Many students try to picture what a semester abroad would be like. From international friendships to housing options, we took the chance to ask currently studying abroad students about their experience so far, and advice they have for students considering a study abroad experience for themselves. Meet Sam Koontz, a Strategic Communications Junior from Oklahoma State University studying in Dijon, France at the Burgundy School of Business.
Where are you studying, and for how long?
I am studying in Dijon, France which is about two hours outside of Paris. I arrived on January, 17 and will be here for the next three months
How did you choose the location you are in, or the University at which you studied?
I really wanted a location that had a rich culture that I could emerge myself in. Also, the town is small and picturesque, which doesn’t hurt. I knew that the daily lives of the habitants would be very different from what I’m used to, which is both exciting and scary but would allow me to come back with a greater knowledge of a different culture
What are you studying? What courses are you taking?
I am studying at a business school, so I’m taking a lot of business courses such as Management of Organizations and Geopolitics of Business. Of course, I’m taking French courses as well (Elementary French and French Culture & Society), which are a godsend given I can only speak English and a little bit of Spanish.
Where are you living? How did you come to live there?
I am living in an all-girls residence intended for international students. It is only a short walk to the school, which is convenient, but it’s also a huge bonus living with girls that are also in the same boat as I am! Sometimes I’ll walk into the lobby and hear six different languages being spoken from different ends of the room, it’s insane.
What has been the most unexpected event or change thus far?
I’ll admit I was not prepared for the power of the language barrier. I’d been told a million times not to leave without having at least a basic understanding of French. However, I pretty much ignored that and assumed I’d be just fine with “Bonjour” and “Merci” as the only phrases in my repertoire. I was wrong..so wrong. Day-to-day errands become projects. But I’ll say- even though it’s been a major struggle, I’ve never been more excited for my language courses to begin!
Tell us a favorite story that you will remember forever about your study abroad.
A couple friends and I decided to spend our first free weekend abroad to take a brief trip to Zurich, Switzerland. We planned on making a half-day trip to the largest waterfall in Europe, Rhein Falls, and allotted ourselves an hour to make our way there. Well.. we got lost.. very lost. It took 3 more hours than expected to get to the falls but once we were there.. wow. We were exhausted and frustrated but once we leaned over the rail and got a look at the Falls all of that melted away. It was pure natural beauty and we spent the afternoon wandering the platforms along the waterfall; chatting and simply enjoying ourselves without phones and without worries. It was wonderful.
Describe the new friends you have made.
I’ve made a group of really diverse friends here. Naturally, I’m inclined to hang out with the Americans just because it’s easier to understand and relate to them, but the international program here organizes several functions to really push the students to branch out. That’s how I met my Slovenian friend, Ana, and my Uruguayan friend Augustina. They are so fun and eager to learn both about my culture at home, and share the experience of adapting to this one as well!
How did you prepare for your study abroad?
I went through a lot of different emotions during the long process before leaving. I tried to combat the anxiety and nerves by telling myself how much fun I was going to have and the experiences I would get to enjoy while I’m gone. But beyond that I just kind of jumped in with both feet, no turning back!
How did you hear about study abroad?
My roommate last year was constantly applying for different things around campus. We had always talked about the idea of studying abroad but she was the one who actually went through the trouble of getting hard information about the application process and even went to an informational meeting. She got me really excited and finally forced me to fill out an application for myself too, which I am so thankful for!
What advice would you give a potential study abroad participant?
I would tell them to just be all-in when you’re at your location. I have a harder time being 100% a part of the culture since I don’t know the language (yet), but some of the best times I’ve had are when I’ve ditched my phone and fully immersed myself in conversations with my international friends over coffee or a croissant. Making an effort to be completely present makes a huge difference, because it can be easy to feel out of place as an exchange student from far away. But when I make the effort, I start to feel like I’m part of the culture.