What started as one semester abroad in France turned into a seven-month European excursion.
Sélène Allain-Kovacs makes a spontaneous trip to Frankfurt, Germany, after seven months abroad. She and a friend attend a festival and sit next to a group of strangers. While getting to know everyone, they realize they all have something in common: travel.
They are all from different places and backgrounds, yet together they experience what Allain-Kovacs refers to as one of the most magical moments of her time abroad. One from the group, a man from the Netherlands says, “This. This conversation; this is the importance of travel. If anyone asks why they should travel, we should all tell them about tonight.”
Moments like these were commonplace for Allain-Kovacs during her time abroad. Upon arrival in France, she realized she had five days before classes began and decided to take a trip. With her eyes closed, she pointed at a map and landed on Copenhagen – and that is where she went.
Allain-Kovacs spent the spring 2017 semester studying abroad at the Université d’Angers in Angers, France. The senior history major says she knew before starting college that she wanted to study abroad, so when she saw a flyer one day advertising the exchange program in Angers, the decision to apply was easy.
NSU’s International Student Resource Center coordinates students’ international exchanges and often allows them to pay the same tuition they would pay if they were still in the U.S. After factoring in scholarships, the only costs for Allain-Kovacs were rent, food and travel costs. She was able to keep her job as an English tutor and editor while overseas – something that helped with her income tremendously during her travels.
Other than French, each of Allain-Kovacs’ classes met once a week. She says school is very different in France. The homework load is lighter, consisting mainly of light reading. Students only receive one grade for the semester: the final. The main difference she notes, however, is the culture.
“I only ever saw one student, another American, wearing sweatpants. Our French professor made fun of him for being so ‘comfortable’ in class,” she says.
On weekends, Allain-Kovacs spent her time exploring surrounding cities, which she says was easy due to the availability of affordable transportation, like buses and trains. She traveled to four other countries – Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Denmark – while still in school.
After class ended for the semester, Allain-Kovacs continued her travels. She began her summer with a road trip to Portugal before backpacking through Europe. She stayed within her budget by staying in hostels rather than hotels. In a hostel, similar to a dorm room, travelers rent a bed rather than a room. It is this sort of close-quartered living that allowed Allain-Kovacs to meet many of the friends she made during her travels.
While waiting for the subway one day in Rome, she and a friend met two travelers staying at another hostel. All headed toward Vatican City, they decided to travel together and ended up spending the day with each other.
Allain-Kovacs says before her semester abroad, she had never gone somewhere where she didn’t know anyone. During the seven-month trip, she had visited 11 countries plus the Vatican and made new friends from all over the world.
For more information on studying abroad, students can visit www.nsula.edu/international/
Allain-Kovacs encourages everyone to travel if at all possible. Read her letter below.
Travel. How do I describe what that word means to me? The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “to go from one place to another on a trip, usually over a long distance.” While this is unarguably a correct definition, it doesn’t really do justice to what the word means. To me, to travel is to explore. It is pushing yourself to do something, visit somewhere and see things you would not or could not do in your home town. I am fortunate enough to come from a family that has always encouraged travel, and if they have taught me anything, it is that encouraging others to travel is almost as rewarding as doing it yourself.
Travel, y’all. Go. Do it. I know it seems so scary and overwhelming; there is literally a whole world out there to be explored. You will never see it all, but it is truly amazing how much one trip can change your life. You don’t even have to go that far. I am a firm believer in the 24-48 hour adventures. Pick a location, pick one interesting thing to do and wing the rest. Go, make decisions as you go, and see where life leads you. This can be as small as saying “I want to go camping in Kisatche” and driving in the woods until you find somewhere that will make a good campsite.
I know I was extremely fortunate enough to be able to go on my study abroad trip to Angers, France. Studying abroad was something I have always wanted to do, so to me it was just a matter of finding a way and taking advantage of opportunities. My backpacking trip this summer was partially me just going for it, and the other part was strategic planning. I was traveling with a friend whose family knew a family in Turkey willing to take us in, so we went. The same friend’s mother knew someone in Italy who needed a house sitter, so we went. I made friends in France, so we stayed with them. The rest of the time, honestly, I winged it. I picked a city with a few interesting museums or attractions, picked a hostel and figured the rest out when I got there. It is scary, but if you can push past that, it becomes one of the most rewarding things in the world.