Excerpt from the blog of Abby Schiff (Harvard): “American in Paris”
The Khannoucca dinner with Anais’s family. Anais, my friend from Yom Kippur, me and my mother over to dinner to celebrate Hanukkah in a family atmosphere. They are absolutely lovely people. We ventured out into the banlieue (sometimes sketchy suburbs), but of course they live in a perfectly nice neighborhood, and were warmly welcomed into a gathering of 22 people. The meal was delicious, we all took a little “Hanukkah quiz”, and everyone got presents, even the two of us. We got to share in lively discussions of art, politics, and marine biology (Anais’s major) and meet her actor grandfather whose parents were deported from Paris in the Holocaust. It was a nice sense of getting to know the Jewish community here in more complexity. We stayed the night, and talked politics with her parents in the morning.
Wandering around Paris. We hit up: rue Mouffetard (a great student hangout street with everything you could ever want), Shakespeare and Company the paradise for book-lovers, Boulevard St-Michel, and the Marais for its falafel and Hanukkah spirit.
Other things I’ve done in the past few weeks:
Strasbourg. I went out to the city in the East of France for a long day Thanksgiving- in Paris! It was a pretty surreal experience- no vacation, no family gathering, no decorations, no cranberries, which are almost impossible to find in France. But there was a turkey. The AYA directrice, Madame Schneersohn, invited all of us, plus some of her family and friends, over for Thanksgiving dinner. The director of AYA in the US had sent over Thanksgiving-themed paper plates, cups and napkins, and the non-vegetarians enjoyed homemade turkey and stuffing, while the vegetarians ate mashed potatoes, cucumber slices, and baby carrots. (This was one of the few occasions where I’ve felt like breaking vegetarianism- but I held out.) It was very nice to see all the AYA people, and to catch up on the adventures of some people I hadn’t seen in weeks.
Another big development- through the UEJF (French Hillel) website, I discovered Israeli dancing classes, and I’ve now gone to two of them. As I thought, it’s been a good way to get to know French Jewish students, and have a peek at how the Jewish community here works. The classes meet in the Marais on the second floor of a building with a shop on the ground floor, and are taught by a 22-year-old student and her 19-year-old brother. After the first class, I went out to dinner with a group of six to try what claims to be (and I can believe it) the best falafel in Paris at “L’As de Fallafel”, or the Ace of Falafels. I worked out a conversation arrangement with a guy named Michael, who’s 19 and in his second year of “prepa” or preparation to get into a grande ecole. So on Saturday, I went over to his house (he lives a few blocks away from me), and we helped each other with our French/English, first speaking in English for an hour- I wrote down expressions he didn’t know- and then for the rest of the time in French. Somehow the conversation turned to philosophy, fractals, and politics; he’s a very neat guy.
After a full semester in Sorbonne classes, I decided I wanted to challenge myself more this semester. I’m taking five classes: two at the Sorbonne, one at the Institut Catholique, and two with the AYA program at Reid Hall. The Institut Catholique is a private university which offers classes on religion, for the reason that France is strictly secular and will not use public money for religious purposes. (It’s interesting to see how this contrasts with the US; one result of this “laicite” is the ban on head scarves in public schools.) Besides religion, it also has very good philosophy and political science departments, and has a more American-style feel with smaller classes and more teacher-student interaction. I’m taking a class there called “History of International Relations since 1945″, with an excellent teacher who also teaches at Sciences Po, France’s grande ecole for politics. It’s been a very compelling class, and has introduced me to a subject I really don’t know much about from a non-American perspective. Actually, I’m preparing a presentation on the results of 9/11 from a French perspective; it’s a good exercise in changing my point of view. At the Sorbonne, I’m taking a class on Impressionist art history; this is absolutely the best place to study it, and I’m enjoying my free admission into the Musee d’Orsay. I’m also taking a translation class with French students in the English department; we translate from French to English and English to French. It’s harder than I thought; think translating a passage from “Lolita” into French and trying to keep the poetry and connotations, or a hymn, preserving the rhyme scheme and level of language. Still, it’s nice to have the other kids in the class, and even the teacher asking me what sounds natural to me as a native English speaker. Finally, at Reid Hall, I’m taking the continuation of the French Cinema class (I’m auditing it) and a class on the Fifth Republic and French political history, which is coming in handy as the presidential election gets closer and closer.
I’m continuing to enjoy the AYA cultural excursions, and I’ve been adding on to them on my own. We’ve seen two concerts, one by the Sorbonne orchestra last night, and several plays, including a fantastic performance of “Le malade imaginaire” by Molière and the famous “Cyrano de Bergerac”, both at the Comédie Francaise. I recently started going to the free medieval music concerts at the Musée Cluny, which feature period instruments like the rebec (a string instrument), a sort of saxophone made of horn, a zither, and shells rubbed together. Two nights ago, I attended a comedy festival called “Rire contre le racisme”, which featured black, Arab and Jewish comedians and singers banding together against racism and the divisions often found in French society. It was a great window into French popular culture, and an event that showed the willingness for change, as well as being enjoyable. I was able to exercise my newfound knowledge of “verlan”, the French slang that inverses syllables of words, which some of my French friends have taught me. The comedians used words like “guedin” for “dingue” or crazy, “chelou” for “louche” (ugly), “moeuf” for “femme”, and “roeum” for “mère”. C’est un truc tout guedin, quoi? (It’s a really cool thing, right?)
Abby Schiff, Harvard
“My Spring Semester 2008 in Paris was not the experience most kids have abroad because of AYA. The program is designed to be as personal as possible. As the months go by you bond with other AYA students and soon realize that a small family has been formed of Anglophone students determined to be immersed in Paris.
