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.

How I Found the Right Advisor

Leah Tood Advisor Blog Post
Leah Todd ’20 credits her advisor, Physics Professor Tom Askew, for helping her find her way to the 3/2 engineering program and a study-abroad opportunity in Costa Rica.

Before college, I heard that I needed to find a good advisor. Someone who could guide me through my classes and prepare me for life afterward. Kalamazoo College assigns every first-year student an advisor when you come into school, in conjunction with your First-Year Seminar. First-Year Seminars are for incoming students to develop their critical thinking, writing and discussion skills. My First-Year Seminar was We Too Are Americans, about minorities in America. The Seminar was taught by Dr. Kathy Smith, who became my advisor; this was convenient for me, because I was able to connect with my advisor in every class period. In advisor meetings, we are supposed to discuss classes we want to take in the next term, goals for our college careers, and what we are doing in preparation for our futures. Although my advisor was supportive and inviting, she was not in the physics department, so she could not guide me through my intended major.

Leah Tood Advisor Blog Post 1
Leah Todd credits Physics Professor Tom Askew with helping her find her way to the 3/2 engineering program at K.

Fast forward to sophomore year. I realized I would benefit from having an advisor in my department. Near the end of fall term, I heard that Dr. Smith would be retiring at the end of the school year. This made it clear that a new advisor was necessary. Over winter break, I decided to go to the physics department to talk about my future at K with a professor that I had connected with, who had reached out to me when it became clear that I was off track for my major. Unfortunately, he was not there that day, but Dr. Tom Askew, the head of the 3/2 engineering program was present. Although I intended to talk about physics, he convinced me to think about the 3/2 engineering program. Ideally, I would take physics, math, computer science and chemistry courses at Kalamazoo College and then transfer to an accredited engineering school and receive a Bachelor of Science in an ABET-accredited engineering program and a bachelor’s degree in physics at Kalamazoo College. He and I spoke for over an hour about future courses and more involvement on campus. The appointment ended with him offering to be my advisor.

Leah Tood Advisor Blog Post 2
Leah Todd credits Physics Professor Tom Askew with helping her find her way to the 3/2 engineering program at K.

Over the rest of the school year, I regularly met with him. Unlike my other advisor and mentors, he did not sugar coat his messages. He was honest about my strengths and weaknesses in academics and where he saw my future. At times I would take offense, because I had not had anyone be so honest with me. His transparency helped me to be realistic. He was also the first to congratulate me when I had a stellar term.

I also credit my advisor for encouraging me to study abroad. I did not think I would be able to go because I did not take all the classes for my major in the intended order. He pushed me to talk to counselors at the Center for International Programs about my options and how I could work it into the curriculum. I applied and was accepted into the Costa Rica program for the fall term. While there, he kept in contact with me and helped schedule me for classes since I did not always have an internet connection while traveling. His persistence made me grateful for the professors I would be returning to when I came back to campus.

When I returned, he and I spoke about my future and transferring to Western Michigan University to finish off the major. Like many other times when I stopped in his office, he and I talked about the future of infrastructure in the United States, sustainability efforts on our campus and my plans for the summer. From that conversation, he thought the David Hawkins ’62 Student Research Fellowship for the Study of Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy or Environmental Sustainability would be an appropriate research opportunity for me. While my path at Kalamazoo College has not been linear, I have always been able to find support that has helped shape my path and open doors to new opportunities. I will forever be grateful for the number of times my advisor, Dr. Askew, has gambled on me.

Leah Tood is a 3/2 engineering major at Kalamazoo College.

More (Friends) in Four. More (Friends) in a Lifetime.

Here I am at the end of my sophomore year feeling sentimental because three of my closest friends here on campus are graduating soon. This may seem like something that is completely irrelevant to some but I think that this particular situation speaks to how the dynamics at Kalamazoo College work in terms of creating friendships and relationships, and maintaining those connections. During my first year here at K, my friend group primarily consisted of other first year students due to participating in LandSea, orientation week, First Year Seminars, and living in one of the all-First-Year dorms. This wasn’t a bad thing by any means. I was very comfortable within my group of friends and was glad I had a stable and strong group of individuals that made my transition from high school to college seem so smooth and comfortable. However, I’ve been able to connect with more people this year for various reasons.

