On February 15, I was one of 21 students who departed on what would be the most valuable, unforgettable experience of our lives, thanks to Southern Miss’s study abroad Château Program.
If I tried to describe and relive the experiences from this opportunity, I would end up writing a 100-page book, and that still wouldn’t do it justice.
Just a few months ago, the biggest decision I had to make was what to eat for lunch each day. Suddenly, I was deciding which country I wanted to visit next and wondering what unforgettable memory I was going to encounter next.
A special thanks to the Château Program director, Keltoum Rowland, for introducing us to the program, organizing a magnificent trip, teaching us French classes, organizing minute on the trip and accompanying us like a mother from start to finish.
As soon as the Château Program group landed in Paris, the exploring and the signature group selfies of Madame Rowland, or simply Madame, began.
Everything was prepared for us such as transportation and museum passes, scheduled tours, and anything else needed to take full advantage of our time there.
All our classes were given by professors from Southern Miss who were on the trip with us, but rather than sitting in a classroom learning about the French Revolution, we were lectured at the actual monuments, battlefields, and palaces where it took place.
There’s no better way to learn about an event than to actually visit where it took place. We toured everything from the Eiffel Tower, to the Louvre, to the International Perfume Museum. We even met Michael Phelps on the Champs-Élysées.
Check out that iconic selfie on any of the Château Program’s social media amongst our plethora of group pictures taken by Madame.
After a week in Paris, we headed to Strasbourg, France, where we lived and studied in a castle (yes a castle) and continued to explore our surroundings.
We went on several excursions and spontaneous class field trips that enriched our knowledge and perception of the world around us. I’ll limit myself to naming just a few because like I said, I could literally write a novel with all my experiences.
One day, our awesome, entertaining and passionate history professor, Brian LaPierre told us to go get our bus passes for a little field trip. Long story short, we hopped on a 15-minute bus ride to a symbolic bridge that connects France and Germany where he lectured us about how these two countries were archenemies just several decades ago. Now we were able to walk across the bridge to a whole new country seamlessly, as if you were going from Mississippi to Alabama.
Another memorable and extraordinary experience occurred when our director/temporary mother, Madame Rowland, helped organize a trip to volunteer at a refugee camp in Heidelberg, Germany. We always heard about the refugee crisis from politicians and news networks, but never truly empathized with refugees until that day. We entertained and spoke to children refugees from all over the world during a “Spring Celebration” that the German refugee camp put together.
With my semi-fluent Arabic skills, I even spoke to a 9-year-old child who had gotten to that camp just 2 months prior from Aleppo, Syria. This opportunity gave all of us a realization of what it is to be a refugee and the efforts European countries are giving in order to relieve the situation – truly an unforgettable and eye-opening experience.
This year features an important French election cycle, so we were in the midst of some intense political campaigning. For example, someone threw flour in the face of a presidential candidate while he was campaigning in Strasbourg.
The week before we departed back home, the first round of French elections was taking place, where we spontaneously entered the polling stations and received an educational tour and explanation of French voting procedures. You grab a few note cards with candidates’ names on them from the table, go behind a voting booth, put your candidate in the envelope, and drop it in a transparent box after showing your ID to the moderators. Then those votes are hand-counted the same night, but the public news networks aren’t allowed to give the results until 8 p.m. We also got to visit the European Union Parliament, the Council of Europe, the US Consulate, and much more.
What I just told you about was just a needle in a haystack of what the Château Program has allowed us experience. Keep in mind that this is just one of the study abroad programs USM offers, where we received actual credits for actual classes and general electives that student already have to take. Every Southern Miss student has the opportunity to take courses in another country, and it’s much more accessible than you think. One of the main forces that drive students away from this one in a lifetime opportunity is finances.
A lot of people worry about the price, however, if you consider how much it costs to live on campus for one semester, it’s not that much more at all. Also, take into account the scholarships and grants students receive. Every single bit of it can be applied towards studying abroad, so why not utilize that to study in another country?
If there’s still any doubt in your mind, go to the study abroad office, and they will help. Believe me when I say that this experience is priceless. After coming back home, I feel obligated to share the necessity of studying abroad. It’s has been one of the most eye-opening, life-changing college semesters. I think that everyone should take advantage of study abroad.
I’m getting chills from just sitting here and thinking back to the overwhelming experiences I’ve had. I feel jealous of anyone reading this because you truly have no idea of the adventure waiting for you. No matter how much I describe my semester abroad, it will never compare to the actual experience. A special thank you to Dr. Nicole Jordan, our English and World Literature instructor, Dr. Brian LaPierre, our history instructor, and Professor Keltoum Rowland, the Chateau Program director and our French language/culture instructor for being a part of this program and making it one of the most unforgettable and valuable months of our lives.
Everyone needs to have this experience, so do not hesitate to explore your options. You will be thankful that you took advantage of such an opportunity, and you’ll come back with a plethora of memories along with a refined perception of the world to share. Just ask anyone else who’s studied abroad.