Maddy MacLeod


Stanford in Paris, Autumn 2016-17
Major: International Relations & French
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: This was my first day in Paris.  I had never been to France before my quarter abroad there, and I was immediately bowled over by the beauty and spirit of the city. I felt and still feel like I could be happy there forever.


Why did you choose to study abroad in Paris?

I had always dreamed of studying abroad in Paris, and that was especially confirmed when I learned more about the BOSP program there.  Having studied French for a while, I wanted to have an immersion experience with a host family while getting to know the city in a hands-on way. Paris has unparalleled art, food, culture, and scenery and a certain je ne sais quoi that I wanted to experience for myself.  I had a lot of reasons to choose to study abroad—I wanted to develop as a student and person, experience the challenge of independence in a foreign place, and expand my horizons.  Paris was the perfect place for me because I got to develop in my language skills while having my creativity and curiosity sparked in ways they never had before.

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Paris?

When looking forward to my study abroad experience in Paris, I thought about the big moments--seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time, exploring the Louvre and other museums, and sinking my teeth into my first real croissants and macarons.  But what I didn't think about was how magical the day-to-day would be.  Getting to settle into a daily routine--my certain metro route, runs in the park near my apartment, my classes, dinner with my host family--made me feel like I really belonged and had a place in Paris, which was in some ways even more impactful than the big things.  I had super high expectations of my quarter in Paris and I still couldn't have possibly been prepared for the magical ride that it was.

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Paris?

Paris is an incredible place to study and learn.  The city itself becomes a classroom. It is an important hub of international affairs and France is a power player on the European and global stage, making it an ideal place to learn hands-on for my International Relations major.  The classes I took used the city to its advantage and we often went on field trips, getting real experiences to back up what we were learning.  I also had the incredible opportunity to take a course at the Sorbonne, the Parisian university where many of the world’s most famous scholars and intellectuals studied.  I felt like I was stepping back in time every time I went to the university’s campus across the Jardin du Luxembourg from the Stanford in Paris Center and I was challenged by the chance to take a class in rapid-fire French with French students.  I was pushed out of my comfort zone by my classes and academic experiences in Paris and learned so much. In Paris, learning and discovery is everywhere, and there's fascinating history to everything. It is a place to truly feel well-rounded in your education and learn hands-on.

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?

While studying abroad in Paris, I learned about how I react when faced with different challenges than I had ever experienced.  By pushing myself out of my comfort zone in a big way, I had the opportunity not only to flourish, but also to struggle, and both were valuable.  I learned that I am open and flexible to what life brings and cherish unique experiences even if they end up differing from my expectations.  Sometimes in Paris, I would go into the day with a certain plan or expecting particular things out of my day, only to find myself doing something completely different based on the circumstances.  Being open-minded is definitely the key to successful travel and studying abroad.  I also learned that I was actually comfortable putting myself out there to make new French friends, something that I expected to make me feel shy and nervous.  I was proud of myself for taking risks and exploring.  On the other hand, I also learned that I get lost in city streets really easily and that it’s really hard for me to make it from lunch to dinner when dinner is at nine pm.

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?

My most challenging experience was definitely transitioning from learning French in a classroom to learning French all around me.  As a French major, I love the language dearly.  I felt completely confident in the academic side of it and I could understand and engage fully with my professors. However, I had a harder time with day-to-day conversations with French people, like my host brothers, who spoke—what felt like to me—incredibly fast.  I didn’t know a lot of slang or more casual phrases, so sometimes I felt lost in the rapid fire conversations my large host family had.  However, I focused hard on improving and with them to help me, I made a lot of progress over my quarter in Paris.  I learned that patience and enthusiasm are the most important things to learning any language and immersing in a culture.  The harder you try at something, the more rewarding it will feel in spite of how challenging it is.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

French people have different ways of carrying themselves and sometimes different standards of dress and propriety.  I was there in the fall, and one time it didn’t feel very cold out so I wore a dress without tights. A man on the street called out to me, “Habillez-vous, madame!”, which means literally, “dress yourself!” I’m not sure if he was calling me out because of the season and temperature or the bareness of my legs or a combination of both, but it did make me realize that expectations were different in Paris and even if I didn’t feel too cold, it was better to stay covered.  The French are big on modesty; it’s why they don’t talk as loudly or as gregariously as many Americans do, and this attitude is something important to keep in mind when conducting yourself in Paris. Not being too loud or flashy is a good way to fit in.  It doesn’t mean not being yourself, but it means being respectful of a different culture and keeping others’ comfort in mind.

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Paris?

I absolutely adored daily life in Paris.  The city has an incredible energy, and there’s something interesting and beautiful to find around every corner.  I loved taking the metro to the Stanford in Paris Center and writing in my notebook or looking at the people around me and wondering about their lives. My classes were always fun and interesting, and lunch breaks were the best—I usually got some kind of croissant or baguette sandwich and a delicious pastry.  There were loads of amazing bakeries around the center, let alone around Paris.  The center is a 5-minute walk from le Jardin du Luxembourg, one of the most beautiful parks in Paris, and I loved to go there with my friends and just sit and watch life go by.  The leaves changed magnificently during my time abroad in the fall.  After taking the metro home, I always enjoyed having traditional French meals with my host family and practicing my language skills with them—even when they made fun of me a little bit :) Sometimes I took yoga classes at Affordable Yoga in Paris, which had classes at different locations throughout the city, which was another great way to explore.  Discovering new things and meeting interesting people at every turn were the best parts of daily life.

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Paris?

Because I loved Paris so much and just wanted to see every bit of it, I had some amazing days where I packed in way more than I feel I ever would have back home.  One day stands out in particular.  I woke up early and had coffee and a tartine at a cafe, after which I walked halfway across the city to a yoga class rather than taking the metro. When that was over, I met a friend at the Eiffel Tower and the fall trees surrounding the elegant Parisian buildings with a colorful sunset was one of the most beautiful views I've ever seen. Then we walked to Le Relais de L'Entrecôte, a well-known steak-frites restaurant, and had an absolutely delicious dinner. I saw so much of the city that day and was so grateful that my only agenda was to enjoy it.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

Beautiful, inspiring, multifaceted, challenging, magical

Fun Questions:

What was your favorite food you had in Paris?

I loved any and all combinations of ham, egg, and cheese--whether they be in a crepe, baguette, croissant...I also loved getting passion fruit tarts and Paris-Brest pastries.

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?

I brought a "One Line a Day" journal, where I was able to put a little tidbit about each day in Paris that I'll be able to look at years down the line.  Bringing a journal is a great idea in Paris because you'll just want to record everything--it's all so incredible.

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Paris?

J'adore Coeur de Pirate, Émilie Simon, Julien Doré, Françoiz Breut, and Jacques Brel (for older music).