“AYA is the best liaison for whatever goals or needs a student may have while abroad. Their Director in the Paris office [Paule Schneersohn] is very concerned and understanding of students. She also has a sense of humor and is more than willing to listen to you explain yourself in simple French while helping you improve your language skills. Thanks to her years of experience, she has an excellent sense of what most kids want out of their time abroad. She has very close relationships with the host families and teachers and is always available to check-in on the students –something that becomes valuable as the semester progresses. All of my friends had loving and welcoming host families, interesting academic courses and constantly went to cultural events hosted by AYA or encouraged by AYA.
“The Paris office is located in a beautiful courtyard, secluded from the hustle and bustle of Montparnasse’s hectic boulevards. The Director will take you in, answer any questions you have and help you take care of any bureaucratic dilemmas you may fall into.
“Through an arrangement made with AYA, I interned for four paid months translating articles form French into English at a small design company located in the heart of the Marais. Had AYA not helped me that opportunity would not have been available, nor could I have attempted to handle the necessary procedures on my own.
“I will always cherish my months spent in Paris. I feel like I experienced tremendous personal growth abroad. This would not have been the case had I been only a number in a large program.”
Abigail Napp, Bard College
“I regret that I studied with AYA Study Abroad for a semester… instead of an entire year. My semester in Paris with AYA Study Abroad was an experience that I can best describe as unexpected. It was unexpectedly my favorite semester thus far, and I am already researching ways to return after graduation.
“When I first decided to go to France for the semester, I didn’t quite know where to go. I thought Paris was overrated, something everyone did. I debated going to Nantes or Paris, Montpellier or Grenoble. To begin, I went on the Yale study abroad website and researched study abroad programs that other Yale students had already participated in. Then I contacted former students and asked for their advice. I chose Paris based not only on the recommendations of other Yale students who studied abroad in France, but also professors and the French study abroad advisor for Yale. I was confronted with these questions and realities: “What better place to study and learn French culture than Paris?” “What better city to live in?” “Don’t you want to experience Paris, the loveliest city in the world?” I was convinced.
“I choose AYA Study Abroad, in Paris, for one reason—the direct enrollment programs at local universities. It’s one of the qualities of AYA Study Abroad that I think distinguishes it from the multitude of other study abroad programs in Paris. This was really important to me. I wanted the opportunity to take all of my classes at French universities, with French students, with French professors. I did not want to have classes with American students taught by American French-speaking professors. I could get that at Yale. I wanted full immersion and more of a challenge. And I got it. This past semester, I studied at both the Institut Catholique de Paris and the Université de Paris-Sorbonne. At the Institut Catholique I took two political science classes and in both classes the professors lectured, but also left time for questions and dialogue. At the Sorbonne I took history and translation. Taking courses from both universities was demanding; I was dually challenged to comprehend students—who spoke softly and quickly—as well as professors. And since my classes were on average three hours long, I was challenged to stay focused and alert. All the ways French universities differ from their American counterparts quickly became apparent: the way students are graded and the demands on students throughout the semester. While I choose AYA for the chance to enroll at Parisian universities and the opportunity was rewarding, I’ll remember AYA for the people—the staff and the other students.
“During my first few moments in Paris, I met Sarah Yvé. “Bienvenue,” she said, in her lovely French accent. I remember that she was extremely patient, clear and friendly as she introduced herself and explained the schedule for the first day. It was a huge relief to me that Sarah was there to meet me at the airport and arrange for my travel into Paris. At a moment when I felt fatigued, overwhelmed and excited, I appreciate the steps AYA took to make the transition more comfortable and easy. Furthermore, I recall that when I first began to choose classes, Sarah had useful commentary and advice. I think Sarah is an invaluable part of AYA Study Abroad because she was once me. She once studied abroad in Paris which allowed her to relate to our frustrations, fears, and confusion. The other invaluable piece of AYA is of course, La Directrice.
“Madame Paule Schneersohn was always there to answer all my questions. She was always there to simply chat. She consistently and thoughtfully inquired about my experience and sent frequent e-mails to all the students about not-to-miss cultural activities. She even arranged for me to continue my Hindi studies at other language institution while in Paris. Additionally, I must thank Madame Schneersohn for recommending my translation class. The professor was young, a perfectionist and a meticulous grader. But, he reminded me of what I love most about languages; the phrases that are untranslatable. It was my favorite class. Finally, I must mention Thanksgiving as further evidence of AYA’s and Madame Schneersohn’s commitment to providing the best possible experience for us in Paris. I have spent every Thanksgiving of my life with my family, but this year I did not feel like anything or anyone was missing, because I had the chance to celebrate with AYA. I know that other study abroad programs took their students out to fancy dinners for Thanksgiving. But my Thanksgiving dinner was hand prepared by Madame Schneersohn and my Thanksgiving dinner was delicious.
“The other students who participated in AYA were another memorable part. I first met the other students participating in AYA Study Abroad during orientation week. A welcome dinner on the first day was the first time we were all together. It was nice. In retrospect, I can now appreciate that my first few nights were spent at a hotel with the other students in my program, instead of in my homestay. It gave us a chance to get to know each other, early on. I can honestly say that my two roommates from the first few nights in Paris became my best friends in Paris. As a foreign student—for the first time in my life!—it was these newly-made American friends who were my base.
“I believe orientation ran smoothly. The guided tours with Madame Françoise were interesting. She knew a lot about French history, culture and art. In fact, during a tour around Paris with Madame Françoise, I discovered an interesting shopping street that I later rediscovered for my holiday shopping. Another person I met during orientation was Madame Marie Louise Le Guern, a very sweet and welcoming French woman. The grammar tests with her were beneficial because they reminded me of my strengths and weaknesses in French and reminded me of long-forgotten French grammar rules. It was a good refresher before classes began.
“I would advise any student studying abroad to stay with a host family. I loved my host family. I lived with a mom and her son. The son happened to be just one week older than me. He made it so much easier to interact with other French students my age. Through him I made many French friends. Additionally, the mom was très gentille. I was fortunate that she was an exceptional cook as well, and she often had dinner guests. Through these dinner parties and holiday parties, I experienced la vrai culture française. Surprisingly, it was not long before it started to feel like home….
