Faire du Bénévolat à l’Étranger

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Grace Heaton
May 10, 2024

Giving back to your community even while abroad is so important. It helps you learn new language skills, engage with locals, and make the community you’re living in a better place. IES Abroad can help you find these opportunities during your time abroad, but you can also find them yourself, too.

While I was planning my spring break trip around Brittany and to Paris, I reached out to two of my French friends to see if they were free to meet up. They said yes, but that they were signed up to do some volunteering in the city that afternoon. They asked if I’d want to join them and sign up as well, and I said yes, as I’ve visited Paris several times before and thought it would be a unique way to see a different side of the city.

Frankly, I didn’t have any clue what we were doing until I got there, all I knew was that I signed up and that we would be painting something. On the day of, I arrived at the work site, which was a community center near the Jardin du Luxembourg working to be a safe space for women and LGBTQ+ people in the community. They had an outdoor area which looked towards the backs of other Parisian buildings. It was a good size, but needed some cleaning up.

We got to work. During the two hours I volunteered with them, we painted a wall white again that was covered in graffiti after power washing it, sweeping the floor, and pulling out weeds. The group that provided this experience is called Ibis Rock. What’s cool about their program is that if you volunteer with them, you get special access to go see a free concert! One of my French friends is a concert fanatic, so when she saw she could go to one for free in exchange for just two hours of work, she signed up immediately. Sadly, I will not be able to make the concert, as it is well after I leave France, but they’ll enjoy the chance to see Macklemore in action in less than a month!

Another impactful experience during my semester in Nantes was teaching English to a nine-year old. While I was getting paid a little bit of money each week under the table for this petite boulot, it was still a unique opportunity to engage with my community in Nantes. I would go over to the nine-year old’s house twice a week for an hour each time. We would spend 45 minutes working on English conversation or grammar activities from his workbooks, and then the remaining 15 minutes playing ping pong or soccer outside. He was already very advanced in the language when I arrived, but we worked together on vocabulary, and he progressed to the next level workbook during our time together.

For me, the most rewarding part of these experiences was getting the chance to make new, unique memories with my friends and to make an impact a community that felt like merely a visitor in. I highly recommend that anyone studying abroad or planning to study abroad find outlets to volunteer or engage with your new community in unique ways. Whether it’s volunteer work like I did or joining a group or conversation club in your city, it is so important to break the American bubble we can sometimes live in while abroad and engage on a deeper level. I know it was certainly worth it for me, and I imagine it would be for you as well.

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Grace Heaton

Hi! My name is Grace Heaton. I am thrilled to be studying abroad in Nantes in Spring 2024. I am a junior at Duquesne in Pittsburgh, PA studying Marketing, French, and German. I enjoy traveling, learning languages, and adventuring with friends.

Home University:
Duquesne University
Portland, OR
French Language
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