Life Abroad: 2 Students’ Perspectives

Below you will find two rising seniors’ accounts of their time abroad. One used a Middlebury approved but not directed program (he went to Oxford), and the other went to a Middlebury school abroad in Paris). They had very different experiences, but both fantastic. Take a look into the lives of two students abroad:

Shannon Muscatello ‘13: Paris, France, Fall 2011

What do most people associate with junior year of college? Study abroad. Or at least, I do. Studying abroad was one of things I looked forward to in my life. “When I’m a junior, I’ll be living in Paris.” Some people save up to buy a car. I saved all of my money to spend while abroad, traveling around Europe. Surprisingly, I did not use all of my money, but a good chunk was definitely gone when I arrived home in the US (Euros are so expensive, and Paris makes everything more expensive).

My name is Shannon Muscatello, and I just studied abroad in Paris, France, in the Fall of 2011. My dream finally came true to live in Paris, and it’s really weird to think that it is over now. That one thing I always envisioned happening is over. But it was an experience that I will never forget.

I chose to go to a C.V. Starr Middlebury School Abroad. About half of the students that go abroad use Middlebury schools. The rest, like Khalid below, use Middlebury-approved programs where the credits transfer, but they are not Middlebury directed programs. If you want to travel somewhere where we teach that language, you must use a Middlebury program, taking our language pledge. The language pledge is one of the most amazing parts of our programs abroad. In it, you pledge to speak, read, write, listen to, and live only in the language of the program. Complete immersion. And it really works. You begin to think and dream in your language, and it sometimes becomes difficult to speak your first language. (This is not to say that you can’t stay in contact with friends and family in English. I wrote a blog in English so my friends and family could hear about my time abroad – if you are interested. – They just want most of your life to be immersed.)

So, I, as a French major, naturally went to France. I had three choices: Paris, Poitiers, and Bordeaux. I chose Paris because, as stated before, it was my dream. I set off to Paris to live in a home with strangers and take classes with other Parisians.

My living situation was fantastic. I lived with a host family of two parents and a 21-year-old daughter in med school. Three older children would come by for dinner with their spouses, but did not live in the house. On my housing form, I chose to have fewer meals with the family per week because I knew that I would be busy. I was given one meal per week, so we would usually dine on Sundays. It took me a little while to warm up to the family, as it was more of an independent situation where they weren’t home very often, but I ended up becoming very close with them, going to their Christmas celebration, the daughter’s engagement party, and being invited to visit my host mom when she came to New York to see her eldest son. They were an amazing family to have, and it was nice to have independence.

Academically, I took four classes and an internship for credit instead of a fifth class. Two classes were at the Middlebury Center, two were at L’Université de Paris 7: Didérot. At the Middlebury center, I took a history and a culture/language course, and at the Paris university, two psychology classes. Those were scary and hard and very different because psychology is not that same here and there (they tend to focus on Freud and psychoanalysis). Classes were classes, interesting, but not the most exciting thing about being abroad.

My internship, however, was one of the most amazing things I did while in Paris. I worked at a sociocultural center where I would play with little children and tutor them and help them with their homework. This was in a poorer neighborhood than where I lived, so I got to see a different side of Paris that I would not have had a chance to. I got really close with the kids and my supervisors, and still keep in touch. As part of the internship, I had to write an at least 20-page (ended up being about 45 pages) paper that explained the center, what I did, and explored/analyzed a topic relating to it. It is incredible to have a 45-page paper written in French about my experience. It’s almost like a thesis.

Socially, I made a few Parisian friends; I would say the most out of the people I went to Paris with. I went to a university restaurant (a cafeteria for cheap meals for students), sat down with random people, and made friends. I had a group of friends that I would meet regularly for meals or on weekends, and it really helped my language skills. One friend, Hugo, was talking quickly to a friend about ¾ of the way through my time in Paris, making a harmless joke about me and my friend. I laughed and commented back, and his response was, “Oh no, you can understand me now.” My listening comprehension improved so much that he could no longer talk about me behind my back, however jokingly.

Life in Paris was fabulous. Very different, but very awesome. However, I missed a lot about Midd. I missed the dining halls being “free” and delicious. I missed grass that you could walk on and play on. I missed nature in general. I missed psychology in English. I missed teacher-student relationships, actually getting to know your professors. I missed the friendliness of the people as you walked by. I missed the active nature of this campus, aka not getting stared at in the streets as I run. Mostly, though, I missed my a cappella group, the Middlebury Mamajamas. They are my family, and it was so hard to be away from them and away from singing. Midd just doesn’t compare to anywhere, even Paris.

