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Alumni Q&A with Zoe Lien: From High School Abroad to University in France

Alumni Q&A with Zoe Lien: From High School Abroad to University in France

High School Abroad France alum Zoe studied with Greenheart for a semester in Spring 2020. She’s now planning to go to university in France. We asked her about her program and why she decided to pursue higher education abroad.

Would you tell us a bit about you?

My name is Zoe Lien, and I am from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I went abroad for the first time with Greenheart in January 2020. I was in La Guerche de Bretagne, France. My first taste of France was a beautiful week in Paris. I laughed, lived and shared stories with all the other kids planning to study abroad in France through Greenheart. After sole breaking walks through the cobblestone streets of the most beautiful city in the world, I took a train to begin my new life. I arrived at the foreign metal scary station and was met by warm smiles. I was adopted into a family, and now had 3 more teenagers to live with. After a weekend of gluten, sugar, happiness, card games, and lots and lots of family time, I went to high school. My mornings started at 7 am, and my school day ended around 5, except for Wednesdays, those were half days. Hoorah! Thankfully, I did not have to be embarrassed alone. I lived with a host sibling who was my age, and had all the same classes as me. Usually we went to school by bus, but on a good day, he drove the Volkswagen.

Tell us about your program in France.

I was so embarrassed to speak with kids in my class, but it felt better to know that he was also going through pain, trying to repeat and explain every conversation anyone had to the new American girl. I didn’t understand anything in my classes, but considering I was taking Calculus, Physics, Philosophy, Biology, History, Gym and Spanish, I didn’t put too much pressure on myself to understand. 1pm was my favorite hour. A stampede of blurred teenage bodies would speed into the lunchroom doors, like they had just seen Tupac enter the room. It was understandable considering a French lunch for students consists of three delicious courses to stop the whale noises coming from your stomach. Somedays, we had duck, pâte carbo, fish, etc. All followed by a baguette bouffet, and a dessert made by the gods. Lunch was unimaginable, and it lasted 2 hours! Unfortunately there was no naptime that followed. Coming back to class was hard, but comforting for someone who likes a consistent schedule, because all your classes are in the same room, except gym of course.

After trying to understand my professors speaking gibberish for 7 hours, I went back to my cozy home. After school, I was exhausted, and would usually take a nap. But If it was Wednesday, I would leave school at 1pm, and go eat kebab with my friends, and then nap later.

After a quick snooze, I would do my homework, or at least try, and then go hangout with my family. I tried to study French, from apps like Duolingo, but I could never use the words and phrases I learned, in real life. I found out, the way to learn a language is to erase your ego and let yourself be frustrated. You need to step outside of your comfort zone, and speak with someone whenever possible.

Why did you decide to go abroad?

I decided to go abroad because I love to be out of my comfort zone, learn new things, and interact with people, but adjusting was hard sometimes, even for me. Adjusting to a new country was difficult, but that, and a worldwide contagious evil virus attacking my dreams and expectations of studying abroad, was harder. But nonetheless, I never let myself go home, because even though it was the worst, it was better than anything I knew.

Online classes taught by professors who don’t know what a PDF is, was funnier than it was annoying. Real school came to an end about 2 months into my trip, so I didn’t acquire many writing skills, but staying at home really helped me learn how to speak. I was  blessed to have a host mother with a bookshelf the size of my apartment, so I passed my afternoons reading books like The Stranger, and fell in love with Albert Campus. When summer came, I spent my time with my host siblings and friends by the crystal blue, so cold you might cry, ocean, and spent my nights learning French games, and dancing.

Leaving was honestly horrible, and I think I cried every day I was back. The post-study abroad depression was real, but slowly I went back to my old ways. I was sad because I was scared I was going to be the same person I was before the trip, and I loved the new, well dressed, trilingual, lovely Zoe. I stayed home for two months, but quickly went back to my new comfort zone, France.

When did you get the idea that you wanted to attend university abroad, and in France?

In Minneapolis, I started to reflect on what i was going to do for college, and where I was going to spend my future years. An $80,000 college tuition, along with a tiny dorm room, and dirty frat parties, didn’t sound ideal. College tuition is free in public universities for French students, and around $5,000-10,000 a year for international ones, depending on the school. I decided that I wanted to continue my journey learning French, and it was a win-win to go to college there.

How did you start the research and application process? What obstacles did you find?

I decided to apply to The University of Rennes 2, to study Psychology and Sociology. I picked Rennes, because it was the closest city to where i lived before, and I had plenty of friends and contacts in the area, and at the University. The application process was a handful, and not for the weak minded or lazy. You must gather all the documents you can imagine, get them translated, write essays, and pass a language test. Thankfully Greenheart had already made me recover the documents the Universities required. My study abroad experience also taught me that if you have questions or need help from a French person, such as the Director of a University, be prepared to wait 3-5 business months! My biggest obstacle was, and still is the French language test. To enter into a University in France, you must have a certificate that says you can speak, read, and write like all the other French kids in your class. I was planning to take it last year, but thanks to COVID-19, all the testing centers are closed. I applied either way, and expressed to my University that for half of this year, I am taking a 20 hour/week class to learn French. Hopefully things will end up working out. My study abroad experience paid off when I could write the essays needed for my applications without a sweat down my brow, and I passed the French speaking interviews with ease.

How did your high school abroad program help you in the process for applying for universities in France?

My experience studying abroad last year changed my life forever. I have gone through a journey of self discovery, one that I would never take back. If this article makes you think that I didn’t have a good time, don’t be fooled. All Parisians say they hate Paris, but none of them would ever leave. I was only 17, and did not speak a lick of French when I arrived, and now I bargain with the old French men at the supermarket. I told everyone I was going to France, before I even applied, and all I have to thank is Greenheart for helping me achieve my dreams. Do not underestimate yourself, and what you can do. And do not hesitate to learn about someone else’s culture for once. Greenheart provided me with an excellent family and a beautiful little town to plant the roots of my tree. I will be forever grateful for that experience and everything that Greenheart gave me.

Want to take the first step to going to university abroad?

Study Abroad in High School

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