Studying Abroad and Embracing the Unexpected

September 1, 2015—Kimmy Schlafly (C’17) caught the travel bug at a young age. In fact, it was her love of travel that attracted her to Georgetown during a family trip, when, at age seven, she first saw the campus from across the river.

“I spotted it and said ‘I’m going there,’” she remembers. “I think it’s because it reminded me of London.” Schlafly had visited the famed English city with her family prior to the trip to DC—she credits her father for instilling a sense of adventure and an appreciation for other cultures. 

“He grew up traveling,” she says, “so he was always planning great trips for us.”

That wanderlust has been helpful to Schlafly, a French and psychology major, who returned from a semester abroad earlier this summer. All Georgetown language majors are required to study abroad, and in Schlafly’s case, that meant a francophone country. So in early January, she was off to Strasbourg, France, a vibrant city near the border of Germany.

Schlafly began learning French in third grade, having attended a Sacred Heart School.  

“I love languages,” she explains. “Instead of playing [the game] Candy Crush, I have this app called Duolingo, and I teach myself other languages in my free time. I just enjoy it!”

Studying abroad gave Schlafly a chance to truly test her skills by taking courses through direct matriculation at the University of Strasbourg. She also lived with a French couple, the DeGasquets, and their four children.

 “I really integrated into the family, and I feel so lucky to have met them. They made my experience so much better,” she says. “I’m sure that when I’m older, I’ll have the DeGasquet children visiting me!”

Although Schlafly had a full course load during her semester abroad, she took advantage of the opportunity to explore France as well as numerous other countries. Some of her destinations included Savoie, Monaco, Nice, Marseille, Paris, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, England, and the Netherlands.

What stands out most for Schlafly is the unexpected experiences that arose from these travels, such as a chance stop in Ribeauvillé, “a quintessential little French medieval town” in northeast France.

During her first weekend away from Strasbourg, she and a friend stopped in a Ribeauvillé hotel for lunch, and ended up staying there that night as the sole guests. They spent the day hiking through snowy vineyards and taking in Château de Saint-Ulrich, a castle that was built in the 11th century.

“The next morning, we came downstairs, and even though we were the only guests, the staff had set up a table with every single breakfast item possible. It was amazing,” remembers Schlafly.

While visiting Marseille, Schlafly had a chance to get outside of her comfort zone after meeting a group of Canadian and American travelers around her age. The group decided to spend the day exploring a nearby lake, which led to an impromptu cliff-jumping session.

“We found a little alcove and swam out to the rocks, where I saw some people jumping off a really, really high cliff,” Schlafly says. “I get really nervous about these things, but I looked at it and said, 'Who’s doing it with me?'”

In addition to forming new friendships, her time abroad allowed Schlafly to rediscover childhood friends. While traveling, she went to Prague to visit a middle school friend she hadn’t seen in five years, reconnected with another friend who was living in Belfast, and happened to bump into a high school classmate while browsing postcards in Amsterdam.

“It isn’t only about the people that you meet while you’re there,” explains Schlafly. “It can also be a way to find people you never expected to see.”

Six months and ten countries later, Schlafly returned to the U.S. to take a course at Georgetown and intern for the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation in Dupont Circle. Now, she’s both thinking ahead to life after college and trying to enjoy her time on campus. Technically a senior this semester, she’s contemplating whether to graduate early.

“I really want to end up working abroad,” she explains. “I just want to be able to keep speaking other languages.”

One thing Schlafly knows for sure: while studying abroad is a requirement for language majors, she would have gone no matter what—and she encourages others to do the same if they can.

“It’s a learning experience that you just can’t replicate,” she says. “Who knows when you’ll have that chance again?”

—Melissa Nyman