re in and take advantage of the day trips you can take. For me, this included towns in Provence like Cassis, L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Avignon, Nice, and Montpellier! It’s also easy to bus to the airport and take budget airlines (like RyanAir and EasyJet!) from Marseille airport. It’s only 7 euros to get to the airport from Aix’s Gare Routiere and there are a lot of good flight deals for weekend trips

A study abroad student standing on a building's balcony smiling at the camera

Amelia in Seville, Spain (photo taken by Hannah Young)

Over spring break, I traveled to Spain, Portugal, and Malta, which was such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I also got the opportunity to visit Fez, Morocco which was one of my very favorite locations.  

A study abroad student facing away from the camera in front of a large colorful building

Amelia in Fez, Morocco (photo taken by Nathan DeBoef)

If you do a little research, you can go to countries while they’re having a specific cultural event. One of my highlights was attending a Viennese Ball in the Hofburg Palace in Austria!  

Two study abroad student smiling in front of a body of water

Amelia and Hannah Young in Split, Croatia (photo taken by Sarah Long) 

Traveling both within your host country and to other neighboring countries is such a wonderful learning experience and such a great way to broaden your perspective. As a political science major who is interested in international relations, it has been especially transformative to learn about international perspectives. I had the privilege of visiting the European Union Parliament and NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium as a part of my coursework. I advise anyone interested in global politics and governance to travel, learn, and immerse themselves as much as possible. Every day was so worth it. 


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