Sylvie Brugerolle is a Resident Director with IE3 Global in Poitiers, France. In her entry, Sylvie shares what 25 years of experience with international students has taught her. Read on to discover more about life in France and the challenges and joys of studying abroad.
What brought you to be a Resident Director?
A fantastic opportunity! For a year, I welcomed an exchange student into my home. It was a wonderful experience and at the end of that year I learned that the program was looking for a coordinator in my city, so I applied with enthusiasm. I was selected even-though my studies and previous professional career didn’t specifically prepare me for the work; I am trained as a lawyer and worked as a financial advisor in a bank.
25 years later, I continue to be glad that I chose a different direction professionally and transitioned to a career rich in human and cultural connections.
What are some unique aspects of your city and country?
The history of the city primarily. Poitiers, one of the oldest cities in France, has an exceptional historical, cultural and artistic heritage. In addition, the long academic tradition (more than five centuries!) makes the medium-sized city one of the youngest and most dynamic in France – and one of the most international as well. Poitiers is the city in France where the ratio of students to inhabitants is the highest and one of the cities welcoming the largest number of international students. There is always something to do in Poitiers and international students, whether they come for a large city or a city of more modest size, appreciate the active cultural life.
The location of the city is another plus. Situated an hour and a half from Paris and Bordeaux (and soon less than an hour with a new high-speed train line!), the geographic location in the center of France permits one to travel easily in France and Europe.
What is one thing most of your students may not know about you?
Whenever I have a free moment, I pick up a paint brush to decorate any of the media I can find – canvases, furniture and porcelain.
What are some of your favorite aspects of being a Resident Director?
I greatly appreciate the aspect of “multi-tasking” inherent in the resident director position; academic, practical, psychological, administrative, and sometimes legal. It is not a position with the threat of routine or boredom.
My greatest joy, confirmed each year, is to observe how the students change during their stay. The maturity and independence that they gain over the course of the experiences they have, the challenges they face and overcome, to see how, cut off from their cultural and emotional supports, they find in themselves the capacity to adapt and develop a new openness.
What are some of the challenges of your job?
Multi-tasking, which I highlighted above as my favorite aspect of my work, isn’t paradoxically always the easiest to manage. My priority is to make myself immediately available to the requests of students no matter what administrative tasks I might be in the middle of doing. It is sometimes difficult to predict one’s schedule because one never knows the tasks the day will bring, what question or request the students might have that needs to be attended to: discuss a course with a student?, respond to questions about a misunderstood grade?, consult about a relationship with a professor?, manage the relations between a student and their host family?, console a student?, search for the best price for a train ticket with a student preparing to travel?, find new accommodation for a student?, assist with an administrative task a student must complete?, etc., etc. And all of this might fall into your lap at the same time!
What have you seen as the biggest challenge for incoming students?
The first is realizing that the French they practiced in their courses in the USA isn’t really what they hear in France. Young French people speak at great speed, not well-articulated and use expressions that are typically foreign. Visiting students cannot allow themselves to doubt their abilities so that they don’t get discourage. If not, the student risks seeking refuge in their comfort zone by searching out the company of other English speakers.
Then, they have to understand and adapt to the French university system which is quite different from what the students are familiar with. Professors are less accessible to students, administrative assistance less available, more autonomy in the work expected from the student and grading of homework is more strict.
What is your advice for students planning to attend your program, or to study abroad in your country?
To leave behind all expectations, to exercise patience, to understand that their host country doesn’t always work according to the system they are accustomed to in the USA and to have a deep store of good humor available.
What is one thing you think students shouldn’t forget to pack for life in your country?
Today we find in France, as a result of globalization, more or less all of the products sold in the USA. Don’t hesitate to bring a little of your world with you, however – a favorite book, photos of your friends and family to share with others, a collection of quotes to read on challenging days, your favorite candy.
Why do you think is the most important take-away for education abroad students?
Mark Twain said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, intolerance and narrow mindedness”. Leaving your comfort zone to adapt to another language, another culture, another educational system, another environment is indeed an unparalleled opportunity to exercise your thinking in the complexity of the world, to make it more open, imaginative and connected.
Go to Oregon State University’s Office of Global Opportunities for more information on international programs, scholarships and more!