University of Paris-Sorbonne
Originally from the University of Paris-Sorbonne in France, geography major Margaux Kapfer first travelled to the United States when she was 16 to live with her host family in San Diego. Initially, she was intimidated; having flown into Atlanta, she was unprepared for the regional dialect present in Georgia. However, her experience with the different regional cultures present in the United States drew her to pursue geographic and American studies at university.
Now having returned to America, despite occasional pronunciation issues, she was more than comfortable with her English-speaking skills. She attributed her growth to her willingness to simply talk with people even though she might make some linguistic errors. In fact, Margaux hopes to travel across the country and take photographs capturing the wide range of cultures present in the United States.
As for students planning or thinking about going abroad, Margaux simply said "just go." To Margaux, traveling and living abroad was one of the scariest things a person can do. To do so, one must leave their family, their friends, their culture, and their home behind them and be willing to immerse themselves in a completely new environment. However, college is the perfect time to make such a journey. Margaux says, "As an exchange student, people want to meet you. They want to hear about your experiences, why you came, and what your perspective is on thier country, your country, and the world. It is the prime time to network and learn a new language."
The trick is to let yourself be scared and to let yourself learn. For Margaux, rather than going to a foreign country after trying to learn every facet of its culture and making your own assumptions on how life will be in it, one should go and actually experience and learn about the country hands-on.
Margaux found the willingness of professors to work with students and to have such open offices to be helpful, especially when one was facing the dysphoria typically associated with studying abroad. However, she noted that in France, the attitude towards academics was less grade-driven. Also, while Smith students were free, for the most part, to chose classes according to what they wanted to study, at home students typically decided their area of study their freshman year and had their class selection specifically tailored to their program. While Margaux found that restrictive, she noted that it encouraged students to be independent.
By Sarah Liggera '17 and Kaitlin Scholand '17, Global STRIDE Fellows