Who: Cass from London UK (originally Calgary Canada)
Website: www.casstravels.com
When: Jan – June 2007
Where: – Attended Villanova university in Philly normally
– Abroad at IES abroad and university of Nantes in Nantes, France
– Mostly studying French!
cass travels 1
What made you decide that you wanted to participate in a student exchange?
When I was in high school I went abroad alone for the first time when I had the opportunity to spend a summer in France, learning French and exploring the south of France, and I was immediately hooked. Having grown up in Canada, I had been learning French since kindergarten, and my exchange program gave me the perfect opportunity to come back to Europe and really improve my language skills and travel!
How did you choose where you wanted to spend your semester/time abroad?
For me, this was one of the easier choices. Given my past experiences and language, I knew I wanted to be in France. And I knew that I wanted to be in a smaller town rather than Paris, where I’d be forced to use my French and have less of an ‘out’ to stick with English. From there, it was a pretty short list of programs.
Before leaving, what were your expectations for this experience?
I was lucky in that I’d had a previous experience abroad, so I felt fairly prepared. I just remember being excited and thinking about how great my French would be by the end of the trip!
What were your first thoughts upon arrival at your new campus?
This is a school?! The program I was doing was held partially in an IES facility and partially at the local university, and the IES class space was STUNNING. It must have been a grand apartment once upon a time, and was just really visually interesting and cool. It was a very clear moment of I don’t think we’re in Kansas (or in my case, Pennsylvania) anymore.
What were some hurdles that you had to overcome/how did you do it?
For me there were a few things that were tough.

  1. Language Barrier – this one sort of resolved itself over time, but transitioning to living in a different language (in which you are not fluent) is a challenge.
  2. Host Family Living – I was living in a homestay, which was an amazing way to get integrated into the local culture, but you also need to adjust to the family’s customs all while learning a new language. My family was lovely, but there were definitely a few awkward moments to start.
  3. Distance – while it was amazing and wonderful, it also puts you very far from home and from family and friends. I studied abroad before Whatsapp existed, and even facebook was still in its early stages. Communicating and keeping in touch wasn’t easy, and there were definitely moments of homesickness.

Did you notice any major differences between studying at your home country and your host country?
Absolutely. I was attending a small, private University where my largest class size was 30 people, and I walked into a lecture hall of 200 French students. It was a bit intimidating at first. But most of my courses were through IES directly and focused more on French, so that was a bit closer to what I was expecting. The grading scale is completely different as well, and people don’t receive the same sort of high marks I was used to, so that was a bit of a shocker as well (if only to my ego!)
What are some of your favourite memories from your time abroad?
I have so many – from dancing in the streets all night at Carnivale in Barcelona, to quiet Sunday mornings where a friend and I would meet for Crepes, to the first time I started to think and dream in French. I have extremely fond memories of the whole trip.
Did you travel much whilst you were abroad?
One of the joys of being in France, is that you’ve got loads of breaks, so I did a pretty good amount of traveling. Over the semester I went to Paris, London, attended Carnivale in Barcelona, as well as Lisbon, Madrid, Malta, Florence, Milan and Venice, along with exploring the region of France I was in: Bordeaux, the Chateaus in Tours, Normandy and more.
If so, did this travel enhance your experience? Why/why not?
The travel definitely enhanced my experience – it was the first time I’d seen many of those places and brought an exciting element to the trip.
How did this experience change you?
The experience was transformative in a few huge ways – it drastically improved my language skills which opened all sorts of doors, but it also cemented my love for Europe. It took a few years to get back, but I now live in London, and I’m not sure that would be the case if it weren’t for my experience abroad.
Would you recommend other people participate in a student exchange?
Absolutely. Some of my favorite memories are from University, and hugely impactful for me. It forces you out of your comfort zone, and you get the chance to experience something completely different from home.
If so, what is your top reason for why people should study abroad?
I think simply, that everyone should experience a different culture at least once in their life. It gives you such an amazing perspective and allows you to look at things a bit differently. Plus, it’s great fun!
To read about more of Cass’ overseas adventures, be sure to check out her blog on the following sites: