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IU Northwest students’ lives transformed by studying abroad

A year in France gave Rachel Humes and Sydney Raynor lessons a classroom could never provide

Monday Dec 11, 2017

Sydney Raynor knew she wanted to study abroad as early as her first high school French course. Now 21, the senior from Dyer found a kindred spirit in Rachel Humes, 21, of Merrillville, who shares her love of travel and exploring new cultures.

Both French majors, they applied for a study abroad program through IU’s Office of Overseas Study, got an apartment together in Aix-en-Provence, France, and took 15 credit hours of intense language courses at Aix Marseilles University for their 2016-17 academic year. Along with other foreign students from across the globe, they spent four days a week in intensive French language courses, including grammar, reading comprehension, listening comprehension and writing.

As Humes’ and Raynor’s experience proves, the value a study-abroad experience adds to one’s education can’t be understated. The pair spent an entire academic year immersed in the culture of southern France, speaking only French, except sometimes, they sheepishly admit, when they were alone in their apartment together. But this minor infraction didn’t compromise the intent of total immersion in the French language. Raynor laughed that when you dream in French, then you know you’ve got it.

Anyone can study abroad, nearly anywhere in the world

According to Scooter Pegram, IU Northwest associate professor of French and minority studies, many students don’t realize they have full access to all the study abroad opportunities available through Indiana University. He says that opportunities exist in countries on every continent and there is an opportunity for every interest and taste.

“Many potential students mistakenly believe that study abroad is only for language learners, when the opposite is true,” Pegram said. “In fact, many IU program options do not require a language at all because they are taught in English.”

By the same token, many students think studying abroad is out of the question because of the cost, but scholarships are available to defray expenses. Humes and Raynor estimated that the scholarships they received covered about half of their expenditure for studying for a year at Aix Marseilles Universite. Humes, for instance, secured three scholarships, two from IU Bloomington and one from IU Northwest.

Humes said the experience of living in France for a year had her stepping outside of her comfort zone every single day, which made her a more confident person. She valued the lesson of learning to communicate in the informal way people speak rather than in a textbook manner.

The young women learned the nuances of French living. They learned to set aside at least three hours for a restaurant dinner, for example, to dress stylishly every single day, and that exchanging pleasantries with strangers is unusual. They traveled cheaply on the weekends, to Ireland, Spain and Scotland, and to Morocco.

Pegram traveled on two occasions to visit Humes and Raynor during their year abroad and witnessed first-hand how the experience had matured them -- intellectually, emotionally and personally.

“They enjoyed showing me around their adopted city. My favorite thing was watching Rachel and Sydney walk through the streets of Aix and Marseille like they owned the city as longtime residents,” Pegram said.

“This sort of special life experience cannot be replicated in a traditional classroom and these two young women took full advantage of that fact, and they have become better people and citizens because of it,” he said.

Raynor hopes to continue building her language skills and one day return to France to teach English. Humes, who is double majoring in French and Geology, chose both fields simply because she’s interested in both. She hopes to work in the environmental sector of geosciences.

For more information about study abroad opportunities available to IU Northwest students, as well as scholarships that are available to help defray the cost of studying abroad, visit

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