Student Testimonials

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Student Testimonials from Recent Semesters (Paris | Madrid | Siena)

Excerpt from the blog of Abby Schiff (Harvard): “American in Paris”

Rue Mouffetard

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 Academic Year Abroad for a semester… instead of an entire year. My semester in Paris with Academic Year 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 Academic Year Abroad, in Paris, for one reason—the direct enrollment programs at local universities. It’s one of the qualities of Academic Year 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 Academic Year 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 Academic Year 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. Academic Year 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