Kani Keita's Study Abroad Experience
"My parents lived in Mali before moving to Europe and eventually to the United States for school. Growing up in Miami, I thought this geographic mobility of families and individuals was quite simply the norm. We would visit my mother’s sister in Paris from time to time, and in recent years, I have traveled to Mali to work on development projects. Frustrated with my inability to communicate with locals on these travels, I enrolled in French A during my freshman year at Harvard. I think I was terrible at it, but I loved it. Ideas about term-time study abroad began to brew…
At an Institute of Politics event in Washington, D.C. during the summer after freshman year, I encountered a Radcliffe alumna who had attended Sciences Po in 1960-61. She explained to me that it was the best year of her life. I simply had to spend the full year abroad to get the real experience, she insisted. It took her a semester to become acclimated, and in the spring she just enjoyed her Parisian life. It was inspiring to see her eyes light up as she recalled her study abroad experience from fifty years ago. Still terrified about leaving the Harvard nest for so long, but convinced by her sincerity, I made the decision that day to spend my full junior year in Paris.
When applying to study abroad during my sophomore spring, I was taking French 31 and 35, perhaps just entering the intermediate level but still far from fluent. As a government concentrator, I wanted to spend the year at Sciences Po, but ultimately decided to spend the year in two different programs in Paris. For fall 2010, I was in the Columbia-Penn Reid Hall Program, which is an easier transition, providing you with administrative support and advising: from finding housing and getting a credit card to picking courses and going on cultural excursions. During spring 2011, I was directly enrolled at Sciences Po-Paris, a relatively “authentic” experience that requires a student to be more autonomous and proactive. All my classes were in French for the full year. What a transformative year that was…progressing from being unable to correctly formulate a sentence in September to writing four-hour final exam essays at Sciences Po in May. I still often wonder how I survived.
Having always gravitated towards big cities, I knew that Paris was the ideal destination for me. It was socially comparable in certain ways to what I knew from Miami and New York City, I found the locals to be very friendly and welcoming, and literally every intersection was brimming with history and with beauty. I’ve made lifelong friends, and I know I’ll be back—perhaps permanently.
I am writing a senior thesis in government and receiving a secondary in economics as well as a citation in French. I applied for one concentration credit from my time abroad. I will be graduating on time with my blockmates, and I spent an amazing year of my life in the best city in the world. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
And, in case you’re wondering, the Radcliffe alum was totally right."
Email: kkeita [at] fas.harvard.edu