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Study Abroad: University of Minnesota Montpellier Integrated Program
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Timothy Sullivan

Paterno Fellow
Hometown: Harleysville, PA
Majors: Psychology and French
Minor: Dance

How did you learn about this opportunity?

From the start of my studies at Penn State, I knew I was going to study abroad. I first found out about the Montpellier Integrated program by searching through the Global Programs website, however, what really solidified my decision to choose this program was talking with other students. Additionally I discussed programs with French faculty members and Peer Advisers at the Education Abroad office; the culmination of all of my research pointed to the program that best matched my needs of language immersion, instruction quality, and atmosphere.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

While incredibly cliché to say, this experience has been life changing for me. I discovered so many things about myself that I never knew before. I have formed so many new relationships and have been exposed to so many diverse and interesting people. Each of them has taught me something that I can take with me. I have taken on a new perspective and view my country, my culture, and my own life differently. Living in a foreign country teaches you humility as you struggle to find the words to order something in another language or are forced to make hilarious hand gestures to get your point across. I have lived each day with gratitude knowing that each new thing I encounter, each new conversation I have, and each new thing I learn helps me evolve into a better person. The opportunity to travel to immensely different locations has been an eye opening experience as I have voyaged to see places I have only learned about in history textbooks. I have gotten to see and to observe with a critical eye the stereotypes that are circulated throughout the respective French and American cultures and form my own opinions about their validity. I have had long conversations over a dinner with my host family and have helped strangers with navigation in a completely different location, and have occasionally been mistaken for a French person. In all, this experience has given me insight into a world I have never known and strive to learn more about.

"I have a broader perspective in regards to my own culture, which can help me take on different perspectives in other domains of my life. With the ever-growing possibility of international research/collaboration, this experience will no doubt prove beneficial for me."

How did this experience impact you academically?

Studying at a French university has certainly been an academic challenge for me. The higher education systems in the United States and France are very different, so it took a good bit of time getting used to the way everything operates in France (and, of course, the fact that all of my classes were completely in French). I found that I was always comparing the United States and France when I was at Paul Valéry University in Montpellier because they are in fact so different. I found myself having to work harder on assignments because of the additional language barrier. The grades they assign here are on a scale of 0 through 20, so adapting to the grading scale was something so simple but definitely necessary from the get go. They teach very differently in France; it was at first difficult getting used to a new method of learning that differed from the way I approach each of my courses in the United States. I found that I was working harder towards my work, but in a different way. Each class required additional energy so that I could understand the lecture in a different language. The most important attribute to this program, however, is that my French has improved dramatically from taking university courses in Montpellier. I can speak, read, and write on a completely higher level, which will only help me in my future studies and beyond.

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

For me, French is just a passion. My primary major is Psychology, so I plan on continuing onto graduate school after Penn State to pursue a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Another potential career path for me would be to obtain a Masters of Social Work. However, I have also considered joining the Peace Corps to volunteer abroad for 27 months once I graduate from Penn State. While my experience in France may not contribute directly to these potential professions (depending on what is involved with each or if there are international components), the skills I have learned from studying abroad will no doubt be an asset to me. Now, I am very attentive to communication as I have had to put forth an extra effort to do so in the past few months. I have learned to take initiative and deal with times of stress, particularly from my experiences travelling with groups. I have a broader perspective in regards to my own culture, which can help me take on different perspectives in other domains of my life. With the ever-growing possibility of international research/collaboration, this experience will no doubt prove beneficial for me.

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