“The affordable cost of AYA, the direct registration programs, and the staff all make AYA a program that stands ahead of its peers. AYA Study Abroad is a program that I would gladly endorse, and plan to. Because for me, AYA was a perfect fit.”
Deeona Gaskin, Yale
“My semester in Paris was one of the best, most rewarding times of my life, in large part facilitated by the excellent support and independence built into the AYA program. I found AYA’s small size to be one of its greatest advantages; unlike in other programs, we were able to get to know everyone in our program and we received a lot of personal attention from Madame Schneersohn, our directrice, and her assistant. Madame Schneersohn was always available to discuss any problem, and her extensive knowledge and experience was a great resource for us as we adjusted to the Parisian environment.
“I also enjoyed the freedom given to us in choosing our courses; I was able to take a perfect balance of Parisian university courses at the Sorbonne and Institut Catholique, supplemented with program-run classes at Reid Hall. Course choices are more or less up to the individual, making it simple to tailor the intensity level to whatever is desired. As a result of this independence, I was able to take a wide range of courses covering lots of interesting subjects, including impressionist art, French film, the history of the Middle East, and contemporary problems of Africa.
“Because of its small size, AYA is not plagued with the bureaucratic tendencies or the political issues of larger programs. I really enjoyed the family-like atmosphere of our soirees and group outings, there was never any group tension or drama, and overall, our program activities were less like supervised school field trips and more like going out with friends.
“If I had to do it all over again, I would choose AYA with no hesitation, and I would highly recommend the program to everyone looking to study abroad in Paris. Great homestays, flexible course choices, plenty of independence, and personal attention and warmth from the AYA staff. What more could you ask for?
“To conclude, I will not regret anything about my study abroad experience in Paris, least of all my choice of AYA as a program, which provided a perfect balance between guidance and freedom and allowed us to explore the city and French culture at will.”
Julie Hunter, Harvard
“This weekend was wonderful! My friends, Toby, McKey, and I took a day trip to Chartres (about an hour train ride outside of Paris). Chartres has a beautiful cathedral that is supposed to be the most beautiful representation of Gothic architecture. And it was! The Notre Dame doesn’t even compare to how beautiful the Chartres Cathedral was. I do not understand why it isn’t more famous. And the town was so cute and picturesque! It was an amazing day trip! We went to the cathedral, climbed to the top, saw a very beautiful view of Chartres, and then just walked around and explored the town! There were a lot of cute botiques. They were quite expensive though so we didn’t do much shopping. But we, of course, got a dessert. I would move to France simply for the desserts. They are amazing. Donuts in American do not even compare to the treats they have here! I would eat one every single day if I could. But I usually only allow myself one dessert a week. My favorite are the tartes. They are little mini pie crusts with a ton of fresh fruit on top. You can get them with just one kind of fruit or an assortment of fruits. My favorite are the assortments. And the eclairs are delicious also! And you can’t forget the croissants! Yum! Most days that is my lunch – a peice of fruit and a croissant
“Halloween was also a wonderful night! Toby took us to meet her friend from her Sociology class, Andre. And Andre introduced us to a lot of people throughout the night. Toby dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood and even carried around a basket with candy that she gave out to people who were wearing costumes. McKey dressed up as an elf and even super-glued her ears so that they were pointy! It looked awesome. I didn’t really dress up much. I am not really a dresser-upper for Halloween. But I wore all black and I said that I was “French” for Halloween. We had so much fun! We met a lot of other Americans and we ended up going out with them all night. It was a ton of fun!
“Today is very rainy and cold. I am afraid to venture outside. But, unfortunately, I have to go out there sometime because I need to eat dinner. There’s lots of homework to do today. I have a test on Wednesday in my French Literature class on two books that are in French. I am very nervous because I can comprehend the books but there is a lot of symbolism and hidden meanings and I’m not quite sure if I understand all of the hidden things. Also, I have a paper due on Friday. It’s a 2 page essay on either a book that I read in French of a personal experience that I’ve had so far in France. I think I am going to write about the cafes. Because that is my favorite part about France because people just can’t do stuff like that in America. People can’t just sit in a cafe all day long and do nothing but watch people go by and think about things. Everyone has to be out and about doing stuff. I mean, it’s wonderful because at home I get a lot more done in a day than I do here. But at the same time, it’s nice to take it slow and to not worry about things so much and relax while watching the day go by. It’s a very different life-style. Neither one is better. They are just very different.”
JoAnn Deibele, Ripon College
“I attend the University of California at San Diego, and before AYA Paris I attended a [program other than AYA’s], which left much to be desired. The academic offerings were weak and the living situation was questionable, so I decided to forego a second semester and started looking at other options. After careful research, I picked AYA, because I wanted to get the most out of my experience in Paris. To me, that meant that I wanted to take classes in French with other French students, live with a French family, and have the freedom to explore the city. AYA didn’t disappoint. It offered all of the above as well as an experienced support system with my program office. I knew that the program director, Mme Schneersohn, and her assistant Sarah were there for me if I ever had a question, needed help, or just someone to talk to. They placed me with a great family, and Mme Schneersohn made sure to check in to see that everything worked out. AYA offered me the chance to shape my experience in Paris beyond the confines of the [other program’s] office, and helped me make the most of my spring semester abroad.”
Gabrielle Manchester, University of California, San Diego
“My time spent in France will be included in my most dear memories. I had the opportunity to see first hand a national culture, but I was also exposed to different worldwide cultures. AYA’s program, having included students from other parts of the world and bringing them to Paris allowed me to have a multicultural learning experience within Paris. Even though I am back within the states, I still have contact and connections with friends I have made from various countries.
“Other multicultural experiences I enjoyedwere the performances we attended. It was interesting watching a Russian play and a Spanish flemenco dance performance in Paris.
