Program and Location:
Summer, France: French Language and Culture in Lille & Paris; Paris and Lille, France
Major in Psychology, Minor in French, Biological Sciences
Why did you choose to study abroad?
I chose to study abroad because I have been learning French since I was 8 years old, but I never dreamed of actually traveling to France. I was used to seeing pictures of France in textbooks and movies, but being here at NC State, it was brought to my attention that going to France was an actual possibility. Also, my older sister, Teyara, is an NCSU alum and she regrets never applying to study abroad. So I made it a mission to at least attempt to go. I applied and was accepted, and I am ever so grateful that I took the chance.
What did you learn about yourself?
While abroad, I learned that I actually knew enough French to get around. I walked into grocery stores and I could speak with the cashiers. At restaurants, I could engage with the waiters and waitresses in their native language, which was a major confidence boost. Being in France this summer also allowed me to learn the benefit of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. Many people know that I love to sing, but singing by myself gives me a stage-fright. But there was a cultural night during the program, and I took that as an opportunity to showcase an American song. The program I was in was international, so I was able to take classes and get to know people from all over the world and learn of a great variety of lived experiences. Another thing that I learned was that I am okay with being abroad. This was my first time leaving the U.S. and I was away from family and friends, but I still had an amazing time. I even made a few friends while in France too!
What was one of your favorite parts of your program?
My favorite part of the program, was the fact that the program was international. There were students from all over the world, and we were all there to learn about French culture and language. I was able to take classes, make mistakes, go out to eat, and hang out with so many people from across the globe. We were all able to share in this month-long experience, which can never be re-created, which made it even more special. And that’s what I really treasure from this experience.
What advice do you have to future study abroad students?
If I could give advice to a future study abroad student, it would be to take chances. Take a chance and simply apply. Being at NC State, there are so many wonderful opportunities and this is one of them. Studying abroad is honestly and positively life-changing. You’ll be able to get to know so many people and make friends from other countries. You’ll walk away with a heart full of so many beautiful, priceless memories. So take this chance while you can. Yes, it seems scary to leave the country, but it’s most definitely worth it. And if you’re worried about the costs, there are scholarships here at NC State, and outside scholarships that you can apply for and be a competitive candidate for as well. So take the chance, it’s an incredible experience.
How did your study abroad experience prepare you for your future career?
I am a psychology major, and I am interested in the mental health and development of men and masculine-presenting people. I love to learn and I love the importance of perspective. In regards to mental health and various expressions of masculinity, in order to understand someone’s behavior and thought process, it is imperative to have an understanding of someone’s perspective. So while in France, I was able to interact with French students and French people as a whole, and that allowed me to gain a new perspective of French culture. For example, while hanging out with some young men in Lille, I learned about their view and cultural rules around hugging. Such an embrace is typically reserved for close friends and family, and mainly for the opposite sex, in the opinions of these guys. That is their perspective, and that is one aspect of how they choose to express their masculinity. I found this to be fascinating, and it is engaging experiences like these that I am interested in studying, when it comes to my future career.
In what ways did your identity have an impact on your experience abroad?
I identify as a black male. In France, I will honestly say that I was surprised but amazed seeing black life. It filled me with a sense of pride to see people of color in a European nation, thriving and living, just being themselves speaking a language I’m still in the process of learning (French). I asked around to get a feel of race/ethnicity-relations in France and the answers I received varied, but overall, I learned that France, just as the U.S. and other countries, has areas of needed improvement when it comes to social inequalities. For example, towards the end of the trip, I went into a convenience store, and the store clerk was cautious to not touch my hand because I am a black guy. In another instance, one of my professors said the “n-word” and he didn’t understand why the entire class was upset. Though we all took it as an educational moment, and as a class, we explained to him the history of the word and it’s use and controversy in the U.S.
Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
My advice would be to be who you are, and to be proud of who you are. Embrace your identities, every single one of them. But also make sure that you are in a safe space to do so.
Where did you find support to navigate any challenges you faced abroad?
There were other black students from NC State on this trip with me. So it was nice that I could go to them for support when it comes to my African-American identity. One of my directors, Johanna Montlouis-Gabriel abroad was born in France and identifies as black. She was also a major resource when it came to any questions I had about race and ethnicity relations in France.
Would you do it again?
In a heart beat. I’d actually love to go back to France, or another francophone country for an entire semester.
This post was originally published in Study Abroad.