Being a sophomore is very different from being a first year student, and I’m sure that is not a surprise to anyone reading this. When you’re a sophomore you have a year of college experience and have become familiar and more comfortable with the college environment. Yet here at K, the sophomore experience is a little different since you and the seniors essentially run the school. Due to a new wave of first year students and practically all the juniors being on study abroad, student organizations and events typically come down to the responsibility of the sophomores and seniors. This dynamic serves as a catalyst for communication and connection between the two different classes. I have been lucky enough to really get to know seniors in the student organizations and classes I am in because of this dynamic.

Specifically, I have gained three senior friends that I am so grateful to have gotten to know. The three of them have helped guide me through sophomore year (which can be overwhelming because of the responsibility you now have). Through them, I have gained more confidence in certain areas of my life (such as writing and leading) and have been reassured that I don’t have to have everything figured out. One is a Psychology major that will go to medical school, one is an English major who has actually graduated early and will pursue her MFA at a graduate school in northern Michigan in the fall, and the other is an English major who will attend a publishing program at the University of Oxford in England from September to December. The three of them through their own experiences, challenges, and triumphs have taught me that even though their post-grad plans sound so sure and concrete, it took time and effort for them to fall into place. I am beyond thankful that I have had the three of them to serve as friends, mentors, and supporters. That’s the thing about this weird dynamic here at K, it can expose you to some of the most influential people, and I hope one day I will pass on all that they have given to me.

Karina Pantoja ‘20

Make Your Way to K

Here’s the thing, at this point in the college process, you are deciding where you’re going to end up for the next four years of your life. The next four years – it sounds scary and almost like a decision too big for an seventeen or eighteen year old, but let me tell you this, you’re going to end up exactly where you need to. However, while you’re calculating the distance from home or trying to figure out what school colors you’d look better in, you should read this list of 10 reasons why you should make your way to K:

1. Our entire campus lies in (barely) a mile-long radius. It will literally, at most, take you five
minutes to walk from one end of the campus to another. Do you know how great that is in the winter?

2. We have free food at every. single. event. I’m serious, we have so much food to offer you!

3. Downtown Kalamazoo is only a short walk away. There’s everything from a movie theater to restaurants to a museum and stores just a few minutes away!

4. We have the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership (also known as the best building on campus). You have the ability to get involved and attend various events with topics that range from Native American representation throughout history to resistance through art.

5. Jorge Gonzalez is the most wonderful, caring, and genuine man you might ever meet and he is also the President of the College (this is a fact). Come for Jorge, he’d love you!

6. We’re on a trimester system (three 10-week terms), which means we start school later (mid-September) and you get a six-week winter break (end of November until the second week of January) – it’s what you need, trust me.

7. The average class size at K is 13. Our small class sizes mean you get to make valuable connections with your professors, which comes in handy for recommendations and networking in the future.

8. STUDY ABROAD. I mean, let’s be real here, what schools allows you to study abroad for a full academic year and still graduate on time? (Hint: Kalamazoo College does.)

9. By the time you’re a sophomore, you have the opportunity to hold various leadership positions within student organizations. Typically, you wouldn’t serve on an executive board of a club or organization at a bigger university until your junior or senior year, but here at K, you can start as early as the end of your first year so you can go into your sophomore year holding certain positions.

10. You will literally get more in your four years here at K – from career development to study abroad to independent research, your work throughout your time here at K will put you on track to obtain more in a lifetime.

Now there you have it, ten reasons (although there are so many more) on why YOU should make your way to K. We hope to see you soon!

Karina Pantoja ’20

New World, New Words, and New Wonder

The summer before I started my first year, I called my academic advisor and asked a few questions about the language classes I could take at K. Having taken Spanish for 5 years and having placed into a 300 level course, I thought it would be an easy conversation.  Fifteen minutes later, I was enrolled in my first Chinese class. I wasn’t entirely sure the challenge and adventure that lay ahead of me, but looking back I know the impulsive decision I made that day has given me incredible opportunities of growth, building new friendships, and the chance to express myself in new ways.

fall 2015_Chinese Class_amandajohnsonFrom fall quarter of my first year all the way until spring quarter of my sophomore year, I was a loyal member of Chinese language classes. The one hour language lab on my Tuesday and Thursday evenings, a time where native speakers helped us with our language acquisition, became as normal as eating meals. My classmates became like family and my professors became some of my closest friends. Going through something difficult with people has a magic way of bringing you close; learning Chinese was difficult and certainly brought us close.