“The best times I enjoyed were not the ones I was expecting nor the ones I was anxious or nervous about. The best times were the ones I had no clue I would get the opportunity to learn about. There were many cross-cultural ideologies and feelings that I did not expect to encounter. Nevertheless, the surprise and excitement of figuring them out made the effort to encounter them worthwhile. I strongly suggest this program to anyone who is interested and ready to experience another culture.”
Ceretta Edwards, Ripon College
“After having spent a year in Paris on the AYA program, I am thoroughly convinced that it is one of the best of its kind in the city, thanks in large part to its exceptional directrice. Mme Schneersohn allowed her students as much liberty as we desired, yet she was always available to assist us with any concern, be it academic, bureaucratic, or personal. She is an extremely open and caring woman with years of valuable experience and sound advice. She helped me on a number of occasions and greatly surpassed my expectations. I cannot say enough good things about her and consequently the program.
“My home stay was also an extremely positive and enriching experience. I had the good fortune to live with a truly remarkable Parisian woman who introduced me to a number of interesting people and who took an active interest in me. Thanks to her, I learned much about the Parisian art de vivre and life in the capital.
“In short, AYA is an outstanding program that allowed me to spend the richest, most memorable year of my life as a student in a city that I will likely always regard as my home abroad.”
Gregory Zitterkob, University of Kansas
“My year in Paris with AYA under the caring guidance of Mme Schneersohn has been [a] rewarding and unforgettable experience.
“I was very happy with the degree of flexibility we were given in choosing courses. The course load and difficulty could be tailored [to] suit our needs and expectations. The directrice, Mme Schneersohn, has a wealth of knowledge regarding which lecturers were particularly good, and which TD [travaux dirigés] professors should be avoided. On top of courses at the Paris IV and Institut Catholique, AYA also offered grammar classes and writing workshops which I found very useful.
“Aside from the academic side, Mme Schneersohn was always ready and eager to help in all aspects of our stay in Paris, be it finding cooking classes or helping us try and find some extra work experience. AYA gave us the advantage of independence while providing us with all the care, support and guidance when needed.”
Ka-Yen Hung, Yale University
“I greatly appreciated the flexibility that we were given with regard to the discipline, level, and number of courses that we were allowed to take. I also valued the fact that we were enrolled in regular French classes and got an authentic taste of what it is like to study here [in Paris] rather than being burdened with “cours complémentaires” filled with Americans…. “Judicious” is probably also a very apt expression to describe the choice of cultural activities…. I was very impressed with the fact that Mme. Schneersohn chose the events after studying our profiles…. The general functioning of the program proved to be smooth and well-directed. In Mme. Schneersohn you have an absolute jewel of a directrice. I will never forget the warmth and kindness with which she received me upon my arrival in Paris, the reassurance with which she diffused my nervousness. She is truly a woman who loves students and has a singular understanding of the inter-personal relationships among them.”
Jason R. D’Cruz, Yale University
“Unlike so many other study abroad programs, in which students are restricted to classes with other Americans and have little opportunity for interactions outside the program, AYA gives you the support and independence to pursue any of the thousands of courses, activities, and seminars offered for French students in a wide range of universities throughout Paris. During my time in the program, I took classes not only in French literature and history, but also in Russian, Serbo-Croatian, and Romanian at the faculty of languages at the Sorbonne. I knew others who took voice, translation, or even English literature. It is really a question of making up a curriculum that suits your needs and interests, rather than being handed a generic, “student-tourist” one. The charming AYA directrice, Madame Schneersohn, helped me sort through the legendary French bureaucracy involved with taking courses in different institutions, registering for exams, and getting official grades. She also organized, as she does each year, a series of high-level courses designed only for AYA students-courses that are entirely optional. When I was in Paris, I took courses in the history of French film, taught by a well-known French director, a high-level grammar course, and a workshop in phonetics and pronunciation. This year I am completing a Master’s Degree at the Sorbonne in Anthropology, something I probably would not have even contemplated without the skills and experiences I gained during my year with AYA!”
Tod Hartman, Pennsylvania State University/Université de Paris-Sorbonne
“When I was considering Paris study abroad programs last fall, I made a list of important considerations for my time abroad. These included, above all, affordability, access to a variety of coursework at French universities, and a stated emphasis on student independence. AYA not only fulfilled all of these considerations, but, as I would find out, also provided many more priceless resources. The AYA Directrice, Madame Paule Schneersohn, would certainly fall under the term “priceless.” From the first day of my trip, when she helped me in my search for a studio, to the last week of classes, when she spent much time correcting and critiquing my final history essay, Mme. Schneersohn provided warmth, wisdom, and always a reassuring word on life. I feel lucky to have spent so many hours in her office, chatting in French, discussing her insider views on politics, culture, education. She is an extremely kind and intelligent person, and easily the greatest asset of the AYA program. . . . I met many Americans in Paris on other study abroad programs who could not believe [how little] I was paying for essentially the same education [as they were receiving]. AYA is clearly the best value of any American program in Paris. Finally, AYA facilitates the gift of an independent semester or year in Paris. By providing the basics in course registration, a supportive Directrice, the occasional cultural excursion, the program allows the student to discover everything else as an independent adult would. The sites, the streets rich with history, the feel of an ever-vibrant world city: these are the elements that one is free to explore as part of AYA in Paris.”
Patrick Hazelton, Yale University
“The [Paris] program, it seems, has found quite a fortunate balance of providing the students with care, direction, and assistance that they need, and at the same time offering them freedom to follow their own initiative…. I felt secure and comfortable, mostly due to the help and guidance of Mme. Paule Schneersohn. She is truly excellent…. However, Mme. Schneersohn went beyond simply being an excellent program advisor. She also took initiative to establish a more personal connection with every one of her students. Each of us interested her as an individual…. [Yet] I never felt too sheltered, or separated from the rest of Paris. I think this type of protected freedom is one of the most important advantages of coming to Paris with AYA.”
