Student Takeover: 300% more confident

Authored by:
Maylen Rafuls

Maylen Rafuls
Program Leader Maylen and her student Angela

In my second year as a Program Leader here in Toulouse, I was so fortunate to be able to share the experience with one of my own students from back in the U.S., Angela!  Earlier this school year, I had encouraged Angela and a number of her peers to apply for a Global Navigator Scholarship to continue their French studies.  Angela is the type of student who walked in on the first day of French 1 and greeted me in French. She had been studying French on her own on Duolingo and was super excited to learn it. Having made enormous progress in my class for the past two years, Angela was the perfect candidate for this experience. She put a lot of effort into her scholarship application and ended up receiving a full ride! I was so incredibly proud of her and ecstatic to share this month in Toulouse with her. In the post below, Angela reflects on her experience and the increased confidence that she has gained. 

300% more confident

By Angela

Everyone has most likely considered the possibilities of traveling to a different country, of exploring the culture, but most importantly studying the language and culture. For me it’s something that I have always dreamt of, watching television shows and films that depict the “stereotypical” aspects of studying abroad, hearing stories that captivated me. Everything was just a dream and in most realities, dreams don’t always come true, so it’s not always a yellow brick road leading you to the trails of happiness. With the possibilities being slim, I didn’t have much hope in me, so I disregarded the thought of experiencing life “abroad” and moved on.

A couple of years later and my French teacher encouraged me to apply for a scholarship in this CIEE program which I hadn’t heard of prior. To be completely honest, I didn’t want to do it. I felt like I wasn’t good enough to be picked for the scholarship and as I was about to give up, my mom gave me the final push on the last day before the deadline and I persevered and finished. A couple of months later, (take into consideration I thought really low about myself) my dad received the email saying how I had won the WHOLE SCHOLARSHIP! I was speechless. With that in hand, I spent the next 5 months preparing myself for what would be a life-changing experience.

During orientation, sharing out ideas about culture

Personally, I never thought of this trip to be as life-changing as it actually has been. I feel as if I were an orange which has been peeled and rejuvenated exposing a new part of them, and for me, it has been independence. Back home I am always reliant on my parents, and I never wanted to do anything myself, “go ask for a bag,” “run this errand,” etc. I always had this weird social anxiety that would instantaneously appear when I was by myself, which is quite ironic considering that I am fully extroverted. My first day using public transportation in a city where I’ve never been to in my whole entire life was quite petrifying. I was paranoid that a horror story would come true, and what else would be convenient to occur my first day meeting up with friends? Getting lost. My first whole day in a different country thousands of miles away from my family, and I got lost. With no cell phone data or WiFi, it was just me and a map and together we figured how to get where I wanted. I was still very nervous but ended up finding my friends, I didn’t ask anyone for help since I was insecure about my French but that event really helped shaped the way I perceive the meaning of being completely independent.

Going out to lunch with my peers

Throughout this whole trip public transportation has really been a crucial part of me developing a sense of independence since I am not constantly relying on my parents to drop me off and pick me up. Another component of this independence I have now achieved is going to restaurants, shops, pharmacies etc... These are perfect scenarios that forces one to have communication with others, especially being around other peers that need a little more help in French and being kindly asked if I could order for them. This really pushed me, because for once, I wasn’t the one relying on others, but I had others rely on me for support. I now feel completely comfortable walking into the store and saying « Bonjour! », ordering, asking questions and directions.

Visiting Carcassone Castle

To add on, a concept called « Ozlefrançais » [community conversations where students go speak to people on the streets and in shops] also helped me tremendously since it made me feel so uncomfortable at first that it actually worked to get rid of my discomfort later. It worked better than I expected. Going up to random strangers and asking them about their opinions and their personal life was very odd, but after seeing the kindness that the French have gifted to me, I realized it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. Of course, I had many rejections throughout the process, but I must acknowledge, people are going to reject you anywhere in the world, therefore it shouldn’t be a big deal if someone doesn’t have enough time to answer 3 quick questions... just smile and say « Merci, au revoir, bonne journée. » 

Living with a host family has been a challenging but rewarding experience.  Having to immerse myself with a different way of life was difficult. Each family has its own ways of doing things, and it was challenging for me to eat dinner so late because I would have to go to sleep immediately afterwards.  As challenging as it was, I appreciate that they opened their home to me and made me a part of their family. I communicated with my two younger siblings and played with them all the time! I played soccer with the little boy and played with dolls with the little girl.  As a way to express my gratitude, I played the piano and sang for my host family. I sang different songs, in English, Spanish and French! 

Greeting my host family for the first time at the airport in Toulouse

Life is a learning process, and if you don’t have failures you will never advance to a higher level of knowledge and understanding of these universal concepts (independence, adaptability, confidence). I might still be a teenager, but this study abroad experience has really opened my mind and has gotten me to do many things I never thought I could do alone. I’ve become 300% more confident with my level of French; this immersion has been amazing, and I will never forget all these memories.

I also would like to say a special thanks to all the staff members of CIEE who made this the best experience of my life. Sherry, thank you so much for everything, you had an indescribable impact on my life.

For anyone wanting to study abroad, do it! It will change many aspects of your life for the better; for me specifically it was my confidence, my French, and my maturity.

Life is a risk and if you don’t risk anything you don’t get to live.


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