International Education Month with FSU History: Jake Serafin in Paris, France

Thu, 11/30/23
Jake Serafin

Tell us about yourself!

Hi, I am Jake Serafin, a History major and senior at Florida State University. I will graduate in Spring 2024. If I had to choose a favorite historical event, it would be World War I.

What specific program did you study abroad with?

I spent four weeks in Paris, France, last summer with International Programs to continue my language learning. IP has no FSU study center in France, so we took our French classes at the Institute Catholique in the heart of Paris. We lived in the Canadian house in the Cite Universitaire, which was located about 30 min from the town center by metro.

How did the 'studying' part of study abroad work?

I only took language classes. We had a placement test in the beginning, and then you joined a class that was exactly at your skill level. I had classes five days a week, sometimes just in the morning, other days in the afternoons too. In the end, the credits I earned were applied to my transcript here at FSU.

The classroom was all French speaking – although we could ask questions in English if we did not know a word or a phrase – but on top of that living in Paris meant that you spoke French all the time! I went to the bakery pretty much every day, and I would order in French, and get my croissant or baguette. So, speaking French in everyday life and taking classes at the same time was the best possible way to learn the language.

What was living abroad like?

I will first say that living in a city as large as Paris was an experience all in itself. Being surrounded by so many people, taking public transport to get to places, that all created a very different atmosphere from what I was used to back in Florida. We were given a travel pass for Paris, and that meant we could go anywhere within the city which made exploring really easy. In Paris specifically, there's so much history in the city, the architecture is phenomenal, and you can just see the history on the walls everywhere you go. We visited many museums and places as part of the study abroad program.

My favorite place to visit was the Opera Garnier which is the setting for the famous Phantom of the Opera story, I believe. The architecture of the Opera Garnier was just stunning, and I had a definite cramp in my neck from looking up at the beautifully sculpted pillars and ceilings. The other place in Paris that I liked was the military museum, the Musée de l'Armée. Since I am very interested in World War I, exploring the museum's extensive collection of historical artifacts and exhibits was a very enjoyable experience. One of the highlights was joining the Bastille Day celebrations on July 14th in Paris. That is France’s ‘Fourth of July,’ and we went to watch the military parade as group.

I also took a day trip to Château de Chantilly on my own. It’s a very scenic palace and holds an important art collection, including several paintings by Raphael. Additionally, the castle grounds were stunning.

Shopping too was an experience. There are many articles that are the same as in the U.S., but there are also a lot of French brands and variations of items I knew from home. It paid to read through all the labels to see if the stuff I was buying was different from what I was used to.

Eating out was also interesting. We went to some restaurants with the study abroad program and surprisingly tasted food from a lot of different countries. I enjoyed all of that. To be honest, some of my favorite food moments though were sitting down with a burger from McDonald’s. They use local ingredients and France has different food laws and that made even the burger taste much better!

This was my second time in France. I took a family trip to France and Switzerland when I was in high school, but this was the first time going abroad for an extended period of time. Previously I had only been in Paris for a few days, but now I got to experience Paris for an entire month, and it was an eye-opening experience to live in a different culture for that long.

What advice do you have for students thinking about studying abroad?

Once you are accepted into a program, I would say do some research in advance. Make sure you know what you need to pack and what you can buy locally. Also, think about what places you’d like to visit. The study abroad program will offer a number of excursions, but you’ll have free time, and it is useful to know ahead of time what sites you want to visit on your own or with friends.

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time?

I would tell myself to be more concerned with not getting sick. Since you will be taking public transport and are living in a very big city, it is good to have hand sanitizer on you or even a face mask. I ended up getting a cold – as did others in the program, which wasn’t that bad but still, I would tell myself to pay more attention to my health.

Final thoughts?

I would say that I would definitely recommend going on this study abroad program. Whether you're there to primarily learn French or primarily see the sites, you can make either one happen based on your goals. And you have the chance to live in Paris, a fantastic city. You can visit the sites, the museums, enjoy the atmosphere and you have the opportunity to just explore on your own or with some friends. It's incredible, and I recommend that everyone do it, because who knows when you may have the chance again.