“The [Paris] program is very well assembled, and at the same time offers a liberty of movement that I did not find in any other program with which I came into contact or heard about. Most importantly, my language skills saw a 100% improvement through the help of [AYA Directrice] Schneersohn and my host mother…. The cultural activities: I would recommend to anyone choosing the AYA Paris program to spend the little extra and enroll in this part. The diversity of the shows, as well as their overall quality, adds a new dimension to this city which is already known for its abundance of examples in fine art…. My host family: I lived with an excellent woman who not only gave me lots of good advice and presented me to interesting people with whom I was able to create rapports, but she has also become a good friend. She helped me greatly improve my French, and she was both caring and understanding, without being for that an overbearing mother figure…. [Madame Schneersohn’s] enthusiasm, her continuing interest in our academic and social lives, her accessibility: all this made us, her students, consider her a person of trust and an important “point d’appui” that put the finishing touches on an already overwhelmingly striking experience…. [The AYA Paris experience] has changed my life, as it will, I’m sure, many others.”
Tanya Winkler, Bard College
“I feel privileged to be writing a recommendation for AYA because I truly believe it is one of the most rewarding programs available to juniors studying abroad. It is small, inexpensive, and very personal, thanks to the wonderful direction of Madame Schneerson. During our four months in Paris, we were given complete freedom to experience the city as we saw fit, but always with the comforting knowledge that should any problems arise, Madame Schneerson would be there to help. She gave us advice on which Sorbonne classes and teachers were most worthwhile, she helped us edit our papers, and she even helped me find work so I could stay in Paris over the summer.
Most importantly, though, Madame Schneerson was extremely careful in choosing our French families, taking into account our hobbies, interests, and living preferences. I was paired with a large family in central Paris – the food was superb and the exposure to French culture second-to-none. On the weekends, I played sports with the teenage sons and their friends, went to dance clubs and movies with the eldest daughter, and attended classical music concerts with the younger kids. I even spent a few days with the family at their vacation home in Normandy.
Over the course of the semester, I learned what life is like as a French student attending a French university and living in a French home. Few other programs can offer such total immersion, which is why I credit AYA with making my Parisian experience so incredibly rewarding.”
Andrew Johnson, Yale University
“Thanks to AYA, my semester in Paris was a truly rewarding experience. The program showed great flexibility in terms of course options and selection, and students were able to take real university classes with French students. Though we were certainly given our independence, we could always rely on Mme. Schneersohn’s help and guidance. Accessible, knowledgeable, and highly competent, Mme. Schneersohn proved an invaluable resource and a wonderful friend from the moment she greeted us at the airport. She was able to recommend the best professors and spent many hours with me discussing and editing my papers. When I needed to change the date of an exam, she convinced the course administrator to give me a different date. She even helped me find material for a personal research project. AYA provides a level of flexibility, affordability, and personal attention that American college students can really appreciate. I highly recommend it.”
Michael Marco, Yale University
“L’avantage le plus prisé (et peut-être celui dont on ne s’aperçoit pas), je crois, est le sentiment d’indépendance que l’on ressent. Bien entendu, la charmante directrice, Mme Schneersohn, vous accueuillera et vous donneras des conseiils pertinents, mais juste dans la mesure du nécessaire. Vous ne vous sentirez jamais à l’écart du programme et pourtant personne ne vous prendra comme un enfant gêté non plus. L’expérience de “study abroad” qui vous est offerte sera tantêt intimidante tantêt valorisante. Cela dit, vous n’avez rien à craindre, le soutien scolaire, personnel, quel qu’il soit est toujours là si vous en avez besoin.
Vous vous trouverez ainsi dans le cadre d’un programme bien fouillé, bien structuré qui se charge de subvenir à tous vos besoins et de combler toutes vos lacunes et à la fois vous serez au sein d’une vie citadine, passionnante et particulière qu’on mettrait indubitablement au plus haut rang parmi les grandes villes culturelles du monde. Et pour en profiter, il n’est pas question du tout de demeurer un enfant gêté, de se tenir à l’écart de la vraie vie parisienne, en suivant des cours conçus pour des américains, en vivant dans un cloître et ses environs ce qui est bien le cas avec d’autres programmes peut être….”
Darryl Wee, Harvard University
“I found the [AYA Paris] program to be very enriching. I enjoyed my semester and had an excellent family whom I greatly benefited from. I would do it all over again, but I would stay the whole year!”
Danielle Zalewski, Ripon College
Excerpts from the blog of Christopher Kochanski: Christopher Takes On España
There’s No Bull About It…
So today I attended my first bullfight, and let me tell you, I’ve caught the bug! It was amazing, a little sad for the bull—I say this not because I was sad that those matadores killed it, but because I felt it was a rather unfair fight… Let’s be honest, we all know who’s gonna win- let’s make it a little more interesting. I feel bullfights could benefit greatly by not having around 10 apprentice matadores in the ring, just itching to bail the head honcho out of trouble, should it come his way. Or at least give the bull a friend in the ring.. a duel bullfight- that would be something to see. At the bare minimum, sharpen their horns or something, give that little guy a fighting chance! Oh well.
Apart from my perception of an unfair fight, I really enjoyed myself. I was a little cramped and my seat was in the second highest row… but it was still fun. An older couple was sitting in front of me, and walking me through what was happening. One of the most ‘interesting’ things I learned was, if the matador is able to kill the bull with one sword (after the bull is sufficiently tired out and stabbed by the apprentice matadores), he is awarded the bull’s ear as a trophy…
Well, I think that about does it for my bull fighting excursion…
La Noche en Blanco
This past Saturday was the yearly culture and fine arts festival of Madrid, “La Noche en Blanco.” And let me tell you, it was quite the sight to be seen. From 11pm Saturday night to about 7am on Sunday morning, the people of Madrid wandered the streets, happening upon the hundreds of activities that the city had to offer. Every museum, theater, gallery, concert hall, etc. was open to the public (for free, of course) and the greater majority of them put on a street performance!
