An international education can be fun, it can develop you as a person and it can set you up for an excellent future. Yet some still find it difficult to make that step, for reasons either real or imagined.
So we spoke with four students that have travelled the world to study at Université catholique de l'Ouest in France, to find out their motivations, the challenges they have faced and how studying abroad has and continues to benefit them.
María Mercedes Gómez Muñoz from Guatemala is currently in the first year of her Masters in Social Sciences. She was attracted to studying France for “The French culture. I really like its history, traditions and lifestyle. Besides that, I want to improve my level of French; living and studying in France gives me that opportunity and enjoy that experience.”Nitza Delgadillo, a Bolivian, is a student of Fine Arts, in her second year. France appealed to her especially for the country’s great tradition of art, museums and galleries, in particular the international recognition such places receive. Peruvian Contreras Vargas is an MBA student; a course he describes as “excellent”. Asked for his motivation in choosing France as a destination, Contreras answered rather poetically, “I was inspired by one of the greatest poets in Latin America, Cesar Vallejo from Peru who died in Paris. I hope to visit his grave someday.” And last but not least, Karem Arguello of Mexico is currently an undergraduate studying French, as she loves the language and the culture. She mentioned that she “would like to do [her] Masters at UCO also.”
Why Choose Université catholique de l'Ouest?
“It was its long academic career, in addition to [offering] the study program of my choice which I think will really allow me to acquire the knowledge I expect to put into practice.”
There are many options when it comes to choosing a study institution, but it can be best when trying to decide to instead simplify your options and each of our interviewees had very focused responses when it came to explaining their motivations for choosing UCO. Whether that be language, course offered or simply a good reference from a friend. That was Karem’s primary motivation, as many of her friends chose to study at Université catholique de l'Ouest.
Ultimately, doesn’t one need only a single reason to study abroad?
When it comes to choosing a country, language and culture as well as places to explore can be great motivators. And there are few places that can boast a stronger culture or more beautiful language than France, while there are innumerable places to visit in such an historic country.
As for choosing UCO in particular, our interviewees were far more effusive.
“The teachers are very attentive due to the reasonable number of students per class and the university has all the necessary equipment such as Mac computers, cameras and video, and even recording studios”, Nitza was pleased to report.
“I really like that the study groups are small, which allows for more teacher-student interaction and that within the same classmates we can share more,” mentioned Mercedes, with Karem agreeing that she enjoyed UCO for “The study methods that the professors use and the mix of cultures.”
In fact, the small classes and interaction with teachers and professors were especially highlighted as the benefits of studying at UCO in particular.
Contreras said “I like the courses and the methodology. There are not many students and the teachers are friendly but there is another thing that I like and it is the cultural exchange and the new network of contacts that I am creating. I learn a lot from each culture.”
This network of contacts and cultural exchange that Contreras mentions is certainly a benefit of studying at UCO, but can also perhaps be said of each international education journey- a testament to one if the many benefits of taking that step.
As we can see, students have much good to say about Université catholique de l'Ouest in general, but especially of the variety and options when it comes to courses. To see a list of courses, please visit the UCO website, or otherwise directly contact Clément Bedouet, Latin America contact for UCO.
The Challenges of Studying Abroad
With something as worthwhile as studying abroad, it is inevitable that there will be some roadblocks that have to be navigated. Doing so may occasionally be frustrating, but students that do so realise how much they have to gain.
One common challenge is obtaining a visa and working through the application process, which can often be dull more than anything. However, most of our interviewees actually found the visa process very simple!
“Actually it was all very fast and versatile, very neat,” Contreras said. Mercedes expounded on that idea, “The visa process was very simple. The French Embassy in my country (Guatemala) has very clear instructions to follow, so submitting the requested documents and with the letter of registration at UCO, I had no problem. You just have to take into account application time, so that you will not be days away and still waiting for your passport!”
Karem also spoke of the help that Campus France gave her with regards to her visa, which can be a very helpful resource.
Another common challenge can be the language and getting to know people. This will inevitably be tricky regardless of where you choose to go, but our students offered some good advice.
Mercedes said of meeting new people, “I think the most important thing is to go out and participate in different activities, it is what will allow you to meet not only people from the University but also from other places.” Of France in particular, she believes that “people are very understanding of foreigners and make an effort to understand, the most important thing is to talk about it and get rid of your fear!”
Nitza agreed, “Once you get into your confidence and lose your fear it becomes easy because people are very kind”.