Proud of my accomplishment of surviving two full years of Chinese class, but still feeling like I had a long way to go, led me to studying, researching, and living in China for nine months. Kalamazoo College supported my newfound love of learning Chinese both on and off campus, and encouraged me to challenge myself in new ways. K supported me in receiving a $20,000 scholarship to support my abroad experience and has continued to support me as I seek to further my language skills after graduation. Learning Chinese has become an integral part of my college experience, and the friendships I have made through the process have made me a better person.IMG_0166

People frequently ask me why I decided to study Chinese. Most people probably assume that a decision like this would take a lot of planning and thought, but for me it was different. Impulsive is the only way to describe it. Although I had been interesting in studying Chinese for a while, the decision to take that first class really happened on a whim. And now here I am, three years later able to converse in Chinese on most topics, write academic papers in Chinese, and read the newspaper in Chinese.

If I am honest with myself I don’t know if this would have been part of my college experience had I not attended Kalamazoo College. As part of the liberal arts education K challenges its students to reach beyond their “normal”, and this was led me to my new “normal”. K College opened my world, my words, and my wonder. And for that I am forever grateful.

-Amanda Johnson ’17

Student Spotlight: The Chemist with A Passion for Music

Student: Bryan Lara ’17bryan lara

Hometown: Anaheim, CA

I’ve known Bryan since freshman year when we were in College Singers, one of the student choirs on campus. When I found out Bryan was majoring in the sciences, I was a little surprised. He was so involved in the music department that I assumed he was a music major.

Now, we are seniors and I have gotten to know Bryan very well. I see him now as just another K student with opposing majors and minors, because that’s just the kind of school Kalamazoo is. So I sat down to talk with him about his academic life at Kalamazoo, and how that has in turn influenced the rest of his time here at K.

What’s your major? Or majors?

Ok, so I am a Bio—wait no I’m not—sorry. I am a chemistry major. I have a biochemistry and molecular biology concentration and I have a minor in music.

Ok, well those first two things make sense together, but the music? How did that get thrown in there?

I’ve been a part of a music program since seventh grade so after high school I realized I didn’t want to let go of music. One of the plus sides about K is you don’t have to be a music major or minor to be affiliated with the ensembles and take classes, so I decided to do both fall quarter freshman year. That was when I realized I really wasn’t ready to let go. At first I tried to make it a double major, but I wanted to spend more time in the hard sciences so I dropped it to a minor. I was just being realistic and trying not to spread myself too thin but it’s a passion I’ve always had.

How has your chemistry major and the hard sciences impacted your involvement on campus?

I think every quarter varies, but there is that baseline where I know what I can do and what I can’t, and what I can reach for and push myself to do. For example, since I usually take two science classes a quarter that means I know I should split them on which days I take them and when I can be involved in certain organizations. I can think to myself, “I probably can’t be in this club because I have a pre-lab due the next day.” In some ways it’s been restrictive, but in other ways it’s made me join other clubs like SUKUMA (a club for minorities in the hard sciences), which is really nice. I didn’t even know it was a thing until one of my friends was like “there is this club, you should come join!”. It makes me feel like I’m a part of something on this campus that not everybody else is, because the hard science isn’t for everyone. It definitely has positives and negatives but I feel like I made the right choice.


Did you come into K knowing you wanted to be a chemistry major or did that just kind of happen?

When I came in, I knew I wanted to do a hard science. I actually started in biology. Since I’m mostly in the pre-med track, it means you still have to take a lot of chemistry, so originally I declared biology and was just taking chemistry classes. Then I realized that the biology at K isn’t necessarily the biology I really love. I started taking more chemistry almost by accident because I really liked it and I was good at it. It felt natural for me to switch from biology to chemistry. It’s still a hard science, and it’s still pre-med, and I’ve loved my decision. I do my chemistry classes, and sometimes I may be confused out of my mind, but I still enjoy it.

Was it hard to switch from biology to chemistry?

No, because I’m on the pre-med track, the classes line up pretty closely. There were a few, like my ecology class that was just an extra class. So it actually worked out really well.

So, you’re a senior and you completed your SIP (Senior Individualized Project). How was that? Did you do it in your major?

Yeah, I did. It was stressful, but it ended up being worth it. The research I ended up doing was completely different from what I expected. It was definitely a good different because I got to do a lot of stuff that you don’t always realize goes into research. I collected participants, drawing blood samples, preparing the samples. I thought I was just going to be doing the nitty-gritty of what I had to do for my SIP, but no, I did a lot more and my supervisor was actually really supportive, and so was the rest of the chemistry department when I got back on campus in the fall. All of the students are supportive of each other and help each other out with stuff like formatting and editing. Teamwork makes the dream work, guys!

