Je Suis Paris

Since 1998 thousands of our young travelers have been warmly welcomed into French families. After this devastating tragedy, our hearts go out to those host families, host family coordinators, program coordinators, language schools and all people impacted by these events. We feel especially for our host families that eagerly volunteer to welcome our high school study abroad students into their homes.  They are solely motivated to host our teen travelers to establish a comfortable and lasting intercultural connection. As we look forward to our upcoming summer programs in France and Spain, we stand in strength and solidarity with our immersion partners. Similar to Rick Steves’ article in response to the attacks, we choose to not be terrorized by these events.  In fact, we feel even more motivated to foster positive immersion experiences for both our high school study abroad students and our European host families.

Hence we have launched a holiday sale on all of our high school study abroad programs in France and Spain. This couldn’t be a better holiday gift for your loved ones and a way to stand with our fantastic French host families. Nous sommes Paris.

Eiffel_Tower_in_Paris_Wishlist_to_Reality

Eyes Wide Open

You hardly notice your surroundings when you’re 16. Your friends. The social stuff. That’s what matters. This is how you define yourself. Seeing the world only through your eyes.

But travel gives you new ways of seeing. Clear. Fresh. In a way not possible at home.

It can happen unexpectedly. A stone façade in the golden light of late afternoon. A wooden railing worn soft and smooth by countless human hands. The bright colors and varied textures of an open air market. The recognition that many lead fulfilling lives with few possessions.

The threshold to adulthood is empathy. Seeing yourself in others. The growing awareness that it is not all about you. That you are not at the center of the universe. That we are all part of an interconnected web and that what you do matters and affects others. That your way is not the only way and maybe not even the best way.

You can learn this in your own backyard. Many do. But travel increases the opportunity for this awareness. And what you then do with this awareness is up to you.

“Go into Spain with an open mind. Let the culture influence you in its natural ways. This experience was one of the best of my life and truly benefited my development as an individual.” – Ali A, Student, Salamanca

The Bullfight

ECI's stance on this controversial topic

Is it a senseless and cruel relic from the past? Or an exciting art, integral to Spanish culture and tradition? Some anticipate the colorful costumes and ritualized ceremony with glee; others are repulsed by what they see as an inhumane and pointless sport.

Of course, I have an opinion. And so does just about everyone who asks if we take our groups to see a bullfight.

In fact, bullfighting was banned in a ruling by the regional parliament this past July in Barcelona, and in the rest of Catalonia (the northeastern part of Spain). No bullfights are supposed to take place there after January 2012.

While animal rights activists are pleased, the reality is that:

  • The ban has less to do with animal cruelty and more to do with the politics of separating Catalonia from everything having to do with the rest of Spain.
  • There are still lots of bull-related festivals firmly rooted in Catalonian culture, which are not affected by the proposed ban.

I know that becoming a matador is difficult. They train long and hard. And I am well aware of the dangers of judging cultural practices in other countries.

But, there’s just no way I can justify the torturing of animals. Neither can my co-director, Marie.

So you won't find bullfighting listed on an ECI itinerary

Students who want to go can do so in small groups, accompanied by a chaperone, just not as an ECI sponsored activity. This may not be the most democratic approach, but it is pretty much non-negotiable for us.

Finding Myself Abroad

A personal account of studying abroad in Moosburg, Germay

When I was a high school student, I was lucky enough to be able to study abroad in Germany when I was 16 and 18. We had an arrangement with a German high school in the town of Moosburg where students in the 10th grade would travel to America for a month to live with host families, and then the Americans could live with the students they hosted. I was able to host three times, and it was wonderful becoming friends with Michael, Christian, Dominik, and everyone I got to meet.

An unexpected opportunity

The opportunity to study abroad didn’t initially strike me as something I expected to be life-changing, at least not at 16. I was excited to see a new country and culture, but I fully expected to return to my hometown in Ohio the same person I was when I left. It seemed cliché to expect myself to grow or change much in a few weeks. I underestimated what a profound affect a study abroad experience could have.