My ‘noche en blanco’ began with an event called “Burro Grande” which was simply a huge donkey (2 dimensional, of course, but well over 100 feet tall) then continued in the Royal Botanical Gardens with an event called “Verde.” The entirety of the gardens were lit up with green lights and all of the trees were adorned with IV bags and medical tubing full of green water! Yeah, it was a little strange…
The night continued with the observance (not participation) in an exercise class in the park (which was conducted by a CGI person on a GIANT projection screen!), getting a balloon which had a poem written on it in Plaza Mayor, witnessing a hippie/stoner street concert (where I would be extremely confident in saying that 95% of the people there were wasted, stoned, or both… this includes the homeless man who chose to dance, in a skirt, in front of the entire audience…), and concluded with a stroll down Gran Viá, where all the buildings were lit up with giant, multi-colored flood lights!
And that was pretty much it! Wild night/morning!
Toledo: Uphill Both Ways
So the weekend is over and my third week in Spain has begun. It’s hard to believe that its been so long already, and as weird as it sounds… having only 12 weeks left, to see everything I want to see plus stumbling across a few things that I didn’t know I wanted to see… it doesn’t seem like much time is left at all!
Anyways, I rang in the weekend in style; and by in style, I mean in Toledo. It is truly a city where you travel uphill both ways! Nonetheless, it was very fun. When we arrived in Toledo we came across a bridge and were faced with a choice: cross the bridge and head for what looked to be a castle, or turn away from the bridge- heading for the town… We opted to cross the bridge… and after what was quite a lengthy climb, we reached the ‘castle’- actually a hospital… not to be discouraged, we pressed on up the hill towards another promising building… which turned out to be a military academy and from which we were immediately chased away! So defeated we trudged down the hill, crossed the bridge, and began our visit to Toledo… about and hour after our arrival!
Toledo was a beautiful city, very small and rather confusing (as it is made up of a twisted network of narrow streets) of which we were able to take in quite a few sights. However, I feel the highlight of the trip centered around a door knocker, in the shape of a fist. While I was taking a picture of said door knocker, Erika (who did not believe it was in fact a door knocker) lifted it and subsequently slammed it into the door. I of course ran away, followed by Mary and Erika… So we inadvertently ding-dong-ditched in Spain!
…well that was the highlight, or the guy I saw peeing in the middle of the metro stop on my way back home… toss up….
Christopher Kochanski, Ripon College
“I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and I now understand why my predecessors told me that going abroad is life-changing. I loved the cultural activities and other short day trips we took. I found the destinations (El Escorial, Sevilla, Cordoba, Toledo, etc) historic and unique. However, my favorite part of the trips was getting to spend time with [my Complutense student tutors]. They were very patient and practicing Spanish with them was very helpful. Thank you, AYA, for… such incredible opportunities.”
Jill Jones, Ripon College
“A Day as a Student in Madrid”
“The alarm on my mobile phone rings at quarter to eight, and as my hazed and half-shut eyes try to guide me out of bed to shut it off, a recap of the weekend plays back through my head. While I’m thinking of the soccer match between Madrid and La Coruña that we watched at the stadium on Saturday, and the Flamenco performance we watched at the theatre on Sunday, the clock is ticking. I realize that I have to hurry because time is of tremendous importance in the morning. I only have fifteen minutes to shower, dress, and eat breakfast (which consists of coffee and toast here). By 8:00 AM I have to be on my way to the metro and heading towards Atocha Renfe, the train station. Fortunately for me, a great lover of city life, my university is in the suburb of Getafe, so I must commute there via train daily. After pushing and shoving my way through a noisy, hurried crowd of Spaniards in the metro, I finally make it out through the heavy double doors, and rapidly sprint to the train station. At 8:20 AM, I’m catching the train and my breath; after a twenty-minute train ride and a ten-minute walk through freezing rain, I finally make it into my classroom wide awake and ready to learn.
“Bilingual B, my 9:00 AM class, has proven to be very useful, since it focuses on translation and formal writing. Once class is over, some friends and I go for almuerzo (lunch) to the cafeteria, which is followed by a long chit-chat about pretty much anything and everything. I’m usually the first one to leave because of my eleven o’clock class, International Relations. This course is fairly interesting, for it helps me perceive how this and other European countries view the role that the USA plays as an international super power. I periodically find myself debating with classmates over this topic. “After class is finished, I slowly make my way to the library, where I remain for an hour or so to study. I later go and meet Roy to work out at the gym, and kick the soccer ball around for a bit. Around 4:00 PM Roy and I are catching the train back to Madrid, and planning our nightly activities. There are a number of good soccer matches that are being televised on a 38-inch plasma screen at our favorite sports bar, so we agree on meeting there at around 9:00 PM to get a good table, since the place is usually packed. When I get home, Concha asks me what my plans are and if I will be staying for dinner, which is always a must, due to the fact that she is an awesome cook, like most Spanish women. I try to get all my homework done before then, so that after dinner I can immediately escape to go meet Roy, along with Maria, Paco, Michael, and Maggie. They had sent me a text message inviting themselves, which is very common in our group because we get along extremely well. At O’Connell’s, the sports bar, the masses are beginning to arrive, so we quickly get in and snatch a table big enough for all of us. The match starts at 9:45, and by then, the air is filled with chants and people´s high-pitched screaming. Once the game starts, the noise increments substantially until the ninety minutes of game-time have come to an end. Luckily, our team–Real Madrid–wins and everybody celebrates. Whenever they lose, which is rare, the immense necessity to riot is more than present among the heated fanatics. Leaving the bar, most everyone goes their separate ways; some of us go home and the rest, the fortunate ones with late or no classes on Tuesday, continue on into the night.