Did you go on study abroad?

Yeah, I did. I went to Ecuador and I did the ecology and ecosystem program for six months.

And what was that like? Was it related to chemistry?   

No, actually I officially decided to be a chemistry major after that program. Before that I was technically a biology major and a chemistry major.

So study abroad was really like a turning point for you in your K career?

Yeah, I was still very on the fence sophomore year and I thought this program would help me decide. Ecology fascinates me, but I have a passion for organic chemistry which most people find odd, since its one of the more difficult kinds of chemistry. That said, the Ecuador program is just phenomenal. You get to do research in the Amazon rain forest and the Galapagos Islands, and it’s just such an experiences that I don’t think many people get to have, and oh my, it was paradise and I loved it.

One last question for you: Why did you pick K?

Well, I applied to 14 different schools when I applied to college. At first I was drawn to Kalamazoo College at a college fair because of the name, but then I ended up really liking what I read about it in the brochures. When I got accepted to schools I started doing visits and after visiting all the schools I felt the most at home at K. Even though it was out of state, which is something I wanted when I was applying to schools, it still felt like home and I was more comfortable here than any other school. Everyone was just so welcoming and nice. I felt like K was a place I could grow since it’s so nurturing. And I always thought I could transfer back to UCLA if I didn’t love it, but I didn’t. Now, I’m a senior and I’m going to be sad to leave come June.

Interview conducted by Isabella Kerivan ’17

My Visit Experience

When I was applying to college, I really just wanted to get away from home and get as far away as possible. When my high school’s college counselor recommended I look at Kalamazoo College, I wanted to laugh—actually I might have. I said sure, told my parents about it, and they looked into the school with me. Suddenly, my parents were attached to the idea of me going to Kalamazoo College and set up a trip to an open house. On a chilly, Sunday morning, I hopped in my parents’ car and we made the two and half hour drive from Royal Oak to Kalamazoo. The brick buildings with the changing leaves of October seemed almost magical. It didn’t look real, it looked like a Photoshopped image of what a college should look like.

We entered the Fine Arts Building (the FAB) to listen to panels of students and faculty talk about what Kalamazoo College was all about. The more they talked about K (as they affectionately referred to the school), the more I felt like maybe I could actually go here. I sat in the auditorium all morning listening to talks about student life alongside academics and it seemed like maybe this wasn’t such a laughable option to me.

During a break in the program for lunch with current students, my parents and I had a wonderful talk with a girl who was a senior that recently returned from study abroad in China. She was double majoring in psychology and business and was very involved on campus. As she talked to me about her life at K, I had to ask, “how is it possible that you’re doing all of this stuff and studying abroad, AND getting a double major?!” She laughed and said, “That’s just how K is, because of the K-Plan, it’s so easy to do whatever you want.”

It was like my mom could read my mind because she asked, “What exactly is the K-Plan?” The student explained how Kalamazoo College doesn’t require you to take classes you don’t want to take. You really only need to complete your major, meet a language requirement, take a few P.E. courses, and complete other small requirements like a seminar and a senior project. “Because it’s so open, you end up getting double majors and minors and things almost by accident. It also makes it really easy to go abroad for two quarters.”

We finished lunch, thanked the girl for talking with us, and headed out on our tour of campus. As we were walking, I was mulling around what the girl had said about the curriculum being so open and really enjoying that. Walking around the small, beautiful campus, I was at peace. I wasn’t overwhelmed or full of anxiety. I felt calm; I felt at home.

Izzie Kerivan in Kalamazoo College sweatshirt

Before we left for the day we stopped in to the bookstore where my dad happily bought me a sweatshirt for what he started referring to that day as “K College, your new school”. On the way home I wore the sweatshirt, took a selfie in it, and posted it on Instagram. Those two hours, and really the whole day, allowed me to realize that what I was looking for in college wasn’t necessarily literally distance from my hometown, my family, and all that I knew. Rather, I was looking for a change. What I was looking for was a place that was not as strict as my Catholic high school and not as mundane as my Metro Detroit suburb. I was looking for a weird place like Kalamazoo, Michigan and a campus that was open and accepting of any and all students. I still sent out applications to other schools, but when it came down to it, I knew where I would be. Closer to home than I ever thought, but it would feel like a different world and that was exactly what I needed.

– Izzie Kerivan ’17