Name: Madeleine Krass
Hometown: Geneva, IL
Varsity sport participated in: Women's Swimming and Diving
Study abroad semester and location: Spring 2014 in Nantes, France
What were the three most important things you packed in your suitcase and why?
My address book, a new journal, and my Polaroid camera. I’ve been trying to send letters and postcards back to all of my friends and family, so my address book has truly been invaluable. I journal every few days here, it’s a great way for me to reflect on my experiences as well to memorialize all the things I’ve done. I read through my first few entries the other day; it was funny to remember all of my fears and misgivings now that I’m so comfortable here! My Polaroid is my favorite though, I bring it with me to parties and dinners and such and get a lot of really cool photos. It’s a great conversation starter, and I usually end up taking photos for new friends I’ve made!
What was the most unexpected thing you encountered during your off-campus study experience?
I have to say I was surprised by how excited people tend to be when they find out I’m American. A typical conversation will go, “You’re from the United States? Where?!” “Chicago.” And 9 times out of 10 the response is “AH! CHICAGO BULLS!” Truly, though, people have been very welcoming and supportive of my learning of the French language. A lot of people then want to practice their English, so often conversations will consist of me speaking French while they speak English. Generally, people love to meet foreigners and are more than willing to help you in whatever way they can!
What was your proudest/most exciting moment abroad?
When trying to learn a new language, there are a lot of small successes…and frustrating and embarrassing moments. There was one night that I was waiting for some friends, who were visiting me from England, at the bus station, when a man came up and started asking me questions about the bus arrival and such. It was the first time I was able to understand everything that a stranger was saying to me, and respond and converse without having to preface our conversation by saying I was an American, so please speak slowly. Truly, all of the embarrassing moments were worth the feeling of accomplishment I got from this seemingly inconsequential exchange.
What did you bring home as a souvenir and why?
I’ve bought a postcard from every place that I’ve visited, and filled it out to myself with my experience or favorite memory of that place. They’re usually just silly, but it’s a fun way to look back on my travels. My favorite would have to be a postcard of Renaissance era cats, from Siena, Italy.
How were you able to get involved with your host culture while abroad?
The best way to get involved in your host culture is definitely to make a native friend. I was lucky to meet a friend, Corentin, who has truly shaped my experience abroad. Through him I’ve met countless other French friends, been invited to parties, gotten to taste a lot of French cuisine, and learned tons of interesting facts. Just hanging out with French students has been the best way to practice my French, and learn more about the culture here. The friendships you make abroad also open a lot of doors; I’m going on a road-trip for my next break with Corentin and some other friends, and he’s planning on visiting some of us in the US next year!
How has your study abroad experience affected your athletic experience or your identity as an athlete back at Beloit?
Here in France, there are not extra-curriculars or university sports teams like in the US. I struggled a lot with the amount of free time, and lack of responsibility, I had when I first got here. There are a lot of aspects to the education system that I appreciate here, but I’m really grateful for the opportunities a school like Beloit gives us students. To have the opportunity to play a sport at the college level is a special experience. The team dynamic and discipline is really something you can carry with you for the rest of your life.
Did being an athlete provide you with any advantages while you were abroad? If yes, what were they?
It sounds cliché, but the team mentality I’ve gained from swimming has been invaluable while being abroad. There have been a lot of times where I’ve seen someone else struggling, be it trying to buy a phone or in group travels, and it’s engrained in me to wait for or support them however I can. The appreciation you have for your teammates definitely carries over to many aspects of life, and this experience is definitely one of them!
Some words of advice for other athletes who want to study abroad:
Absolutely study abroad; it is truly a once in a lifetime experience. I’ve gained so much being abroad, perspective that I know I will bring back with me. Your coaches and teammates understand and will support you!