Khalid Tellis ’13: Oxford, Spring 2012

Before I delve into my time in Oxford and my time studying at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CMRS) /Keble College – University of Oxford, I will happily introduce myself. Hi! My name is Khalid and I am a rising senior from New Jersey. Here at Middlebury, I major in English and American Literatures with a focus in Creative Writing.  In turn, I was extremely excited to hear about an opportunity to study at CMRS with real-life Oxford University Tutors and all of the resources of Keble College.  One distinguishing feature about an Oxford education is that one’s classes will consist of lectures and tutorials. Tutorials are extremely unique because it consists of a student and their tutor, and that tutor normally has obtained the highest degrees in his or her field or are working on completing said degree(s). Therefore it is a class of one student, which allows for an outstanding classroom experience where a student works very closely with an expert on the materials he or she is studying. The deciding factor in my decision to apply to CMRS was the fact that tutorials are a unique experience and the lovely administrators at CMRS can find a tutor for almost any tutorial that one would like to take – I believe the exception is Organic Chemistry (the Principal, Dr. Mark Philpott, would happily remedy that conundrum if a student wished to study Organic Chemistry while in Oxford). That being said, you can be any major and study at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. I studied in Oxford this past spring ’12 and my cohorts’ majors spanned a myriad of disciplines from psychology to archaeology, there were classes for them to take or they were designed to suit their home college and major needs.

The Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Oxford was founded to offer the opportunity to American college students to study in Oxford and more specifically at the University of Oxford. Thus, students are allowed to attend the program regardless of whether their college uses a semester or trimester system. Normally if one wishes to study at the University of Oxford through Middlebury, one has to study for the entire year. I knew I would miss Middlebury too much, so I was extremely elated to know that I would be able to enjoy Middlebury in the fall and experience Oxford in the spring.  On the other hand, students are provided with the opportunity to study at CMRS for both semesters if they wish to.  I highly enjoyed studying at CMRS in the spring. Each semester, students are enrolled in four courses and one of those courses is called the Integral Course. Ostensibly the integral course is a multidisciplinary course about England. One fun aspect of the integral course is the field trips. Yes, field trips! You are never too old for a coach bus and a trip to a few royal palaces. One week we would be studying a certain aspect of British history or culture and the next we were somewhere studying it hands-on. Normally, an Oxford student only takes two tutorials and lectures. At CMRS we had two tutorials, a seminar course, and several weekly integral lectures and discussion sections. My classes were as follows: Shakespeare II (seminar), Medieval Travel Writers (tutorial), Milton (tutorial) and Renaissance to Enlightenment (integral). It all sounds like a great deal of work, at times it was, but it was manageable as well particularly because of the scheduling of the program.

The first 8 weeks or so were spent listening to lectures and taking two tutorials and a seminar course (which ended two weeks after tutorials did, so it lasted 10 weeks). Thus, the last four weeks we spent intensely on our Integral Course which was titled Renaissance to Enlightenment.  The most challenging part about being abroad – at least academically – was the tutorials.  Each week I was required to produce a 6-8 page essay for each tutorial after having read the primary materials and finished secondary source research. Then, I would print out two copies, one for me and one for my tutor. During a tutorial, it is customary for the student to read his or her written essay aloud to the tutor after which the tutor will critique the students essay and his or her interpretations, responses and overall ideas about that week’s material. Reading my essay aloud was extremely nerve wracking, I am not normally a shy person but there is something to be said about having your work critiqued in general, let alone right in front of you by someone with a doctorate from Oxford University. Don’t get me wrong, I am always a bit anxious and excited to hand in a paper because I’m curious to see what the Professor will think of my interpretation.  Nevertheless, my experience in tutorials was extremely pleasant and I enjoyed them a great deal. Tutorials allowed for a great deal of discussion and collaboration between a student and tutor, and I at first wondered why the American education system did not allow for the same sense of transparency and collaboration. Then I realized that by going to Middlebury, professors are extremely accessible when I have questions about my work and my interpretation of the materials. Furthermore, I came to understand that I can and do achieve the same feelings of transparency and collaboration by taking advantage of a professor’s office hours and speaking with them after classes or simply whenever they are available.

Going abroad allowed for me to not only experience another country, another education system, (some might argue another language) but also another part of myself and my aspirations for life at Middlebury. I left Oxford surer of myself and more appreciative for life and time at Middlebury. Oxford, England is a beautiful place and the University of Oxford which consists of almost a thousand years of history, breathtakingly beautiful architecture and world-renowned places and things does not equal the natural beauty I have experienced while in Middlebury, Vermont. The tranquility I experience here at Middlebury is something I will cherish for a life-time, even when I undoubtedly move back to the hustle and bustle of one of our nation’s biggest cities. All in all, I highly suggest studying abroad to everyone, even if you are unsure of yourself, where you want to study or even your right from your left. GO! Just do it, it is better to have had the experience than to wonder about it later.

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