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.

Lights! Camera! Filmmaking at K

Ximena Davis promotes the Filmmaking Club at K-Fest
Ximena Davis promotes the filmmaking club, the Kalamazoo College Filmmakers’ Society, at K-Fest.

One of the most exciting events as a first-year at Kalamazoo College is the K-Fest fair that happens during the second week of classes fall term. K-Fest is a student organization fair where all of the student organizations set up tables and advertise their clubs. First-years and upperclassmen alike migrate toward the lower quad to sign up for any club that interests them. I remember roaming around the tables and finding multiple clubs that attracted me such as the Kalamazoo College Democrats, the Zoology Club, and Cirque du K, the circus troupe. However, there was one particular hobby that was a true passion of mine: filmmaking. Kalamazoo College has more than 70 student organizations and I signed up for so many; however, I couldn’t find one for filmmaking. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop my curiosity, and I decided to start my own club with another passionate and interested friend of mine.

K made that process very easy and once I spoke with the Office of Student Involvement, I soon found myself the co-founder and president of the Kalamazoo College Filmmakers’ Society my junior year. Helping to run the club had many components, and the first order of business was to generate interest and gain new members. My senior year was our first chance to advertise at K-Fest and I remember excitedly making our cardboard cutout for our table to entice future members. We had more than 50 people sign up for the club and it was so invigorating and validating to find other people who were just as interested in filmmaking as I was.

Throughout the fall term, we developed a very close group of dedicated members, and as an early club, we all bounced ideas off of each other as to what we wanted the club to focus on. We decided that creating our own films was the thing that interested all of us the most, so the other experienced leaders and I taught our new members some of the basics of filmmaking. During our winter term, we collaborated with Balderdash, the creative writing club, on a script and ended up shooting and editing our first film! The script was finished in the first week, the actors had a week to memorize, and we shot everything on one Saturday! It was such an exciting experience and it was fun being in charge and making sure every shot got done. We woke up before 8a.m. and began shooting in the dorm lounge at 9 a.m.. Even though we kept having to apologize to residents for the noise, everyone in the building was supportive and intrigued by our project.

As we switched shots, we also switched roles, giving each member the opportunity to learn different jobs on set. We scrambled at the end to finish, the light beginning to change around 4 p.m., and yet watching everyone come together as actors, camera people, and sound was such a rewarding moment. Calling out that last cut just in time—it was so gratifying to see how focused and unified everyone was. Editing was completed within the next couple of weeks and before the term was over, we had a finished film! Inevitably, however, it was time to graduate, and passing the torch at the end of the year to our new first-year members was a bittersweet moment. While it was hard to say goodbye to something I’d created and grown along with, it was ultimately rewarding to see it continue on with such wonderful and passionate people.

Being a student at Kalamazoo College means being a part of an active and interconnected student body. I found many welcoming spaces and one of them was my own Hollywood oasis. Learning and finding other people with my same interests led to so many great moments, and I found that there is always the opportunity at K to create your own spaces and communities.

Ximena Davis graduated from Kalamazoo College in June after majoring in English and minoring in anthropology and sociology. She also had concentrations in media studies and American studies.

K Students take on the Civil Liberties & Public Policy (CLPP) Conference

This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity of traveling with a group of students from K to the annual Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) Conference in Massachusetts. CLPP is a yearly event that is dedicated to creating a space for individuals to come together and discuss reproductive justice– its history, the work that has been done, the work currently being done, and what is yet to come. The conference lasted from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, and hosted a variety of workshops to attend with other events such as an opportunity to network and panels made up of activists explaining their work and organizations.

The schedule of the conference was as followed: checking in on Friday afternoon, attending a workshop, dinner, and then an abortion speak out (this is where anyone who has ever had an abortion is able to share as much or as little about their experience in a safe space). Following the speak out was the screening of the movie, Margaritas with a Straw, chosen for its representation of disabled folks and LGBTQ folks within the film. On Saturday there was an open plenary to start the day where activists from different organizations said a few words about their work or organization. This was followed by a quick lunch and then the opportunity to attend three workshops. Following the workshops was dinner with the opportunity to network with other individuals at the conference. Later that night there was an 80s themed dance party for everyone at the conference. On the last day, Sunday, we had the chance to attend one more workshop before attending the closing plenary, which was a panel consisting of four activists who talked about their work.

One of my favorite parts of the conference was the closing plenary because the theme of the panel was how one can (and why one should) keep joy, liberation, and self-care at the front of their activism. All the speakers on the panel discussed how important it is to find time for self-care and to participate in the activities that make you happy. Most activists are “burnt out” by their late 20s which can mostly be attributed to the fact that many individuals keep themselves so busy and immersed in their work that they can forget to take a break, or don’t take a break for fear that it can be seen as being “weak” or “lazy” or “not as involved” compared to other activists. However, the panelists on Sunday said that self-care has only made their activism stronger and has made them feel more proud of the work they do, whether it be working to help mothers end sustenance abuse or helping women of color gain better access to education.

As someone who participates in small steps of activism and who would like to keep activism as an aspect and activity within their lives, it’s comforting to know that that doesn’t mean I should ever stop taking care of myself in order to help others. There is time and space to make sure that you are being taken care of while also improving the lives of others. No one can reach full liberation if we, as the activists, are allowing ourselves to suffer under the restraints of ourselves.

-Karina Pantoja ’20