Study Abroad Strasbourg: A Small City Made a Big Impact

Michael Wood ’21, born and raised in a small town near Syracuse, always knew he would study abroad. He wanted to travel to the other side of the world and embrace another culture, stepping out of the upstate New York bubble, even if it was only for one semester.

His original plan was to go to Hong Kong, China, but because of the protests last fall – which led to the eventual shut-down of the program – he made the last-minute switch to Strasbourg, France.

Strasbourg and Hong Kong offer fundamentally different abroad experiences, but the qualities of Strasbourg — living in a non-touristy city, being part of a small program, staying with a host family — were some of the most defining parts of Wood’s study abroad experience.

Strasbourg’s Spring 2020 program had 30 students — almost half of them weren’t from Syracuse University. And even among those who were proud to be Orange, only a handful were from Whitman. Most students were studying political science or music because the Council of Europe, European Parliament and the famed Conservatory of Music are all located within the city.

“I was around a different set of people, but it was great,” Wood shares. “We all got very close because it’s not as much of a tourist city.”

That’s not to say the students didn’t get to explore some of Europe’s more metropolitan cities as well — they spent the first 10 days abroad in a Signature Seminar, traveling to Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and Cologne, Germany. Wood ended up going to Paris three times, visited other German cities with his brother and spent spring break in Italy.

Since Strasbourg is a smaller city, with fewer foreign visitors, the language was a bit of a barrier at first, but Wood’s host dad was a fluent English speaker and his host mom was proficient as well.

His host family, which also included a sister, Rose, and brother, Jules, made Strasbourg feel like home. They ate three-course dinners together every night, and Wood would regularly play board games with Rose and video games with Jules. “I really felt like part of the family,” he shares.  

Wood’s last day in Strasbourg sounds like it was adapted from a French movie — he celebrated an early birthday dinner with his host family, a meal with three of his favorite dishes, including a galette, a savory crepe with meat, cheese, mushrooms and an egg cracked over the top. He stuffed a week’s worth of croissants into a single day, from Patrick’s, his favorite boulangerie, just a block away from the Syracuse Strasbourg Center. “I called it the Patrick’s hat trick — I went there three times in one day,” Wood shares with a laugh.

Two months after coming back from Strasbourg, Wood still misses those croissants, the city’s architecture and his host family, whom he talks to regularly. 

Though practicing French over Zoom isn’t quite the same as venturing into Strasbourg with a class, ordering food and interacting with locals — and a French cinema versus Hollywood class no longer means going to small theatres and watching movies – Wood is making the most of a semester abroad cut short.

Wood’s host mom really wanted him to learn French, so he’s “crushing Duolingo,” and he’s still watching tons of French TV. He’s determined to become fluent in French and go back to France in the future — as a tourist, for work or perhaps as a master’s student. 

Wood is France’s biggest fan now, but his newfound love for the country and its culture wouldn’t have come about if he hadn’t gone abroad and taken a chance on Strasbourg. He says, “I’m the biggest go abroad proponent. Whatever you need, whatever needs to happen, you’ll figure it out. Just, you have to go.”

Learn more about other Whitman student’s study abroad experiences.

Sandhya Iyer