The morning sun greets you from its climb in the sky as you exit the train station, backlit by clear blue skies and seagulls circling overhead. You don’t even have to think as the click of your boots on the pavement guide you across the street to a small storefront with an orange awning. As you cross the threshold, an 8-bit rendition of “Für Elise” announces your presence to the display case of croissants, torsades aux pommes, chocolate muffins, and other treasured pastries. And there, before you and your friends can take a half-step further into the bakery, the owner excitedly walks out from the back kitchen exclaiming, Les filles! Bonjour, les filles! and ushering the cashier away so she can select our pastries for us with a grin.
This was an almost-daily sight for the month I had studied abroad in Marseille, France this past January. I had applied with the benefit of not only checking off the bucket list of traveling in college or visiting Southern France, but by also fulfilling degree requirements. As a biomedical engineer, it is almost notoriously difficult to be able to study abroad for full semesters due to the structure of our curriculum and course offering conflicts. So when I saw that I would be able to take materials science while getting the chance to explore a new part of the world (and dust off the cobwebs of my high school-level French)? The decision was all too easy.
However, I did not fully anticipate the true extent of cultural enrichment I would experience in addition to academics. This wonderful baker would greet us almost every morning without fail, wearing the biggest smile trying to guess if we stuck to our usual (the 3 mini croissants for 1€ deal) or switch it up by all of us getting slightly warmed chocolate muffins. Despite not knowing English, I made every effort to practice my French, even if it was just to ask a Comment ça va? or wish her a Bonne journée! We never learned each other’s names, but it made that connection all the more special, especially as we told her our goodbyes, with her treating us to croissants on the house for our last day. Similarly, our faculty coordinator, Dr. Ismat Shah often invited his friend Philippe Dumas, a professor at Polytech Marseille, to join us for dinner or for hiking expeditions. On one such expedition, a few of us (read: myself) played ourselves for fools in following Dumas up the incline, thinking he had found a “shortcut” of an unbeaten rocky path to cut through the winding roads, when we were very quickly mistaken; yet this faux pas made the view from the top — of the Mediterranean nestled in the valley between limestone cliff sides and sparkling under the clear skies behind you, and of the city of Marseille and its Vieux Port in the distance before you — all the more breathtaking. What’s more, I also chose to pair materials science with a history course, which was taught by a revolving door of history teachers at Aix-Marseille University, delivered as a progressive seminar series on the history of Marseille as a fundamental port city through different time periods and eras. This further allowed us to more fully connect with not only the locals we encountered, but the city to be called home for the next four weeks.
In addition to these wonderful connections with the community in Marseille, I was also able to grow closer to my peers who were traveling with me. Among all of the study abroad trips this past Winter Session, this program had the largest group of Honors students, most of which were fellow biomedical engineers. From hiking down into the coves of the Calanques to swim in the Mediterranean in 40-degree weather, sharing a group-wide dinner cooked by Ismat in the hotel lobby, and hunting for sea glass along the shores of Cassis to visiting the site of ITER (a fusion power plant towards sustainable energy outside Aix-en-Provence), dining on fondue and raclette in Paris, and catching an alarming quantity of candids of each other taking in all of the sights and sounds — words will never be enough to explain how grateful I am to have made the memories that I have with the people that were with me.
As this semester draws to a close, packed with internal project deadlines amongst the brewing storm of finals in the near distance, I couldn’t help but reflect on how quickly the weeks have flown by and how far I’ve come during my junior year. It is surreal to think that I started my year on the other side of the Atlantic, before returning to strap into the rollercoaster of emotions that is a third year spring semester alongside some of my fellow travelers. It’s something Lauren from a year ago could barely even fathom. Overall, this experience truly emphasized how building relationships with our sense of self, our peers, and our global communities are central for growth and development not only as academics, but as individuals as well.
If you ever have the opportunity to study abroad, there is nothing I could encourage more. It is so emblematic of the Honors experience wherein you are not only connecting with your coursework, but more importantly, forming connections with people that can last a lifetime. If you strive to do so, I highly recommend taking advantage of organizations such as the Delaware Diplomats, a program which provides opportunities to earn scholarships towards funding your studies abroad, as well as consulting with your advisor or the Institute of Global Studies programs list to start planning your course schedules to accommodate these experiences.
And if you see me on the Brew Ha Ha patio with a café au lait and croissant in hand, lost in thought? Well let’s just say I’m counting down the days until I can see the Mediterranean and enjoy 3-for-1€ croissants again.