Pre-travel apprehension

Like many 16 year olds, I worried a lot about what my peers thought of me. Or even worse, what I thought they thought about me. Especially when you’ve been in classes with the same people for a number of years, you can start to feel like you’re stuck being the person everyone expects you to be. I would try too hard to be accepted, which would often backfire. My concern about what other students thought about me would lead me to be more timid in my decisions, because I would second-guess myself based on how others might react.

Changes I noticed abroad

I didn’t notice it right away, but something began to change in me while I was living in Germany. Part of it definitely could be attributed to spending a lot of time with the other students from my school that I didn’t normally hang out with. While we might have been parts of different social circles back home, here we were all friends on the same adventure. We bonded almost instantly, and the imaginary boundaries that seemed to separate us dissolved quickly.

The most profound impact came from interacting with the other German students. While I was still carrying around my sense of where I fit in to the social hierarchy back home, I began to realize that this wasn’t how anyone else saw me. To the people I was meeting I was just William, the new American exchange student they were excited to meet. Their impression of me wasn’t based on any preconceived notions, and they were interested in knowing about who I really was. I soon understood that the people I met in Germany didn’t care at all about what the popular kids back home thought about me.

Looking back with appreciation

When I look back, I can see how big of an impact this had on my self-confidence. I returned from my time abroad far less concerned about how other people perceived me or what misconceptions they might have. By stepping out of my comfort zone into the wider world, I gained a new appreciation for my ability to make friends and connect with people wherever my life might take me. I’m thankful for the memories of my time abroad, but the lessons I learned were truly invaluable. For opening your eyes to a wider perspective about yourself and the world around you, I don’t think there’s anything more transformative than studying abroad.

– William Wardlaw, Moosburg Study Abroad ’98 & ’00

Memories from Winter Study Abroad

The ECI team’s ghosts of Christmases past

Here at ECI we are usually very firmly focused on the road ahead, in the direction of Summer Study Abroad. But as we’re gearing up for the holidays, let’s allow ourselves a quick detour via ‘Winter Study Abroad’.

So many of our team have traveled widely, and along the way have celebrated Christmas in countries far from home. Here, Christie recalls her Celtic holiday experience in Scotland and Ireland. Christie’s recollections perfectly illustrate how ‘Study Abroad’ can create enduring and treasured memories:

Study abroad in Oxford, the best year of my life

‘I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a thousand more times: my year studying abroad at Oxford in England was the best year of my life. One of the highlights of that year was the time I got to spend traveling in between school quarters. The first quarter ended at the beginning of December, so I traveled to Scotland and Ireland.

Traveling by train to St. Andrews, Scotland

My trip started on an evening train, which was heaven. I arrived in St. Andrews, Scotland and fell in love with the people immediately. I found the Scots to be very much like the landscape: untamed. The small town of St Andrews had a surprising array of activities. I remember cozy afternoon tea in a lantern lit, leather couch-filled cafe overlooking the original golf course, a fried candy bar I bought off a street cart (a “delicacy”, I assure you), and the random wonder of a bubble party. I only wish I had time to explore more of that crazy country.

Christmas in Dublin: the main event!

But the main event was Dublin. Entering the downtown, I was like a kid at Christmas, nose pressed to the cab window just taking it all in. Dublin had been transformed into a quaint winter wonderland. Those lovely decorated streets with lights hung like a canopy overhead and the constant tinkle of holiday music everywhere you went. George Micheal’s 'Last Christmas' was a particular repeating favorite that year.

Life-long memories from my time in Ireland

During my time there, I awed over the Book of Kells at Trinity College, took the obligatory tour of the Guinness factory, and walked over a blustery coastal trail to a neighboring village. Evenings filled with Irish folk music in the Temple Bar district were pure bliss. Those cozy winter streets, that feeling of Dublin at Christmas, created memories that I return to every time December rolls around.

Even now, I am so grateful for the time I spent overseas.
– Christie Corcoran