Funding is another common problem that students have when wanting to study abroad. We asked our interviewees whether they worked in France in order to help pay for their studies.
Nitza helps fund her studies by occasionally working as a nanny, a common choice for many students, and she also is currently undertaking an internship at the Museum of Fine Arts of Angers, by “first contacting the person in charge of human resources by email and then going through an interview”, which will look excellent on her resume for a future career within the arts.
Karem funded her studies the traditional way, by saving up her salary, while Contreras took a bank loan. As you can see, there are lots of different avenues when it comes to funding an international education.
As for Mercedes, she says, “I think that maybe in a few months I will consider working, as students we have a work permit, so if I find a job option that suits my studies and availability, why not?” In addition, she applied for “A scholarship for Central Americans granted by the Ministry of Education of France, which although it is a "social coverage" and not total, has been a support.”
For further details on potential monetary support, please contact UCO for advice.
The Benefits to Studying Abroad
The challenges of an international education pale in comparison to the benefits, however, and no one understands the benefits to studying abroad quite like those that are experiencing it.
When asked if studying abroad has been and will be beneficial to their future, the students unanimously reacted positively:
“Definitely yes” (Nitza).
“Yes, I think it is a good option if you want to live the experience of studying in a different learning rhythm and in another language, participating in a different culture. You have to take into account that there are challenges too, but that is part of the experience and personal learning that each one takes” (Mercedes).
“Of course, all new experience is very rewarding” (Contreras).
“It was the best decision of my life because it helped me to be more open-minded and to learn more languages” (Karem).
The experience of studying abroad can make for a better person too, so the students believe. Karem said that she thinks “that if we have the opportunity to travel, we would have better people in our countries.”
Nitza believes that studying at UCO allowed her to become “more independent and responsible. It also made me more interested in cultures other than just mine or the American culture that has a great influence in Latin America.”
Mercedes expounded on this idea further, saying “Definitely! And it is not a radical change either, but the pace of life and the vision of many situations changes, and therefore the way of thinking and acting before certain experiences make you make more objective decisions.”
And these are just the things students have come to understand about themselves. Who knows how they will look back upon themselves in five, or ten years? Or more? Studying abroad can have such a positive impact on ourselves that we may not even realise it at first.
But of course studying abroad need not mean sweeping changes or big dramatic momentous developments. Sometimes it’s about the simple joy of finding a great restaurant you never would have found otherwise or sitting in a park watching people you may never have seen if you stayed where you were.
The primary campus for Université catholique de l'Ouest is located in Angers, a city in Western France by the river Maine. Each of the students we spoke to had their own favourite place to visit in the impressive city.
Contreras’ preference was for Balzac Park; “more like a forest where you can practice sports, picnics and concert. A very recreational and pleasant place. Le California is a restaurant located in downtown Angers where the specialties are hamburgers that are delicious.”
“I would say all the places in Angers! The city offers much and there is always a "hidden corner" that can be discovered after every turn. Plus, it is very pleasant to walk through.” The joy of Mercedes’ answer shone through her words.
Nitza had a long list of preferred places, “Wallaby's has a very good atmosphere. The Falstaff bar is for dancing. Tonton Foch for a very good burger. The Crêmet d'Anjou for its famous dessert and La Réserve for a beautiful view of Angers.”
“I really liked Paris but Angers is perfect for a student life”, Karem summarised.
What Advice Would You Give to Prospective International Students?
Ever-sensible Mercedes responded thusly: “I think the most important thing to keep in mind is organization. When you arrive in a new country with all the administrative processes and also with the study program, it is normal that it takes time to adapt to a new rhythm, but you have to be very disciplined and orderly so that things turn out as you expect and you really achieve your goals and academic objectives. Enjoy the moments, challenges and lessons learned.”
Contreras was more direct with his advice, “Look for accommodation in advance.”
Karem agreed, “If you have the opportunity, travel as much as you can (France is perfect for living that experience) and prepare your trip with time so you do not stress.”
Nitza’s advice was more general, but no less important, “The only thing I would change is not to be afraid of making a mistake.”
“My advice to Latin American students is to encourage them to do what they have to do for their dreams, like going to the other side of the planet without even knowing the language to learn new things and discover the world for themselves.”
Thank you to Mercedes, Nitza, Karem and Contreras for their time in regards to this interview.
UCO is currently accepting applications to study in Angers, or any of their other campuses across France. For more information, please visit the UCO website, or otherwise directly contact Clément Bedouet.