5 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Study Abroad Program

Looking for a teen study abroad program in France or Spain that offers an immersion experience?

The term ‘immersion’ doesn’t always describe the reality – so make sure to ask the right questions!

Immersion is a word that has been subject to over-use and as such has become somewhat diluted. Parents and students looking for a truly authentic language-learning experience must ask how accurately ‘immersion’ lives up to its promise:

  1. Are the US chaperones instructed to speak only in the target language?
  2. Will the program have at least one local leader, native to France or Spain?
  3. Is there an opportunity to mix with local young people, even if just for a few activities?
  4. Is there a component that offers the chance to live with a non-paid volunteer family?
  5. Is there a time during the ‘Homestay’ when there are no organized daily activities, providing the ideal opportunity to speak only French or Spanish with the family?

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How Study Abroad Changed My Life

Hear about the positive impact of study abroad from three students who traveled to Toulouse, France in 2007

Martina M.

Study abroad is the best way to gain insight on foreign cultures, form long-lasting relationships with people halfway around the globe, quickly learn a language, and establish a sense of understanding of other nations very different from our own. The time I spent away from home proved a valuable, challenging, and unforgettable experience that could never be matched in any other way. Interacting with people my age in a foreign country allowed me to gain valuable insight on French culture.

These friendships have lasted almost three years so far and I have learned much more about French culture, language and attitude than I ever could from any textbook our travel guide. I was amazed that within a week in Toulouse, my understanding of spoken French had improved tremendously. By the end of the month, my host family could say almost anything to me and I would immediately and naturally understand.

The time I spent in France has encouraged me to return. I will be studying in France again this spring quarter in Lyon as a Dartmouth College sophomore. While abroad, I learned how to break down language barriers and communicate cross culturally. Overcoming this cultural obstacle convinced me that understanding other cultures and ways of life can help people get along with each other. From an international perspective, this open-minded effort to understand and communicate beyond linguistic differences holds the beautiful potential to create a healthier and more peaceful global community. Studying abroad enforced my belief that this remains the responsibility of our generation.

Nic B.

I learned an incredible amount about myself while on the trip. I think that the homestay interactions were the most insightful experiences. They place you in the midst of an everyday French home and it’s your job to communicate with them as if you are a part of it. This really worked to open the door to the language and get me over the fear of speaking and interacting.

It wasn’t always easy, and I often made a fool of myself as I pantomimed things I didn’t have the words for, but it has helped tremendously to ease my anxiety of travel and communication. Once I let go of trying to dissect every word and simply took in the words as French, I could understand entire conversations. My own French became more fluent as the rules became second-nature.

I think of studying abroad less in a classroom skills sense and more in an overall culture immersion. Yes, language will improve, but I think this is secondary to the daily interactions and experiences with a new place that has a different history and customs.

Marc W.

My expectations of my study abroad experience were more than fulfilled. In France, the only thing more amazing than how much French I spoke were the doors speaking French opened. When my Californian friends and I went out at night, we hung out with French people and spoke French. I met so many fascinating people while I was in France and a commitment to speaking French was definitely the gift that allowed me to have the experience I did.

My strongest advice to anyone thinking of studying abroad (for however long) is to use the language as much as possible every day. Every sentence spoken in English is one that could have been used to make you more fluent in French. Besides, the most fun experiences (and the most educational) are all the times you spend with the friends you make abroad!

After France, I definitely felt a lot more responsible for myself. Not only do I keep in contact with everyone I’ve met in both countries, but I feel like ever since that summer in France, I have this travel bug that will impel me to discover and possibly live in more places. An added bonus is the “Fluent in:” section on my resume, which gets an 18-year-old a lot of attention!

ECI compiled an exciting and educational agenda while we were in France, and both the French and American chaperones we had were fun, inspiring, and (responsible) cool! I will remember all the exciting days and nights I spent in France and take these memories with me wherever I go.