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Vargas’ year in France affirms self-reliance, inspires him to give back

March 8, 2016

As a Study Abroad Scholarship recipient, Ronald Vargas spent 2015 in Angers, France. A challenging year for the French (Charlie Hebdo and the November terrorist attacks, an onslaught of refugees from Syria and concerns about the country’s financial stability), it was also a challenge for Vargas.

A junior international business and economics major, Vargas is from Turrialba, Costa Rica. He said he was challenged most by the administrative aspects of his travel – opening a bank account, securing his French social security card, signing a lease and managing transportation without being fluent in French. But the takeaway seems worth the challenge:  “What surprised me the most about this learning experience is how capable I am. Before going to France, I thought that I definitely needed someone there to help on every single little thing. To my surprise, I was able to effectively communicate … and do every administrative procedure on my own.”

Vargas found his French professors less available than their counterparts on Appalachian’s campus; the students more fashion conscious, and the class time far less interactive. His best learning experiences, he wrote, were just “living everyday. I was able to meet a lot of incredible people (using a ridesharing program called Blablacar), including one French-Syrian man who drove me from Angers to Trier, Germany en route to Frankfurt with supplies for family members who had just arrived as refugees from Syria.” 

As an active member of International Appalachian (INTAPP), Vargas hopes to give back to international students here on campus.  “I know how hard it is to integrate into a foreign culture and system. I actually never realized how incredible INTAPP is and how fortunate Appalachian State is to have this organization available until I studied abroad and came across difficulties and struggles figuring out the university system alone with no similar organization in Angers to help me.”

Appalachian’s Office of International Education and Development facilitates many study abroad opportunities. Vargas’ scholarship was funded by The Appalachian Fund.