Student Spotlight: A Semester in Paris, France
The Office of Global Education supports many students while they study abroad, but taking classes abroad is not all that MU students do. Our university partners and other program providers around the world give students the chance for a once in a lifetime international experience.
Meet Caitlyn, a senior at Millersville University studying International Studies with a minor in French. This past Fall 2015 semester she boarded a plane to Paris, France to study for a year at MU’s partner program the American Business School of Paris to fulfill one of her life-long dreams of becoming fluent in French. Read her responses below about her experience thus far and how her time abroad is evolving her perspective of the world.
Get to Know Caitlyn
Name: Caitlyn Bordon
Major and/or Minor: International Studies and French
Host University/Program: American Business School
Host City, Country: Paris, France
Time period abroad: 2015-2016 Academic Year
Why did you choose to study abroad in France?
I started learning French when I was twelve years old and fell in love with the beautiful language; I promised my dad that one day I would be fluent. What better way to become proficient than to go to the country and immerse yourself in the culture and way of life?
What is your favorite part about studying abroad so far? What is your least favorite?
I adore living with my host family. We have excellent culture clashes all the time when they think something I am doing is absurd, and vice versa. I learn so much about subtle cultural norms, my French has improved immensely, and I have had the pleasure of trying home cooked French cuisine. They have made this first semester such a rich experience, even if they do find my adoration for peanut butter absolutely repulsive.
The French culture is in and of itself a rich and vibrant thing. Unfortunately, it is very hard to break into. I have found it difficult to befriend French people, it is a culture that values the amount of time you have known a person over the shared experiences or conversations had in a shorter period. This has meant that my lack of permanence here has hindered friendship-making. But I persist in trying to connect with people!
Describe something you did for the first time or a specific memory that you have about your time abroad.
I have never before been to a professional soccer (football!) match. I was able to do that for the first time on November 13th when I saw Germany and France play. Germany is my team so it really was a dream come true to see them, even if they did play horribly and lost to France. There is nothing quite like the atmosphere of one of these games, I loved it! French people are generally not very patriotic, but whatever sense of nationalism lies below the surface here came exploding out in this sports event which was a joy to witness.
Did you get the chance to travel outside of your host country?
The only time I left France was for a long weekend in Scotland. It was excellent. I loved everything about Scotland, a gorgeous country with delightful people and history. The University town of St. Andrews is like something out of a movie! This winter I will be heading back to the UK, to Wales and Ireland. I have high expectations.
What do you miss most about the U.S.? Are you looking forward to anything in particular when you come home?
The thing I miss the most is people. I love my friends back home in the States and being away from family is never too fun for me. So I am glad I get to go home and see them all, and I cannot wait to be back for summer in Lancaster city.
Everyone loves food. Did you have any interesting dishes while abroad? Did you love or hate them?
My host mom is an excellent chef; she makes wonderful food from all over the francophone world, from Reunion Island to the South of France. One unfortunate meal, however, was a major hit with my host brother, and an absolute trial to swallow for me. Pinkish, warmish, pureed fish spread on bread, it’s tough to ruin French bread but this certainly did!
What is something you’ve seen abroad that you would never see happening at Millersville?
The school hosts major parties! The University itself is instrumental in the organizing, supporting and creation of major events. In fact, just a few weeks before the horrific terror attacks on Paris, my school rented out the entire Bataclan Theatre for a huge integration party. It was a bit surprising to me at first that the school would host such events, but as I have come to understand youth culture more here, it makes all the more sense to me, and actually is quite a cool opportunity to meet my peers in a very different environment.
What is your favorite part about being in such an international and culturally diverse city like Paris? Has this helped refine your worldview at all?
Cultural diversity to me is like warm weather and a sea breeze, I always want to be around it; soothing and exciting at the same time. In one conversation there can be three language shifts, two miscommunication and a host of questions raised as we discover each other’s traditions and mannerisms. I love this. Paris is a big city made up of a patchwork of littler neighborhoods, each with a distinct culture. These come together under the banner of Paris and French, and the product is this exciting, globalized atmosphere. My favorite time to observe this is on the Metro: a vigilant eavesdropper can spot an array of languages, styles, etiquettes, etc. It is magnificent. It only makes me want to travel more.
Due to the recent events in Paris, how have you been impacted, has your view of the U.S. or France changed?
The horrific war in Syria and across the Middle East has seemed so far from us all this time but it really is not far at all, it is at our doorstep. This realization has changed the way I think. I need my life to impact people for the better; I need to get involved, to stay informed, and to be present. I think this lit a fire under me and inspired what I would like to dedicate my life to doing.
The recent events in Paris were certainly eye opening, and very discomforting. We don’t like to be reminded that we’re mortal, but it is important that we know we are. At the time, I did not realize how close I was to mortal danger but in the days since I have had plenty of time to think about all the ways that night could have ended differently, gone totally wrong for me. In the same stride, however, I have resolved to not be shaken. As someone who believes in Jesus and the freedom he provides from slavery to the fear of death, I refuse to allow acts of terror to hinder my life; I need not be enslaved to this fear that I may die. People have had to carry on as life resumed all around Paris and this is as it should be. Even as I write this, I am sitting in a café across the street from two of the attack locations, cafés now covered with flowers, candles, and memorial images and words. Pedestrians stop to take a photo and be silent for a moment, but then they keep walking to their destinations. They keep going, we keep going.
How has your perspective of International Studies changed after taking classes abroad? Were there any classes that you really enjoyed or helped you think about your field of study in a different way?
My classes have been quite euro-centric, a good change of pace from the US-perspective that we get so used to back home. My favorite class has been one on the art movement of Impressionism in France in the late nineteenth century. The movement is full of such important works and is responsible for a lot of the changes we see in the art world. Getting familiar with these works in the vary place they were created has been exciting for me. My international economics class has also been extremely fascinating in giving me an understanding basis for a lot of the institutions and economic dilemmas across the world today.
Why should other MU students study abroad?
There really is nothing else quite like it. It is an opportunity to be in a student environment, which is already unique, surrounded by customs and ways of life that are unusual and rich. If you are open to being uncomfortable for a few months the payoff is huge. Yes, I miss my family and friends. Yes, sometimes I just want to leave. At the same time, every day is something new. Every person I encounter is someone I never would have if I had not decided to come here, every friend I make, food I taste, place I go, the list goes on and on. Travelling opens the world up, my options for what I can do seem to broaden with every new place to which I go, even if that place is just a new neighborhood in this magnificent city.