While studying abroad in the City of Light, two Macalester students learn as much from their jobs as from their books.
There is perhaps no more classic study abroad experience than a semester spent in Paris. Such was the destination last spring of two Macalester students, and nearly a year later, their enthusiasm for the opportunity is still infectious.
Kerry Alexander ’12 (Tampa, Fla.) and Hanna Zimnitskaya ’12 (Minsk, Belarus) recently spoke of their experiences—which involved both classes and internships—to a group of fellow students gathered at the French House.
Alexander, an English major and French minor, took part in the Internship in Francophone Europe (IFE) program. She spent five weeks studying French economics, politics, and culture and the rest of the semester interning for Poetry Market (Marché de La Poésie), an annual three-day poetry festival. Preparing a French resumé and interviewing for a job in French were challenging, says Alexander, as was the realization that she and her boss, Vincent, were the only staffers organizing the complicated series of events.
“It was terrifying and exciting,” she says, “and I was scared of Vincent at first, but once my French got better it felt easier talking with him and I even began joking around.” Having studied French since kindergarten, her vocabulary, grammar and writing skills were good, says Alexander, but her conversational skills were lacking. However, once she got to France, she says, “Those were easy to improve and adjust.”
Alexander worked on the festival’s website, catalog, and schedule, as well as helping to choose venues for the various readings. “The best part was driving around Paris in Vincent’s little purple convertible doing site visits,” says Alexander. “I saw warehouses and clubs all over the city.”
While in Paris she lived in the 14th Arrondisement in a foyer, a cross between a dormitory and an apartment. There she had her own room and bath but ate meals downstairs with her fellow residents, mostly other young people from around the world. “We became a big family,” she says.
Alexander, who DJs a WMCN radio show and serves as the station’s general manager, also wrote 10 songs while living in Paris. She recorded them in her room with the window open so that the sounds of her adopted city could provide the background music.
Although part of a different study abroad program, Hanna Zimnitskaya became equally immersed in the City of Light. She chose the CUPA-Paris program (Center for University Programs Abroad), which following a three-week orientation has its students enroll in classes at French universities or at CUPA itself.
It’s a program for independent types, says Zimnitskaya, adding, “No one takes your hand and watches over you. You figure out everything on your own—your schedule, assignments, even your own syllabus.”
She enrolled in one class at the world famous Sorbonne, and two others offered through CUPA, including a course on 19th century French painters that had her happily spending hours in Paris’s many art museums.
Zimnitskaya also soaked in culture and grew to know French people through a close friend she met at the Sorbonne, as well as through her host mother, the wife of a former diplomat living in the 16th Arrondisment near the Arc de Triomphe.
Staying with a host family also led to Zimnitskya’s internship: the family’s daughter works for the National Court of the Right to Asylum and hired Zimnitskaya. At the court she interviewed Chechen refugees, researched the evolution of Chechen security forces—work that was later distributed to court advocates—attended hearings, and consulted on various Chechen refugee cases.
Back at Mac, Zimnitskaya has remained immersed in global issues, serving as one of two student speakers at last fall’s annual International Roundtable.
Taking on an internship along with classes made the study abroad experience extra meaningful for Alexander and Zimnitskaya, both of whom relished everyday activities such as taking the metro, going to cafés after work, and meeting French colleagues. “I wanted to live life as a Parisian,” says Alexander, “to be out and doing things and not just sitting in a class. And with my internship, I did.”