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January 2020 - Kieran Byrne

January 2020

Kieran Byrne

BA International Studies (Political Economy and Development); BA Political Studies ‘20

Hometown: San Francisco, California

Affiliations: Michigan Journal of International Affairs

“I was able to spend my junior year abroad in exchange with a political science university in Aix-en-Provence. Living for a year in France was an incredible and eye-opening experience. For one, I had never been forced to use a foreign language every day, let alone for 10 months. I was able to partly experience what it’s like for millions -- perhaps billions -- of people every day, where the norm is that everyone speaks two or three languages. I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world who were also studying abroad, in addition to the French people I met. I had friends from Mexico, Taiwan, Romania, Italy -- places I didn’t think about much before I met the people. In this way, it broadened my perspective because I learned so much about what it’s like to live in different places.

I was able to go abroad partly thanks to a grant from the Program in International and Comparative Studies and because of the flexible requirements of the International Studies major. I took courses in France that were diverse in their subject matter, like courses on the formation of the EU and the history of French colonialism, and I had no problem fitting them into the requirements I needed. It was also fascinating to learn about these subjects in French and see the European perspective on them.

I came away from this experience with a ton of skills I didn’t expect to develop, from dealing with French bureaucracy to planning trips across Europe. I found that being in a place where I didn’t know what’s going on or how anything works really developed my ability to solve problems on my own. I remember taking the 7a.m. bus to Marseille to get to the immigration office before it opened so I could ask officials to give me a residency permit before I left for Christmas, and then studying for a Russian history exam on the way back. If I hadn’t gone abroad, I wouldn’t have challenged myself in this way or a hundred other ways.

It inspired me to have more of a global perspective when I make decisions about my future, whether studying or working, because if I’ve already managed to move countries, I know I can do it again. I have more confidence in my ability to learn languages and adapt to new places. I have more awareness of global events outside of the US -- I’m inspired to do research into Fridays for Future, a movement rooted in Europe that I was exposed to while living there. More generally, when you live abroad, you get this sense that the way people do things back home, how they eat or work or organize politically, isn’t the only way to do things. That, more than anything, is what widened my perspective.

Future plans: “I hope to go to graduate school to research, probably in the field of sustainable development, although that’s far from decided. I hope to return to Europe, either to France or Germany, to work or study. Whatever I decide, it’s nice to know that going abroad is an option, something I never really realized until last year.”