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CIC-SPA: Montpellier, Integrated
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Erin Vrana

Major: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; French
Hometown: Hershey, PA

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I learned about this opportunity by researching the Penn State Office of Global Programs website. I knew I wanted to travel to France, so I searched for all of the Penn State or Penn State-affiliated programs that were in France to find the one that I felt best suited my interests and goals for my study abroad. I then met with a study abroad adviser to discuss the best time to study abroad, what courses I should plan to take, and any academic or other questions that I had about studying abroad.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

I studied abroad in Montpellier, France for the fall semester of 2015. I went into the semester expecting to have an incredible experience, but my semester abroad was even more amazing than I could have imagined. I fell in love with the south of France and traveled as much as I could throughout France to get to know the country that became my second home. Not only was it academically and culturally enriching, but I also made incredible friends that I know will continue throughout my lifetime. These friendships are formed through a unique experience that only you have shared together, and they are immediate and very strong. I stayed with a host family and couldn’t be happier about my decision – my French improved immensely, and having such a loving and welcoming family really made France feel like home for me.

How did this experience impact you academically?

I grew intellectually and academically in so many ways as a result of studying abroad. Obviously my language skills improved – I learned how to communicate, think, and even dream in another language. I reached an amazing point in my semester abroad when I realized that I was using a phrase that I couldn’t exactly describe in English – I just understood what it meant in French, and I could use it without having to translate it directly. I also learned how the academic system is different in other countries. It was very eye-opening in the sense that being a part of the French academic system really made me appreciate how the American system works, while also appreciating the things that the French system did better. Last but not least, I had the incredible opportunity to travel throughout France, which was as big a part of my academic experience as anything else from that semester. I visited museums and castles, toured ancient Cathar fortresses in the mountains of the South of France, and met so many incredible, intelligent people with different viewpoints from my own. One of the biggest components of learning while I was there wasn’t just at school, but through my interactions with the French, with British students that I became friends with, and with other American students in my program.

I visited museums and castles, toured ancient Cathar fortresses in the mountains of the South of France, and met so many incredible, intelligent people with different viewpoints from my own.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

After graduation, I plan to attend medical school and become a doctor. Although this may not seem related to my study abroad experience, I can say with certainty that I gained and honed many skills while abroad that will help me in my future career plans. By the end of my semester, I was much more comfortable with interacting with people in general, just because I had had the experience of having to communicate with people in a different language and who are from a different culture. Once you’ve lived for a certain amount of time abroad, you become much more comfortable with approaching and interacting with complete strangers, as well as with your own friends. I would also love to participate in Doctors Without Borders and perhaps even practice medicine in a country in Europe or elsewhere, and even if I am not practicing in a Francophone country, the language skills and cultural appreciation that I gained while in France will undoubtedly serve me well.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

I would absolutely recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students, with no reservations. Before I left, everyone told me that I was going to have an incredibly enriching experience, and that it would change me in ways I couldn’t even imagine. I believed them, but no amount of preparation or speculation could have prepared me for the beauty that I experienced in so many aspects of my time there, the ways that I grew as a person, and the lasting friendships that I made. So that is my advice to all other students: everyone is going to tell you wonderful things about studying abroad, but the only way for you to truly discover them is to get out there and have those experiences yourself.

For more information on global experiences for Liberal Arts students, visit our website.
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