A senior at Sycamore High School, McKinzie Spence already has seen more of the world than many adults. She spent the fall 2013 semester as a foreign exchange studying in Lille, France, thanks to American Field Service (AFS). The daughter of Deanna and Derek Carls, Spence talked about her experience with reporter Debbie Behrends.
Behrends: What motivated you to study abroad?
Spence: I started researching a trip the summer before my junior year. My idea, initially, was to go for a short trip. After learning more and talking more with AFS, I ended up going for the whole semester. I’ve always been very independent, but my parents were very supportive, too.
Behrends: Did you speak French before you went?
Spence: I took French for three years, but I was practically illiterate. I’m roughly fluent now.
Behrends: Tell me about your host family.
Spence: My host family had studied English, so we muddled through for a while. My host parents were Clement and Claire Marot. They have six children but only two were still living at home, Blandine, who is 20, and Theophile, who is 14.
Behrends: Was the school day similar to your days here?
Spence: School was interesting. We started about the same time in the morning, but each day was different. Some days I was in school until around 5:30. I went to school with a core class of about 20 kids, so I got to know them really well.
Behrends: What did you do after school? Did you have a job?
Spence: I was incredibly lucky that my host dad is a chef in a Michelin three-star-rated restaurant. I was able to do a short internship and learn about prep work and plating, and I did a lot of dishes. I learned a lot, and I’m interested in learning more. I’m interested in pursuing a degree in hospitality management; I’m just not sure what aspect I want.
Behrends: So you went to school and you worked. What did you do for fun?
Spence: I lived in a large city, so there was a lot to do. We went shopping, went to the movies, things like that. The drinking age there is only 18 and the attitude is much more lenient, so it wasn’t odd to see kids having a beer after school. A lot kids don’t have cars, so there’s no parking lot at the school. The city is very pedestrian-oriented, and public transportation is excellent.
Behrends: It sounds like you had a great experience. What would you advise someone who is interested in studying abroad?
Spence: It’s important to pick a country you’re passionate about. AFS runs a great program. The reps are very helpful and everything runs smoothly, from the application process to placement. And they also have liaisons to help if you need anything while you’re abroad. I would recommend it to anyone interested.
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