Post originally found on CIS Abroad. Guest author: Aly Hathaway, Semester in Aix-En-Provence – Institut Americain Universitaire, Fall 2018, Wagner College.
Starting out, I had so many questions
Ever since I started taking French courses, I had dreamed about studying in France. However, when it came time to filling out the paperwork and moving forward with the process, fear almost got the best of me. The idea of throwing myself into an unfamiliar situation with my visual impairment terrified me.
I was interested in the Semester in Aix-en-Provence program, but I had so many questions that I didn’t know if anyone would be able to answer them all.
Will my French professors understand my disability and accommodate like my U.S. professors? How would I navigate airports? A new school? And even a new city alone?
It turns out that, while these questions may have seemed unanswerable to me, all I had to do was ask.
Support from CISabroad
CISabroad quelled my nerves, greeting me with open communication and warmth. Suddenly, I had the courage to ask my program manager these questions, and the answer was simple. I would never be alone; not in the sense that someone would be with me physically to hold my hand all the time, but rather there would always be someone willing to help.
“CISabroad staff showed me from the get-go that I would be safe and accommodated during my travels, and they were absolutely right”
After talking to my home university’s disability services office and Joan (my CISabroad program coordinator) it appeared that we were all on the same page when it came to making my academic success in France a priority.
My school sent Joan a letter listing my approved accommodations, and Joan served as liaison between myself and IAU College, where I attended school in France. She made sure that the school was aware of my condition, and in response, IAU assured us that my accommodations would be met.
IAU also told us that they would inform my host family, and that after about a week or two, I would have no problem finding my way around Aix given its small size and warm people. It was settled. I was going to France!
Arriving in France
When I arrived, I was not disappointed. And when I say that Aix-en-Provence welcomed me with open arms, I mean it quite literally.
After my cohort’s orientation in Paris, we took the train south to Aix together. When we arrived at the Aix train station, we were greeted by our site director, Christelle, who helped us find our host families. I nervously stood on the platform until a woman took me into her arms and greeted me with the famous French “deux bises” or two kisses–one on each cheek. I was startled at first, but she then introduced herself as my host mother. She then drove me to my new home for the next four months.
Settling into Aix-En-Provence
The next day, my host mother took me on a walk to explore the city. She told me that she wanted to make sure I could find my way around, so she showed me the route from her apartment to the school. Aix is a beautiful little city, and as we walked through the antique markets and cobblestoned streets, I realized how excited I was to be familiar with my new home.
I will never forget walking into the house after my first solo journey to and from school for IAU’s orientation. She was sitting at the dining room table, a big smile on her face, hands clapping. She was so proud (and relieved) that I found my way home.
After about three weeks, it seemed like everything was coming naturally to me. I no longer needed to use Google Maps to navigate the city, and I was getting the hang of taking five classes entirely taught in French.
My professors treated me like any other student in class, but would also routinely check-in with me in private to see if there was anything else they could do to help.
Overall, I managed to do very well in my classes, and by the end of my program, I had navigated through eight different countries.
I learned that no matter where you go, if you think you may be lost, there is someone always willing to help you find your way–all you have to do is ask.
Looking back, I couldn’t have done this without CISabroad
In retrospect, none of this would have ever been possible without the support of my family and friends (the American and the French), and companies like CISabroad, who believed in me and helped make my dream of studying abroad come true.
I was fortunate enough to experience firsthand CISabroad’s dedication to showing students that, with the right resources, no barrier is insurmountable when it comes to studying abroad. All it takes is a little spark of courage, an initial conversation, and a positive outlook. I never once felt alone throughout my time in France, and it feels amazing to know that there are now people cheering me on from another continent, while I carry them with me here in the U.S. And now I can continue to explore the world with the confidence to navigate and the courage to ask for help.