Student study abroad essay: The education of experience

Katherine Depack studied abroad in France for the second time
Katherine Depack
Studying abroad had always been a desire of mine. Since high school, I wanted to study in France because the teachers and professors who mentored me had grown up with some aspect of French culture in their lives. Their shared experiences fueled my desire to immerse myself into the culture to experience it head on.

Centre d'Études Franco-Américain De Management (CEFAM) interested me because I would be able to study business and French simultaneously. I am an entrepreneurship and international business double major, with a minor in French, so a business school in Lyon was right up my alley. CEFAM’s summer semester started when Rider’s finals weeks began. Let’s just say that I had approximately five hours after accommodating sleep to unpack Rider, pack for CEFAM, and get on a plane.

I have previously been to Paris, but not to Lyon. I preferred Lyon because I admire the countryside more than dense city life. Even though Lyon is the second largest city in France, the pace of life was much slower than Paris. I lived in an apartment by myself, which was something I had never done. There was no meal plan, so I had to cook for myself or go out to eat with classmates. I was surprised at how friendly all of my neighbors in the building behaved. It didn’t matter if you personally knew anybody or not — if two people passed, a bonjour or bonsoir was exchanged. To this day I still don’t know when day turns into evening — I would accidentally say bonjour when it was 8 at night!

CEFAM summer semesters usually have more American study abroad students than natives however, I would have loved to have more time to get to know native students. It didn’t bother me, however, because I enjoyed exploring Lyon, and especially Vieux Lyon, at my own pace. I am fairly independent, so I had no trouble navigating France’s public transit systems to get around. Outside of Lyon, I went to Arles to visit Claire, a friend whom I met online three years ago, then to Paris, Grenoble, Annecy and Paris again. After my semester, I spent another two weeks with Claire in Nice, where we enjoyed hiking with her father and taking a day trip to Monaco.
During my time abroad, I had the opportunity to participate in events that were part of my program. I loved the cultural trip to Beaune where we learned how to conduct a wine tasting, as well as tour a museum that used to be an ancient hospital. At the end of the semester, the class had the opportunity to visit a company warehouse and learn the interior workings of Intersport, a French sporting goods company. 

Outside of my program, I attended Epitanime, a weekend-long anime convention in Paris. I previously knew of this event (grace à Claire) and I was excited to see the differences in how the French run their fan conventions. I was immediately thrust into speaking non-stop French for the entire weekend to the point where my own English sounded foreign to me. 

I am normally timid with speaking French because I do not have the best grammar, but forcing myself into this position helped me get out of my shell. I gradually became comfortable to the point where I didn’t think of my grammatical mistakes, and simply focused on conversations with the new friends I made. A group I met was actually the reason I went to Paris a second time, because they were having an outing in the city while in costume to make short live action films, and they invited me to join them.  
Overall, my experience abroad was something that I doubt I could ever recreate. The friendships I formed while abroad followed me back home. I enjoyed trying new food (especially bread and desserts), quietly exploring my surroundings and being able to live French culture instead of reading about it. I finally got to meet a close friend in person, which only strengthened our bond more. 

I miss the ease of traveling across the country within a few hours. It was incredible to witness cultural differences within France’s geographical regions for a day trip.  However, I don’t miss how the trains sometimes decided to go on strike and mess with my plans. But hey, c’est la vie. 

I loved my experience at CEFAM, and I would gladly attend again if I still had some time before graduating, but being in a classroom does not teach experience. That kind of education is received by going out into the world and embracing it head on.