Stony Brook student Bryn Lartin sampled the sights and culinary delicacies in her study abroad experience, but actually took away more valuable lessons about who she is and what she is capable of achieving in her dealings with a difficult professor.
Lartin studied in Montpelier, France, and lived in a residence hall just 15 minutes from the school, first hearing about the international program while searching on the Stony Brook University Web site.
Her reasons for participating in the program were the same as most of her colleagues—improving her language skills and immersing herself in a foreign culture while soaking in its historic sites and picturesque sights.
The experience took her far outside of her comfort zone, which challenged Lartin but ultimately led to personal growth of a kind not easily obtainable in her country of origin.
“My biggest triumph was dealing with one of the teachers in the program who seemed to believe the American students, especially me, were not there to learn,” Lartin said.
To cope, Lartin wrote down every new word and filled up notebooks of words and phrases. It helped her realize that “sometimes you just need to face people head-on when there is a problem, no matter what the language or culture. I realized, though, that the language of respect is the same no matter what country you are in, and through this I was able to work out my differences with this teacher and learn even more French.”
While Lartin highly recommends the program to fellow students, she said students must be prepared to pay more for this particular program than they would for a semester at Stony Brook because of the dollar-to-euro exchange rate. In addition, meals and even toilet paper for the bathrooms in the residence hall were not included in price of the program. She encourages students to plan ahead and be financially prepared before they go abroad. “My experience was amazing though, and I would honestly not trade any amount of money in the world for it,” she said.
What enriched the experience for Lartin was that she and her Stony Brook colleagues shared the residence hall with students from Spain and several other countries.
Every Tuesday and Thursday the students took half-day field trips to nearby towns and cities. On Saturdays, they would spend the entire day exploring new places. The students were able to see what life was like in Avignon, Saintes-Maires-de-la-Mer, Roquefort, Aigues Mortes, Sete, St. Guilhem, Carcassonne, and other nearby cities.
“Every time we went to a city or village we would have the local dish that area was famous for. Sometimes it was cookies, other times sausage, and once we even tried a calamari pie dish. In St. Guilhem we tasted tapenade (a type of olive pate) and took a swim in a nearby river. We also enjoyed the nightlife of Montpelier. Avignon was one of my favorite cities. The town was so alive, there was so much art and music, and it had character. The Palace of Popes was indescribably beautiful, the only word that comes to mind is ‘majestic.’ ”
Lartin said one of her most cherished moments during her study abroad experience was witnessing Bastille Day, or Independence Day, which took place on July 14.
“It was unlike any fireworks show I’ve ever seen, and with the French music and people singing all around me I felt like I was part of something truly beautiful,” she said. “They were so proud of being French and this celebration gave me a greater understanding of their cultural pride.”