The “other” travel abroad experience: French students reflect on year at UNE

L-R: Clotilde Rispal, Solenne Prat, Julie Caron and Vincent Seroussi
L-R: Clotilde Rispal, Solenne Prat, Julie Caron and Vincent Seroussi

February 01, 2018

With UNE students studying abroad at five times the national average, it is a familiar question to hear on campus: “What was your study abroad experience like?”

It is not as frequent, though, for Nor’easters to contemplate what studying abroad is like for foreign students who come here, to UNE, for their travel abroad experience.

Four political science students in France, now seniors, who spent their junior year abroad at UNE, recently shared their experiences as students on the Biddeford Campus. Julie Caron, Vincent Seroussi, Clotilde Rispal and Solenne Prat are from the Institut d’Études Politiques  at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, also known as Sciences Po. UNE and Sciences PO signed a student exchange agreement in 2015, which allows the French university to send students to UNE’s campuses in Maine and Morocco and enables UNE students to study at Sciences Po, a renowned institute for the study of politics.

Caron said that her goals for studying abroad were to improve her English skills and to discover a different culture. “And the partnership between UNE and Sciences Po brought me to Biddeford in the beautiful state of Maine,” she beamed. Noting that UNE offered her a diverse range of courses that wouldn’t normally be available to her in France, she categorized her time at UNE as “a really rich experience.”

“The French and the American academic systems are really different,” she said. “At UNE we could choose any classes we wanted, as long as we kept a few political science classes. So I had the chance to discover other fields, like archeology. I wouldn’t be able to do that in France, as we have mandatory classes.”

Prat agreed. “The main advantage about studying in the U.S. is the possibility to choose what we want for classes. I could learn about sport management, a field which is not offered at Sciences Po, for example.” Rispal, too, took advantage of the opportunity to expand her horizons beyond political science, dabbling in English, history, philosophy and music.

But it was not just the variety of classes that the students relished; they also appreciated the learning environment at UNE, which was very different from what they had known at Sciences Po. “I really liked seeing another way of teaching and learning,” said Rispal. “The classes at UNE were more discussion-based than in France, and I really enjoyed that. I also liked the fact that I usually handed in several papers during the semester, and my final grade didn’t depend on any one single exam.”

In addition to the academics, the students also valued the community aspect of campus life, something they say that they had not previously experienced. “We discovered what it was like to live a campus life -- and in an especially beautiful campus like Biddeford,” Caron explained. “In France, we are independent and live in our own apartments, so this was a really different way to live!”

Prat said that for her, as well, a key part of her “American campus” experience was the abundance of opportunities for organized interaction with other students outside of the classroom through clubs, associations and activities. “I could practice sport with the volleyball club and enjoy all the trips with the outing club. I was also involved in the Sexual Health Advocacy Group (SHAG),” she shared.

Rispal participated in UNE’s fall play and spring musical as part of the UNE Players group. “The best experiences I had at UNE were with the UNE Players,” she noted, adding, “I made my best memories with the friends I met within the club.”

Much like UNE students who take advantage of the semester-abroad opportunities offered by the University, including programs in Tangier, Morocco; Seville, Spain; Akureyri, Iceland; and, of course, Sciences Po’s town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France, last year’s cohort of French exchange at UNE felt that their time abroad was transformative. Said Caron, “Studying abroad at UNE and traveling in the U.S. and other places during this year made me grow up, and contributed to what I am today.”

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