In closing, I strongly recommend taking an adventurous semester abroad, to Spain or any other potentially fun-filled destination. It really helps to open your eyes and see the world that is lying before you, waiting to be explored and enjoyed. Exposing myself to this new and riveting way of life has added to the list of unforgettable experiences that I plan to treasure forever. What I learn here, not only from school, but also from my social interactions, is precious knowledge that will prove to be beneficial in the future. Finally, to give props to this great city, I’ll finish by saying ¡Mola Masso Madrid!”
Carlos A. Cervantes, Ripon College
“Living and studying in Spain has been one of the best experiences in my life. Not only did I learn about the culture, customs, and history of Spain, but my language and speaking skills improved greatly…. The organization of the AYA program was excellent: I always felt well informed and well taken care of while I was living in Madrid. The activities program was one of the best aspects of AYA. [AYA] organized excellent excursions, classes, and cultural outings. I do not regret for a moment choosing AYA, as I had many programs to choose from; I feel like I chose the best.”
Erin Firestone, College of Charleston
“Madrid is definitely a place with millions of things to do. From eating tapas, to checking e-mails with a beer in your hands, there’s no doubt that you’ll have plenty of fun. I really recommend traveling at least twice a month; the outskirts of Madrid are beautiful, and really close. Prepare to spend some money if you really want to have fun, and take advantage of all the AYA cultural activities; they are by far the best of all the programs. Have fun.”
Damian Hiley, University of California, San Diego
“Tienes que probar todo mientras estés en España; es el único tiempo en tu vida que puedes probar todo sin preocupaciones. La cultura, la gente, la ciudad tienen mucho para ofrecerte, si tu tomas el riesgo para explorarlos. AYA provee un ambiente para integrarse en la cultura y para vivir como un madrileño. Es una experiencia diferente para cada persona pero la mejor situación para crecer y para darte cuenta de lo que tiene más importancia en tu vida.”
Lisa Maino, University of California, San Diego
“I’d like to say that I’m glad that I chose AYA. [T]he classes that are offered are very interesting. I am currently taking a sintaxis class that makes me question the way I perceive the world through language. [I] have been lucky enough to live [in AYA housing] with a woman who is open-minded, friendly, and loves to converse, qualities, all of which, have helped me to accustom myself to the lifestyle here in Madrid. . . . I personally have really appreciated this help, and I thought that you should know. Thanks again.”
Bill Dennis, University of Cincinnati
“My time in Spain can only be described as once-in-a-lifetime. In particular, the small and therefore intimate size of the group, coupled with the many ways that AYA encourages you to integrate and take full advantage of your time abroad greatly augmented my experience. I strongly believe that the “activities” portion of the program proved invaluable. . . . . I enjoyed many plays, dances, concerts, films, dance lessons and cooking classes immensely and enthusiastically recommend them to my peers. Rest assured that AYA will exceed your expectations in helping you to assimilate, experience, enjoy and love Madrid.”
Shauna Monkman, Georgetown University
“AYA is the prima donna of study abroad programs. It takes students from all over the US with nothing more in common than the desire to study in another country. When you get to see other study abroad programs while abroad you’ll appreciate the diversity of not having a specific school or geographic region represented and of no one knowing anyone else at first. What you’ll find instead is adventurous individuals always finding new and exciting things to do at a moment’s notice[:] that’s what going abroad is all about, isn’t it?”
Scott Reed, University of California, Berkeley
“I can honestly say that AYA is among the best programs. It seems to draw a group of students who are more mature–that is to say they look for something more than a good party in their semester abroad. We have bonded quickly as a group. . . . We are an independent and supportive group.. . . The activities have been well organized and well planned to give us a wide range of experiences. Even my host mother, who has been in the business of hosting students for 14 years, commented that in our program we get to see it all.”
Rachel Sussman, Bard College
“My study abroad experience in Madrid, Spain . . . was absolutely incredible. I had the opportunity to learn, firsthand, about a new culture and language. And the AYA program played an integral part in shaping such a rewarding experience. I felt welcome the moment I stepped off the plane. . . . That night, we all gathered in a quaint restaurant with recent “alums” of the AYA-Madrid program to talk, laugh, become acquainted with new friends and eat Tapas well into the morning hours. For adventurers who remain loyal to the “Just Do It” mentality, studying abroad is an opportunity that cannot be passed up.”
Andrew Davis, Harvard University
“AYA gave me an introduction to the Spanish educational system and placed me with a generous and friendly host family. Studying at the Complutense gave me confidence that I could indeed take classes in Spanish and do well! The family I lived with gave me insight into Spanish culture and, more importantly, some friends to help me through the process of getting into a Spanish university as a normal student, rather than a visitor. All in all, AYA is an excellent study abroad option for a wide variety of people. The reasonable price, combined with the program’s flexibility and quality made it a great choice for me.”
Alexander G. Borun, Harvard University
“I enjoyed my stay in Madrid so much more than I could ever have imagined. In fact, I would like to live and work there one day. I am actually thinking about studying there again next spring through AYA. I thought the program was well organized. . . . The cultural activities were very interesting and we got to see many parts of Spain. . . . My host family was terrific. They were caring, helpful, and very nice, and I miss them so much already. . . . As for the professors I have only good things to say about them.”
Katherine T. Schaefer, University of Miami
“My time spent in Siena with AYA Study Abroad changed my life for a number of reasons. It gave me the unique opportunity to feel on my own, immersed, but to also have the guidance of the program directors to help me whenever necessary. It may not be right for every student looking to study abroad, but if you really want to learn about the Italian culture and daily life, AYA Siena is the best way that I know.
“I had studied abroad in Italy once before, not with AYA, and I have had many friends tell me about their study abroad experiences in Italy. The AYA program is much different than almost every other study abroad program in Italy. First of all, Siena is a very Italian town with little outside influence at all, unlike larger cities like Rome and Florence that are so filled with tourists. Siena has its share of tourists too, but it doesn’t get in your way of living. The size of the town makes it easy to explore many different nooks and to establish a daily life parallel to how a normal Italian would live.
