Study Abroad Trip to France Was Years in the Making

three students on study abroad
Jessie Gougeon ’21, Maddie Jump ’21 and Avani Ashtekar ’21 spent a day working at a vineyard in Menetrol, Auvergne, France.

I had dreamed of coming to Clermont-Ferrand, France, since I was a sophomore in high school. My sister was a junior at Kalamazoo College, studying abroad in this small French city tucked away in France’s volcanic chain.

Most people in France have not even heard of this town, and there I was in Sterling Heights, Michigan,—exactly 4,051 miles away—dreaming of the day I would call it home. I applied to colleges my junior year of high school, keeping my hopes set on K; the day I was accepted I knew I was one step closer to reaching this dream.

Fast forward to 2019: When I arrived in France this September, the first thing that came to my mind was, “I hope I remember how to speak French!” I had six years of French classes, a French department award, and two years of college under my belt, yet looking back, nothing could have prepared me for all the incredible life experiences I was about to encounter abroad.

Cathedral in Clermont-Ferrand
Jessie Gougeon ’21 can see this cathedral from her favorite cafe in Clermont-Ferrand.
City of Clermont-Ferrand, France from study abroad
Jessie Gougeon ’21 had dreamed of visiting the city of Clermont-Ferrand, France, since she was a sophomore in high school.

Being abroad has helped me to grow in so many ways that I never would have expected. I am learning to be more independent, having to figure out situations I have never been in before—from navigating the metros of Paris, to learning the proper French etiquette of dinner with my host family.

I am also having the rare opportunity of using my French language skills all day, every day. This can be challenging; for example, I never knew the word for “blister” in French, and it took about 20 minutes to try to explain to my host mom why I needed a bandage for my foot. Yet each time you are put in a situation where you learn new words and figure out what you need to say, you just feel more and more confident.

I also have had the opportunity to make lifelong friendships that would never have happened without study abroad. I get to live with a French family who truly feels like a second family, meet French students, go on dates with French boys, and even become closer to the students who came with me from Kalamazoo. Coming to another country where you know no one is a huge bonding experience, and now I have best friends from Kalamazoo who I never even knew before this year. We have traveled through Europe together, hiked the biggest volcano in France, the Puy-de-Dôme, and made Clermont-Ferrand into our new home together.

I am about half done with my study abroad program. As I sit here in my favorite café, I can see the infamous gothic cathedral made from volcanic stone and its black hues are still just as shockingly beautiful to me as the first time I saw them. In the distance I can see that the Puy-de-Dôme has snow on its peak, while the city has not yet reached winter. I am so happy I chose to come to Kalamazoo College and to study abroad in Clermont-Ferrand. I am so excited for what these final months in France have in store for me.

Jessie Gougeon ’21 is a Sterling Heights, Michigan, native currently studying abroad in Clermont-Ferrand.