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Alumni Spotlight

Jennifer Karan (Raider)
France Year 1993-94
Biology Major

Jennifer

"Each time that I consider a career move the fact that I have experience living overseas has always given me an advantage over other candidates."

"I rented a room from a French family. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I made. I had people to speak French to all the time and they could answer questions I had about French politics and culture."

"I have met lots of people who say that their biggest regret in school was not going overseas."

Why did you choose your particular study abroad program/location?
Since I was 8 years old, I wanted to study French and go to France. I always thought I would go on vacation. My Freshman year I found out I could actually study in France and the classes would count towards my degree. That was it, my decision was made; I had to go to France. I knew that to really learn French, I had to be outside of Paris. I chose Bordeaux for this reason and because it was recommended for Bio students.
 
What types of activities were you involved in while abroad that were meaningful for your learning?
I rented a room from a French family. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I made. I had people to speak French to all the time and they could answer questions I had about French politics and culture. I also joined the French-American club. There were some American students and several French people. We got to practice our French and they their English. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of D-Day with them. I also had a host family arranged through the school. I would spend weekends with them at their country home in St. Savin. This allowed me to see the countryside, visit places I could not have gotten to on my own and also celebrate local French holidays with a French family.
 
How have you changed or what have you learned due to studying abroad?
There are not enough words to answer this question. I think the biggest understanding though that came out of my experience overseas is that I learned a lot about the US and how the US is seen overseas. Being away and also having to explain our politics, history, and society has helped me learn so much about the US. I used to think that the US had no culture, but I discovered that we had Jazz and Bluegrass. University was expensive, but students could study what they were interested in and not something that was decided for them at age 14. I discovered that when my host-mother asked "What is an American... like" I couldn't answer because each part of the US was so different I couldn't generalize. This has caused me to take an interest in seeing different parts of the US. I learned about myself. I no longer had societal or cultural references that guided me to do and think as I did in the US. I travelled by myself. I started conversations with strangers who became my friends. I actually discovered that I liked my religion and met friends through the synagogue in Bordeaux. I also learned that I absolutely love travelling, being overseas, trying new foods, speaking foreign languages and learning about new cultures. Before I went to France I had never taken a public bus or a taxi. Overseas, I learned to not be afraid of doing new things and exploring.
 
What are you doing now as a result of studying abroad?
As a result of my time in France, I did a post-graduate program in Israel. I live in NY to keep in touch with the cultures and places I've been. I buy foods from the different countries I've lived in. I can continue to speak the languages I've learned overseas (French and Hebrew). Each time that I consider a career move the fact that I have experience living overseas has always given me an advantage over other candidates. It has also allowed me to get jobs that continue to take me overseas (Israel, India, England, Canada and Mexico).
 
What advice would you give to a student considering studying abroad?
This is a big decision, but I've never known anyone who has regretted spending time overseas. I have met lots of people who say that their biggest regret in school was not going overseas. A year, semester or even a summer seems a long time to be away from friends and family. The time goes so fast it will be over before you know it. Take the time to get to know about your host country in advance either via the internet, returning students or the international students that are currently at UCI. Take advantage of all the opportunities that are available to you on your program. You don't have to be nervous because the UC staff in your host country are great at helping the students out (ours even arranged Thanksgiving dinner for us). While you are overseas, remember you are an ambassador of the US. While you may have more freedom overseas to explore, remember that you are in a culture that is different and be respectful of that. It will be an experience that you will remember for the rest of your life.

Study Abroad Center
University of California, Irvine • Irvine, CA 92697
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