Get lost in a city you don’t know: Reflections on studying abroad in Toulouse

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High School Abroad in France

Karla S. studied abroad in Toulouse, France, for the fall semester of her senior year on the deNoyelles scholarship for North Carolina students. She answered questions about her experience to give insight on what it's like to study abroad for a semester. 

Karla’s life advice:
Life is full of wonders, you just have to put yourself out there. Explore! Meet new people! Get lost in a city you don’t know. But best of all, love. Love the people, love the food, love the city, and love yourself. 

You received the deNoyelles scholarship, a donor-sponsored opportunity, for a North Carolina student to study abroad on a CIEE High School Year Abroad program – what would you say to other people considering supporting a student to study abroad?

Before I knew about CIEE, going to France was only one more goal on my bucket list. Although, to be honest, I never believed I would get the opportunity to go because of financial issues. Then, I heard about CIEE and the scholarship opportunity to study abroad. That same afternoon I decided to apply, and a couple of weeks later, I received a call saying that I had been awarded the scholarship to study abroad in France for a semester! To whoever is considering supporting a student to study abroad, my life changed the day I found out I was finally going to accomplish one of my goals. Be that hope to students who want to get to know the world. Change someone’s life. Let them know that nothing is impossible.

What was your experience with study abroad before your semester in France? 

I had never studied abroad before, I had heard about it and loved the idea of studying in a different country, but financially it was something I couldn’t afford. 

Why did you pick France for your semester abroad?

I picked France because I am currently taking French in high school, and I love learning about another culture, especially a culture that is similar to mine but happens to be in another country and has a different language. 

What made you feel comfortable/prepared you the most to study abroad?

What really made me feel comfortable with the idea of leaving my home for a semester was establishing a relationship with all the other students who were going to study abroad in Toulouse with me. It makes it a bit easier knowing you won’t be alone and having someone to talk to who is also going through the same things you are. In my case, my friends and I made a group chat on Instagram and talked about ourselves and our thoughts on leaving home for so long. It wasn’t even awkward meeting each other for the first time in the airport, okay, maybe a tad bit, but before we got on the plane we were already acting like longtime friends. 

What has been the biggest benefit of studying abroad for you?

The biggest benefit of studying abroad for me is the new perspective I now have in life. Living in a different country and meeting new people has been one of the best experiences I’ve had in my whole life. Not only did I meet French people, but also Italian, Romanian, Spanish, and African. 

What do you feel is one of the biggest lessons you learned when you were abroad? 

One of the biggest lessons I learned when I was abroad is the importance of family. I realized that even though I do love my family I also take them for granted. Being with my host family showed me how much their culture is similar to mine in that family is the one thing we will always have and appreciate. 

Do you stay in touch with your host family?

Yes! My host family and I get along so well, we have each other on social media and although we do not text every day, we do update each other. It doesn’t even have to be something so major for us to text, for example, my host mom texted me pictures of her flowers blooming once, and I sent her pictures of French cookies (Petits Ecoliers, my favorite!) I found at a store here. 

How did your host family help you with your language skills and culture?

My host family dedicated so much time to me to make sure I would not only improve my language and understanding of culture but to also enjoy myself and learn my way around town. In order for me to improve the language, we would play board games like UNO, Qui est-ce? (Who is it?), and Monopoly. We also watched French movies, first with English subtitles and then French. Culture wise, whenever we would have dinner, they would explain the origin of the food, and where the products can be bought. I learned that foie gras is eaten on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, wine is traditionally drunk for dinner and that chocolatines are also called pain au chocolat. 

What would you tell other students who want to study abroad in high school?

Do it! It will most definitely be out of your comfort zone or a bit awkward at first, but it is nothing compared to how much fun and knowledge you are going to have in the end. It ends up being such a great experience because of all the people you meet, the food you try, and places you visit.

What are you planning to do after high school? How did studying abroad prepare you?

My plans after high school are to go to community college for two years and then transfer to UNC-Greensboro. While I was accepted to four-year universities it just works out better if I start out at a community college because of financial issues. Studying abroad made me feel confident about entering college because I was so scared of a new environment and meeting new people. Studying abroad also helped find me and helped me feel more comfortable being myself. 

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