Student stories, by Emma Dostal, USAC Lyon
When I arrived in Lyon, France, on a snowy day in January, I had no idea where the next five months would lead me. I always knew I wanted to study abroad in college. Not only was it a graduation requirement for one of my majors, but I was inspired by my freshman year high school French teacher’s experience and had to discover what France was like myself.
Lyon was the perfect program for this. I am a senior global studies, advertising, public relations and French triple major with a minor in political science attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This program in Lyon provided more opportunities than I could ever imagine that reaffirmed my passion for my studies and my professional development. While there, I took courses in French language, discovering Lyon, and International Human Rights.
Lyon Beyond the Walls is a short 1-credit class at the beginning of the semester that helps students get acclimated to the many different areas of the city. One of the most interesting field trips that we took was to the Regional Building. France is divided into regions that act similarly to our state system in the United States. Lyon is the capital of the Auvergne-Rhone-Alps region which has elected regional senators and an elected president (who acts like a governor). Students were able to tour the building, go into the senator chamber, and speak to one of the regional senators to learn how the French government functions. I found this trip fascinating as someone who studies global politics because I was able to gain deeper insights into daily regional government actions.
Within the first month of classes, my International Human Rights professor took us to listen to the most recent Nobel Peace Prize winner who was visiting our university. I would have never gotten this opportunity if not for this class. Listening to how the recipient spent his career working toward protecting human rights was inspiring and helped me see the work that people do in other countries to promote peace. This class continued to exceed expectations. Each week our professor brought in guest speakers working for international non-profits, non-governmental organizations or universities to teach us about their specialty in the field of international human rights. The class visited a local non-profit in Lyon that focuses on empowering women and supporting local journalists in Eastern European countries who have limited these rights. These speakers provided valuable networking opportunities while allowing me and other classmates to determine what potential pathways exist in human rights defense.
My favorite experience in Lyon was the opportunity to volunteer as an English-language assistant at a local high school. Any student in this program could volunteer in various levels of French classrooms as a language assistant. I worked specifically with two high school classes and participated in cultural discussions that compared France to the United States. Through volunteering, I was able to practice working with students, preparing lectures, and understand how to individually help each student in their learning process. Volunteering was fulfilling and allowed me to participate in cross-cultural exchange on another level.
Without studying abroad, I would have never received these opportunities to network in a different country in the field that I want to specialize in: international human right non-profit work and cross-cultural communication. My professors worked to create opportunities for us to learn and grow professionally in areas that may not have been in reach without this experience abroad. I hope to return soon as I near the beginning of my life and career as a young professional.