Students immerse themselves in the culture of France
St. Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania, started its study-abroad program to Ambialet, France, in 2008. This year, Theresa Horner, chair of the Department of Public Health and an assistant professor, is currently with 11 students who signed up for the three-month semester based in a centuries-old former Franciscan friary.
“The experience is one of total immersion,” she said. “Living in Ambialet allows students to engage daily in activities that foster interactions with village residents. The priory chef, Silvi, introduces the students to wonderful French cuisine. A simple walk into the village fosters conversations in both French and English with community members, the owner of a local café and even the mayor.”
There are outings and field trips to Albi, Toulouse, Paris and Barcelona, and to historical and religious sites that foster a deeper understanding of Catholicism. For students in health care majors, public health excursions visit local schools, nursing homes and psychiatric facilities. That aligns with the university’s mission and encourages students to emulate St. Francis by serving the needs of others. All students take a course on early and medieval Church history and architecture, and they visit several cathedrals.
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Leona Horner, director of the Office of Study Away, participated in past programs as a student and as a professional at the university.
“These experiences open the students’ eyes to be able to see how important Catholicism is in France and how similar and yet different the culture is in comparison to Loretto,” she said.
“Studying abroad is a priceless experience that not only helps students learn about new places and cultures, but they meet new people and gain a global perspective while having so much fun. Students learn to adapt, expand their communications or foreign language skills, and grow outside of their comfort zone.”
Eric Sepich, director of the Ambialet program, had his student experience in 2009.
“Studying abroad is truly life changing,” he said. “Getting to see cultures and traditions different from our own, we can’t help but be moved.”
Una Banovic, a senior biology major from Pittsburgh, is currently in France, where, she noted, people are more laid back and relaxed than in America.
“We’re always doing one thing after another, keeping ourselves so busy,” she said. “Studying abroad has made me see my own life from a different perspective. The trip has definitely made me better appreciate the beauty of Catholic churches and traditions. I am of the Eastern Orthodox faith, and I have noticed many similarities between both religions. I am very fascinated by the differences, as well.”
Brett Thaler from Altoona, Pennsylvania, a junior nursing major, chose St. Francis because studying abroad was an experience that he wanted to incorporate in his nursing plans. He was in the program last semester.
“I gained a lot of new knowledge on many things, including how different cultures conduct day-to-day life compared to us, and how different people interact in different places,” he said. “Going on this trip was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.