“While other study abroad programs have specific courses and group activities planned out for the entire group, AYA gives its students much more freedom in curriculum and excursions. The excursions that AYA had, specifically day trips to Tuscan towns such as Firenze, Lucca, and San Gimignano, as well as a trip to Rome, were great because they gave us the freedom to change plans while in the towns and the insight into the history and culture as told by Italians. It was not a day long guided tour that felt rehearsed and impersonal, but instead an outing that felt like a day trip with friends. The directors did a fabulous job of organizing the trips and catering them to how students would want to visit these towns.
“The course options were also incredible and unmatched by any other study abroad organization I have ever heard of. They were not general, basic, courses, but instead could be almost anything I wanted that was offered by the University of Siena. They included, but were not limited to, language, economics, political science, engineering, and law courses.
“As for the directors themselves, I could not have asked for better people. Elisa and Simone Casini, and their entire family, were like my own extended family by the time I was done at Siena. They were always very accessible to help me in any matter, whether it was a linguistic problem, a question about the culture, or where to get the best espresso, ribollita, or pizza in the town. I can safely say that they made my experience easier and more enjoyable, and I know that I will always have two Senese friends.
“In short, if you want to have an authentic Italian experience, learn the Italian language (among other subjects), make great friends, and enjoy some of the best cuisine in the world, AYA Study Abroad is the one program that can provide that for you. I know my life has changed more than I can explain in words, and I can happily say that I now have a better perspective on Italian life, a firm grasp on the Italian language, interpersonal relationships that are some of the best I’ve ever made, and an enlightening educational experience in and out of the classroom.
“Thank you, AYA, for providing me with this invaluable experience that I will never forget for the rest of my life.”
Matthew Carulli, University of Pittsburgh
“AYA Study Abroad is the perfect program for a student who refuses to study abroad in the typical American way: going to a foreign city, taking a few classes in the culture or the history, but passing most of the time living, sleeping, and being American. AYA is not that type of program. It is a very thorough example of a total immersion program: I got here [to Siena] and was immediately thrown into the language, without even a few days to ease my way slowly in. It was difficult, there were days where I felt like I wouldn’t be able to get through the five months, that I made a mistake, and why didn’t I pick one of the easier study abroad programs? But soon enough the benefits started coming in, and now, looking back, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
“The program set-up is very effective. Only a few days after my arrival, I was enrolled in a language intensive course, where I spent nearly a month slowly and painfully building up my vocabulary and grammar. This course was, in the end, extremely helpful, if even just for the chance to meet and converse with other foreign students. I have many fond memories of sitting at lunch with a group that would have made the UN look unrepresentative; everyone from a different country, but the lingua franca was Italian. So the language course was useful for both the scholastic and social angles.
“Actual classes at the Università: this is the real test, the professors speak at their normal pace, and you’ve not only got to listen but also take notes. After the language course my Italian was okay, but still rather weak, or at least in my [opinion]. Starting the actual courses at the Università, I found my brain scrambling to keep up initially, but after just a few classes, I was able to follow the professor a lot easier, reading the course materials wasn’t such a chore, etc. I began to be a lot more comfortable in the language.
“Studying at the Università is a great opportunity; the possibility to take classes that you never could in the States, or even just to relearn something from a different perspective. It can definitely be a trying experience to go to these classes, but you leave feeling rather accomplished: I know one day I came out of my Paleoethnology class and I realized just how much I had actually understood from the lecture, which filled me with a bit of glee. And, for the most part, the professors are willing to help foreign students, if they have the capacity to understand how much of a challenge it is to study in another language.
“Part of the AYA program is also to take the same exams that every other Sienese student takes. Now, while this is an incredibly daunting task, especially for us Americans who, more than likely, have never done an interrogatory oral exam in their life, it can be a learning experience. It allows you to see how the scholastic system in another country works, a good complement to your new knowledge of the other cultural aspects. It isn’t always pretty art and pasta. The only thing I can recommend for future students is to talk to the professor as soon as possible about the exam, and not to get thrown if they say that they don’t even know about it yet. And not to be lax about studying, but not to fry your brain either. The main goal is to be satisfied with what you’ve done, and you can have that satisfaction with an 18 or with a 30 [18/30 or 30/30 in the Italian grading system], it’s all relative.
“Another aspect of the program was obviously the city itself. I could write an entire love letter to Siena, but I’ll try and restrain myself. It is deceivingly small, but if a native New Yorker like me, born and raised in the city of 8 million, was never bored or at a loss for things to see, Siena must be doing something right. There are countless museums and churches, all with their own history and treasures. There are the contradas themselves, and exploring them offers a door into a world that doesn’t remotely exist in the States. And it is very easy to just hop on a bus and travel to another amazing city: Florence, Rome, Perugia, Assisi. San Gimignano, etc, etc. Restricting yourself to even traveling only around Tuscany, there are numerous possibilities. And in the rare situation that you can’t find anything to do, wandering around Siena itself is an amazing experience. Taking the tiny side streets, avoiding the crowds, surviving the hills, you can find yourself in areas you’ve never been before.
“Living within an Italian household can be the spark needed to improve one’s ability in the language: when you don’t have any other means to communicate, you better learn, and fast. Now, obviously, the first few weeks feel incredibly strange, you wonder what on earth you’re doing in this house, where you stand with these new people, and you feel very vulnerable in the language. Those first few weeks can feel like forever, but they do pass, and if it all works out well, you can come to feel like a quasi member of the household. It’s an incredible learning experience about the culture: the customs, the food, how you eat the food, how you carry yourself, etc, etc. It was an amazing experience, I am very very grateful for it.”
Linda Santoro, University of Pittsburgh