Siena Fay (she/her) - Stanford in Paris
Major: International Relations
Major: Human Rights & French
College year while abroad: Sophomore
About the photo: My brother and I at the top of the Eiffel Tower overlooking the city.
Questions and Answers with Siena
Why did you choose to study abroad in Paris?
When I was a freshman in high school, I used to sit in my beginners French class and stare at a map of Paris that hung on the wall. I imagined myself getting on a plane and flying away from my desk and homework to a place utterly unrecognizable. Soon enough my French teacher would call my name and I would snap back into conjugating irregular verbs and trying to decipher my teacher’s Syrian-French accent. I took French in the same class room for four more years, and while my friends would stare out the window to daydream, my eyes were glued to the rectangular map. When I came to Stanford, I heard about the study abroad program in Paris and knew I had to go. A year and a half later, I was on a plane, flying away from my dorm room and friends, to a place that I had only dreamed of.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Paris?
Before I left, I thought Paris would be disorienting. I worried that I didn’t know enough French, that the classes would be too hard, and I would struggle to make connections. But soon after I arrived, I found that my host family could understand me clearly, I could order at restaurants, my professors were understanding, and the staff at the Stanford Center made every effort to make me feel comfortable. My anxieties dissipated with each passing week.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Paris?
As an International Relations major, I thought would only take classes on French politics and the European Union. I didn’t take any. Instead, I was able to learn much more about French-U.S. relations through my media internship than I would have in a classroom. I had the opportunity to interview documentary filmmakers, visit a TV studio, and… My internship gave me a perspective on cross-cultural blank that I would have never gotten if I had not studied abroad.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I learned to be more self-reliant and at ease with not understanding everything around me.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
The most challenging part was the language barrier. Even though I could communicate well with my host family and I had no trouble asking for directions or ordering at restaurants, I still missed a lot. I couldn’t understand or make jokes very well. I felt like the language barrier forced me to loose aspects of my personality that I couldn’t communicate.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
There were lots of little adjustments I had to make, like the unspoken rules of riding the metro or sitting at a cafe. But the one that had the most day to day impact on my life was getting used to a different kind of diet. When I was in France, the majority of most of my meals were made up of bread, cheese, some vegetables, and a little bit of meat. I never have and probably never will eat as much cheese as I did while I was in France.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Paris?
I loved having lots of free time to explore the city. I only had one or two classes a day and spent the rest of my time going to museums, gardens, boulangeries, art galleries, and concerts. I also loved living with my host family, they were very welcoming and amazing people.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Paris?
The most memorable experience I had was when I went to a French high school inn the suburbs of Paris called St. Denis. I had the opportunity to interview some of the students and got to learn about their complicated relationship with assimilation, their French identity, and immigrant backgrounds.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Insightful, intriguing, novel, exciting, joyous.
What was your favorite food you had in Paris?
Le cramique, which is a round, sweet bread about the size of my head filled with chocolate chips that was baked fresh every twenty at my favorite patisserie.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
I brought an adaptor for my electronics because in France the electrical sockets are different, so you can’t charge anything if you don’t have an adaptor.
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Paris?
My friends and I would go dancing at this place called Le Comptoir General on the weekends, which was designed to be half garden, half pirate ship. And they played salsa music made by French artists which was really interesting.