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Study Abroad Stories: Paris

Collage: Exchange student with her family in Paris, Headshot of the Paris exchange student

Name: Mercita B.
Age: 15 (at time of exchange)
Grade: 10th-grade Bac (at time of exchange) 
Location abroad: Paris, France - Exchange Program 
Length of program: 4 months

What motivated you to participate in the program? 

During my middle school years, I heard of numerous exchange programs done through the Lycée to other countries, so it was then that I decided that I wanted to participate in one in France, if possible. As an American attending the Lycée, my only opportunity to speak French is at school in my classes. By going to France, I knew that I would not only be able to learn about another culture and have the experience of a lifetime, but also progress in French. This was the most important aspect for me and even though I did speak some English with certain friends while there, my French greatly improved and I feel more confident with it.

Outside of the classroom, what did you learn from your exchange? In what ways have you changed?

Before leaving for Paris, I was already quite independent, but throughout my time there I definitely got even more independent. Most of the kids that I met there are very independent; always going places on their own, taking the metro everywhere. It was quite interesting to see how kids act and what they do when not in school in another country. I think I have also grown more laid-back as a person. By living in a host family in a city that I am not familiar with, my one job was to try to experience as much as possible. I was able to relax and simply follow my host student around.

What cultural differences did you notice?

During my time in Paris, my lifestyle was pretty different from the one I have here in Chicago.  As I was living in a family, I was able to see how another family operates. I noticed that Paris is a very good city for teenagers; we were able to go everywhere on our own taking the metro. When the weather was nice, we would spend a lot of time outside as there are many public parks and outdoor spots where people can hang out. Another obvious difference was the food. I was in a family with a South African father and a German mother. In result, I was not only able to learn about French, German and South African culture, but also try all the different cuisines as well.

What’s your favorite memory?

I do not think I have a favorite memory, but I remember a day I spent with my class and the other English class on a field trip to Normandy. As a part of our history program, we went and visited some World War II landmarks and a museum. I distinctly remember this day because I met a lot of kids from the other class and made some new friends, as well as saw the north of France which is extremely beautiful. I really loved being able to see all the places and things I had heard of, like Sacre Coeur, the Seine and historical landmarks like la Salle de Jeu de Paume for example, in person.

What advice would you give a student who wants to study abroad?

For any student wanting to study abroad, I say go for it. It is an experience that can only benefit you! My biggest piece of advice would probably be to be open to learning and trying new things and living in a different way, and to try to go with the flow. I was slightly worried about meeting new people as I have been at the Lycée since Kindergarten, but everyone was very nice and wanted to get to know me. If you make the effort to try and get to know others and learn about their culture, they will do the same in return.

What was it like to live with a host family? What was it like attending classes at a high school in France?

It is very interesting to get to see how another family lives and be introduced to a different dynamic. My host family was extremely nice and excited about having me there. They brought me all around Paris and even to Germany to visit their family over the break and made my experience a great one. I was very lucky and got to do an exchange with Rosalie, who is now one of my best friends. We got to spend almost eight months together (my time in Paris and her time in Chicago) and this was definitely the best part of the exchange!

As for the school, the major difference was how big it was. Lycée Honoré de Balzac in Paris has about 250 kids per grade and each class has about 30 students. At first, it was a bit intimidating to be in a class that big, but once I got used to it, it was fine. This allowed me to meet more people! The other difference was the schedule. The hours did not change much, but we did not have classes on Wednesday afternoons and we did have classes Saturdays mornings, which was quite an adjustment at first.

How has this experience influenced you?

This experience has helped me realize how much I love traveling and learning about new cultures. I plan on attending college somewhere in Europe and can definitely picture myself living in Paris again one day. The school I attended was international so the majority of its students are bilingual in French and English, Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese or Arabic. Meeting so many people of different backgrounds, speaking different languages and having different cultures really inspired me to explore more in the future and to learn more languages. I still can not believe that I spent four months away from my family in another country! This was definitely one of my favorite experiences so far and I learned so many new things throughout it. I do not think I will every forget the experiences I had and the people I met, they are all so special to me.