Q&A Spotlight: Allison Brown

Name: Allison Brown
Major: International Business Administration, Spring 2012
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland
Destination: Rouen, France Fall 2010
Institution: NEOMA Business School

Allison is a recent TU alumna who studied in France and returned to live in Paris one year ago. This is her story!

Q. When you first chose your program, what motivated you to choose that program?

I knew from Freshman year that I wanted to study abroad but I was never too invested in any particular country. I didn’t speak a language other than English and I had never really been outside of the US before, so I was very open to the advice of the Study Abroad Office. My four years at Towson were financed 100% by academic scholarships, so the only criteria I was looking for in a program was that it was a TU exchange, that my credits would bring me a semester closer to graduating (i.e. studying abroad would not put me a semester behind in credits), and I liked the idea of going to Western Europe to have the proximity of lots of other countries to travel to. After I expressed my criteria to a study abroad advisor they recommended the TU Exchange with Rouen Business School (RBS) in France, which would allow me to take business courses and earn credit towards my major. Without hesitation I closed my eyes, crossed my fingers, and applied for the program.

Q. What was the hardest part about studying abroad?

I think the hardest part about studying abroad is the adjustment to an accelerated life learning curve. Prior to going abroad, everything I had learned and known had come from Baltimore. I had chosen a university that was only a 10 minute drive from where I grew up, and while I feel as though I was still privileged to have an exceptional education both in and out of school, the depth of the world really hit me when I stepped foot in France. It was a big adjustment to go from a comfortably monotonous routine to being challenged on a minute by minute basis. Just going to the grocery store to pick up a loaf of bread could be both mentally exhausting but also exponentially educational. Being in a country where you don’t speak the language isn’t just an opportunity to learn a new language, it is also the greatest opportunity one could have to learn more about themselves and about humanity in general. I quickly learned that language is merely a secondary form of communication to the simple capability that every human is endowed with to understand their fellow man, no matter where they come from or what language they speak.

Q. Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on your experience, and move on from TU, are you able to utilize your experience?

My experience has had an influence on every day of  my life since returning to the US. I have opened myself in ways I never knew were possible and my perspective on everything in life, both personal and professional has been broadened and embellished. In addition to my general perspective, studying abroad has had a significant impact on my personal and professional life because it was during my time abroad that I met my husband. My husband, who is a native Parisian and who was also a student at RBS, and I continued to date when I returned to TU. After he spent more than a year in the US, we made the decision to get married and to move to Paris. I made the move to Paris in January 2013 and have been happily living here with my husband and our new puppy for a little over a year now. Living abroad has provided an amazing professional opportunity to work for a French research organization that was looking for an account manager to handle their American accounts. It is hard to imagine finding this type of opportunity in my native country. It is such a rewarding experience to apply the business skills that I learned at TU to help a foreign company connect with my fellow Americans. I am happy to say that I am still continually challenged on a daily basis here, even now that I speak French and have learned a lot about the country and the culture since my first arrival in 2010.

Q. You may miss something from your time abroad. What?

While I have been fortunate enough to continue my experience abroad, I still miss the special experience of studying abroad. Being a student abroad creates an environment in which you can test your limits and when making mistakes can actually be more rewarding than doing what is “right”. My experience at RBS was really a time to learn and to grow as an individual.

Q. If you were to do to it all over again, what would you change?

The one thing I would change about my experience abroad would be to have made a greater effort to learn the local language. Because I had only intended to be abroad for a semester, I was very content at the time to learn a minimal amount of French to get by on a daily basis (pretty much to know how to ask where the bathroom was and how to order a beer). After having a second chance to return to France, I realize now how important a language is to a country, it is something in which I wish I had seen more cultural merit.

Q. If a student asked you about where you studied, what would you recommend to them?

I can’t speak for other countries, but after having lived in both Rouen, Paris, and having traveled through most parts of France, I highly recommend studying abroad outside of Paris. Firstly, on a practical level, Paris is extremely financially limiting. Secondly, I have many friends who loved their study abroad experience in Paris, but in the end they never had the opportunity to meet any French people or to share in any real cultural experiences. Studying abroad in a smaller city is a great way to be forced closer to the culture and to the people, you can’t easily find other Americans with whom to isolate yourself.

Q. Do you have any advice for future student?

Don’t take even one second for granted during your time abroad! Be yourself, be someone new, or be someone who you’ve always wanted to be. Try new things and try old things in new ways with new people. There is a rare chance that you will ever have the opportunity again to live somewhere where where no one knows you but everyone wants to get to know you. Find your own unique way to take everything in and give yourself back.

 Merci, Allison!