Getting Involved While Abroad

Author: Megan McCuen

One of the most important things about being abroad is cultural exchange. It is not only all about learning about the country you are in, but also the importance of sharing your country’s culture with others too. I am very lucky to be in a study abroad program that is a direct enrollment- which means I am in classes just like a normal university student at the University of Paris Diderot. This means that before class I chat with my French classmates and other new friends from England, Ireland, Denmark, Greece and Germany. It is the perfect opportunity for small cultural exchanges, discussing everything from our favorite grocery stores to the differences in our education systems. These interactions are important and great, but after a while, my friends and I realized that we wanted to be more involved while in Paris. Here are some of the things we’ve done to truly get involved:

Student Films

Notre Dame students studying abroad pose

Acting is one of my favorite things to do, but I haven’t had the time to really do a lot of it since college started. So, when I saw a poster looking for English speakers for a student film, I decided to audition. I ended up getting the leading role in the film and convinced another ND student into being in it with me! It is definitely a lot of work and has involved long days of filming, including one afternoon in which I was literally covered in fake blood. However, it has been an immensely rewarding way to make new French friends with the directors and the other actors. When we aren’t filming, we are usually singing songs from Disney movies or drinking hot chocolate. It is the perfect way to learn about each others' cultures in a fun way all the while working together for a common goal.

English Lessons

A few weeks in, my friend from Cornell asked me to help her teach English. And of course, as an Education, Schooling, and Society minor and future teacher, I jumped at this opportunity. We teach weekly (and hopefully soon twice weekly) English classes to kids ages 3 to 7. The students are adorable; most of them have a British parent or two, so they speak English with little British accents. French kids with British accents? Trust me, it doesn’t get cuter than that! It is a perfect way to work on my teaching and lesson planning skills. I also get to know what it is like to teach students from all over the world, which will hopefully be helpful this summer when I will be teaching creative writing to kids in Dublin.


One of my friends at ND is really involved in research on food sources. When she came to Paris, her priority was to find ways to volunteer in Paris. It took her a while to find the right organization, especially because the concept of “volunteering” is less popular here than it is in America. She eventually found some groups through the church we attend and began to help out in various food-related organizations. She used this as an opportunity to do what she believes in, as well as meet new French friends who have similar interests to her. She has definitely found it to be a rewarding experience.


Another one of my Notre Dame friends studying abroad with me has found her way to be involved through nannying. Twice a week she watches two boys. She prepares their meals, teaches them English, and puts them to bed. It is a great way for her to gain a deeper understanding of what life is like in French households and to learn new vocabulary from the children. Many French families look, in particular, for English-speaking nannies; so this is a perfect and easy way for many American students to get involved while abroad.

Notre Dame students studying abroad on set


While college sports don’t exist here as they do in America, our university offers a full range of elective courses in sports. We can take anything from contemporary dance to martial arts to badminton. Some of my other Notre Dame friends have taken this route to getting involved. One has started taking volleyball and another has started taking juggling. It is a great way to learn a new skill, make friends with French students, and get a little exercise. It is also a great way to learn some interesting sports vocabulary that you might not learn otherwise. Best of all, since they are classes you can take through our university, they are free! I, myself, am terrible at organized sports, but I’ve started taking yoga classes in various places around Paris. Yoga instructors use the app “Meet Up” to post where their yoga class will be and what style it is. All you have to do is show up and pay 5euros to take the class. It is quickly becoming my favorite way to relax, exercise, and meet new friends.

It is very easy to spend all your time studying, sleeping, and exploring the city, without truly taking the time to invest yourself in any of it. With so many things to choose from, having a variety of options can be overwhelming at first. Luckily, my friends and I have all found ways to dive into Paris life; not just by living here, but by really investing ourselves in making new friends, exchanging culture, and being part of things that are bigger than ourselves. My best advice to anyone planning to study abroad is to think of the things that you are passionate about- if you enjoy it in America, you’ll probably enjoy it abroad too! At the same time, it is a great opportunity to try something totally new since beginners' classes can be an easy way to just jump in. Also, keep an eye out for posters and advertisements; especially in places where students gather, these often have lots of jobs and activities to be involved in. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you do something! Taking advantage of the opportunity for cultural exchange is not an opportunity to be missed.