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Alexandra Sacristan

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Business Major/French Minor
Program: UNC in Montpellier
Location: Montpellier, France
Term: Spring 2019


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
When I was eight years old I lived in Brussels, BE for four years. I quickly started to pick up French and fell in love with the language and culture. However, once I returned to the U.S. I started to lose that connection and fluidity with the language. I told myself that I had to go back and was very motivated to become fluent, finishing what I started as a young child. Because I wanted to improve my French I focused mainly on selecting a program in France and ended up torn between a program in Paris with an internship portion of the semester and the program I ended up choosing, UNC in Montpellier. In the end, with no regrets, I selected UNC in Montpellier because I truly wanted a full immersive experience. I wanted the opportunity to form a meaningful relationship with a host family, I wanted to find my favorite small coffee shop, and most of all I wanted to speak French as much as possible. As a result I chose a program that I felt allowed me to do most of those things, challenging me to speak French almost all of the time, and allowing me to partake in life as a local in a smaller city.


What did you learn about yourself?
While abroad I realized how "Type A" I could be at times. I always knew I liked a plan, however, being in an ever-changing environment forces you to do without your check list. I'm very thankful for the opportunity to live in the south of France because it gave me a glimpse into a way of life I'd like to adopt. It taught me the art of sitting at a cafe for four hours without worrying about having to be somewhere and enjoying the present moment. It relayed the importance of enjoyment, to enjoy every aspect of your life as much as you can. In order to do this I realized the key was balance - balancing work with pleasure. As a more driven, work minded individual, I learned to balance those tendencies with time for enjoyment where I gave my busy worried mind a break.


What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
My favorite memory from my time with my program was nearing the end at a group dinner where all of the students, host families, and faculty attended. We finished class early that day and everyone returned that evening to eat paella together and homemade desserts brought by each family. What made an ordinary night so special was sharing with everyone the bonds made with our host families, professors, and other students on the program. I remember my host family being so excited to meet my friends I had been excitedly chatting about over the semester. It was very interesting to see all of the family dynamics and how much everyone had grown together. We ate, we laughed, we took several horrible group photos, and the students gathered afterwards for one of our last nights together. I think this night became my favorite memory because of the feeling of family and closeness that came about the group that had been complete strangers to me four months before. It was a truly beautiful experience.


What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
My advice for future study abroad students is to be in the present moment. You'll really want to take everything in and to do so being present is the most important thing. I would also say be open to trying everything (so long as it's safe) because sometimes those will end up being your favorite memories or will teach you something really interesting about yourself. Finally, I would say take advantage of being able to travel but don't overdo it. I think it's very special to be able to get to know the city you are in as a local, and you can't do that if you go away every weekend. You can always go back and take a two week trip to Europe, but will you have the opportunity to live in Florence for 6 months again?


Would you do it again?
Absolutely. If I had the time in my schedule I would love to! Unfortunately I don't, but it's opened my eyes to considering career options abroad post graduation.


How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at UNC?
Although some of the courses were considered the same as UNC, I am under the impression that they were quite different for a few reasons. Firstly, the professors of our courses were for the most part french natives. Because of this we were introduced to different teaching styles and didn't have the ability to interact with them in English at all. Furthermore, the biggest advantage in taking the course abroad was its applicability to your everyday life. We would review contemporary vocabulary in class and two hours later I'd find myself using it on the street. This enables really quick improvement that can push the class forward as well as cover different aspects brought up by our experiences there. I think it was more intense because our minds were switched into "french" all day, and so we worked intensely in class because we were more accustomed to it. Ultimately, although the material was similar, I believe we had a more in depth experience thanks to the easy access to practice in our environment.