Bear Abroad Benjamin in France

Benjamin Pirie

Major: Economics

“Studying abroad really forces you out of your comfort zone. I think my study abroad experience really built up my self confidence in dealing with new or strange situations.”

What led you to study abroad? Why did you choose your country/program?

I think having an international education is incredibly important, especially in our increasingly globalized world. In addition, I wanted a study abroad experience to open my mind and help me grow as an individual. I chose France because I have a background with the French language, so it provided me with an opportunity to practice my language skills and develop my connection with the French culture. The program I chose, at Sciences Po, allowed me to take Economics courses which I could use to progress in my major. Additionally, it is a well known institution with an international focus and strong academics.

What was the most interesting cultural experience you had abroad?

The most interesting cultural aspect of my time abroad was partaking in the French eating experience. French people love their food, so meal times are almost sacred. It is common for employees to take hour long lunches in the middle of the day where they sit down to a full meal and even a glass of wine! This was perfect for me, a self proclaimed foodie, and so I embraced the French eating experience. These experiences ranged from a small picnic by the Seine River under the summer sun, or gathering around a pot of fondue when the weather turned worse. The key common ingredient of these experiences is the gathering of people to share food.

What was the biggest challenge/concern of your study abroad experience? How did you respond?

My biggest challenge was navigating life in a foreign culture with a foreign language. I found the best way to deal with this was by surrounding myself with people who were also going through the same adaptation process. This allowed me to learn from others and gave a comfortable place to express my worries.

Describe a typical day for you abroad.

A typical day consisted of waking up and making breakfast, or eating fresh pastries from my local "patisserie". Then I would generally have two classes, each two hours long. For lunch I would get a sandwich or crepe with friends from one of the various stands around the school's neighborhood. Depending on the timing of my classes I may explore a part of the city in the afternoon and work at home in the evening, or work all afternoon and gather in a group at a friend's apartment to cook dinner. During the weekdays I almost always cooked dinner for myself.

What coursework did you take while abroad? How did courses abroad compare with Berkeley classes?

Class scheduling in my program was dramatically different from what I was used to at Berkeley. For the most part, classes met only once a week for two hour blocks. The expectation is that students are responsible for expanding on the class material with different readings on their own time. The reality of this is that classes were less demanding than those at Berkeley, with less assignments to stay on top of and less material covered on exams.

What was the most memorable/meaningful aspect of your time abroad?

The people I met were the most memorable aspect of my time abroad. Being with others who were just as open to adventure and curious about the world as I am meant that anything we did together was a good time.

What impact did studying abroad have on you personally?

Studying abroad really forces you out of your comfort zone. Whether it was dealing with bureaucracy in a foreign language, managing travel plans, planning out which meals to cook, or navigating the expansive French pharmacies, I was really forced to be independent. I think my study abroad experience really built up my self confidence in dealing with new or strange situations.

What would you recommend to students considering studying abroad, especially to your country or program?