Allie Carrasquilla at the United Nations in Europe

Allie in Antibes: Reflections on France

Last December, Heavener students Rahul Kheraj and Allie Carrasquilla were awarded the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, a grant program that enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad, thereby gaining skills critical to the United States’ national security and economic prosperity. Upon returning from their respective trips to Spain and France, Kheraj and Carrasquilla reflected on how they grew from their experiences. Read what Carrasquilla had to say below, then check out Kheraj’s reflection

Allie Carrasquilla

By Alejandra (Allie) Carrasquilla, BABA ’21
When I boarded the plane to Nice, France, I brought bags filled with dreams and anticipation, and a body laden with nerves and uncertainty. Eighteen combined hours of flying and layover gave me a lot of time to think about the safety of home, and the vulnerability I would experience in Europe: I left my life in Gainesville to be in a country that I had never been in, to speak a language that I didn’t speak, to be with people I’d never met and to live a life that wasn’t mine.

The lessons I would learn in the classroom were clear and evident from the start. I took classes in accounting, marketing, French and management, so I naturally expanded my knowledge in those subjects during the study half of my study abroad experience. But the lessons I learned outside of class are much more abstract, less tangible and congruent, and shaped the way I see the world today in ways that I didn’t anticipate.

Exchanging abroad made me a much more responsible, accountable and independent person. I knew that I was the only person willing to take care of me (on the European side of the Atlantic) so I had to be proactive and figure things out if anything went wrong – and they did. Not only did I catch the worst colds I’ve ever experienced in my life, but I also developed a bad skin infection over my legs and stomach while traveling during spring break. This meant that I had to understand how the UF study abroad health insurance worked, to get a grasp on the French socialized health system, to find a doctor that I could communicate with and tell me what was happening, and to find a pharmacy to order my treatments with, all on my own and in French. Though quite the challenge, I felt like a champion when I finally had all of the medicine in my hands and started to feel better two weeks after the fact.

Allie Carrasquilla holds up her UN ID badge in front of the UN building in Geneva, Switzerland along side another image of the inside of the UN Chambers.

Carrasquilla at the UN Office in Geneva, Switzerland.

In France, I re-enforced the longest relationship I will ever have: the one with myself. I traveled solo. When the opportunity presented itself, I flew to Geneva, Switzerland by myself and planned the trip without the need to ask for permission or suggestions, without having to consider the needs, wants, likes or dislikes of others, which was both a blessing and a curse.

In Geneva, I took a bus around the international sector, toured the United Nations campus, the Red Cross Museum, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and walked around Old Geneva (where I got lost for 40 minutes – I didn’t have a map nor any cell phone data). I stayed at my very first Airbnb with a very sweet host named Vivian who was very warm and hospitable, and offered the best advice on getting around the city using public transportation. In conversation, I mentioned to her that I am part of the Model United Nations organization in school and that I dreamed of getting an internship at one of the headquarters, to which she simply stopped what she was doing, grabbed her purse from the table, and showed me her blue UN badge while saying “Oh, really? I should’ve told you before – I work for the UN, under UNHCR.” She told me she was a computer programmer and delegated for China.

I explored my host city alone and took the train to neighboring cities to explore them, too. On a random Saturday, I got on a train going south to Cannes, hoping to go on a tour of the Palais des Festivals, which is the venue for the world-renowned Cannes Film Festival. When I got there, I was greeted by a huge event with thousands of people buzzing around the Palais’ immense pink carpet, multiple security lines, and journalists with press passes, legal pads and phones in hand. I started by asking one of the security guards (in my best French possible) about the event happening and if they were doing any tours of the Palais. In English, he told me that the event was the CanneSeries Festival, which is the TV-and-Series equivalent of the film festival, but he had no clue about tours. After asking two different security guards, two tourism center staff members and a gift shop clerk, I found the Welcome Center with a sign that read “Press Entrance and Tickets”. I saw regular people getting scanned by security and going in, so I followed them and reached a ticket table. When I asked what was happening, the two people repeated the spiel about the festival and asked if I wanted any free tickets to a screening. So, of course, I said yes.

Allie Carrasquilla at Cannes

Carrasquilla in Cannes, France.

I got to go into the Palais, take pictures on the  pink carpet, and sit in a huge movie theatre for the premiers of two different shows in competition with their respective directors and leading actors in attendance. It was truly a highlight of my trip.

Most highlights, however, are much less obvious and only appreciated after they’ve passed. It’s the little things that made my experience as unforgettable as it was. Cooking pasta together with friends, walking through the beach during sunset singing Lizzo with someone I’d just met, having a picnic on the rocks in Cap d’Antibes, taking a ferry to an island in Croatia I didn’t know existed three hours prior, stopping to listen to street performers, finding a new favorite drink at a bar, getting 3€ tickets for the nosebleed section of the opera, a karaoke night that unexpectedly turns into a night of dancing until 6 am or just simply walking around to take pretty pictures of my friends.

In France, I learned to not only have faith in myself, but have faith in the humanity and goodness of others. There are people everywhere who are really good at heart, who are willing to help you in times of need, even as a total stranger.

It’s not lost on me how truly privileged I am to have been able to embark on such an amazing adventure. The financial help that I received from Adolph Wohlgemuth Scholarship, the UF International Center (UFIC) Study Abroad Scholarship and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship allowed me to live a life that I never thought would be possible for me. Six months and 5,000 pictures later, I am back in the United States reminiscing on my time there, but one thing is clear: I wouldn’t give up my experience for the world.

To see more from Carrasquilla’s trip, check out the video she made on YouTube.