A photo of a woman drawing on a board
“I would say to anybody who's thinking about [studying abroad] that they should look into it as soon as possible and start looking into scholarships and talk to the advisers, because they will make it happen,” Frances Burson said. (Contributed photo)

VCU senior found a French connection at study abroad fair

Public relations major Frances Burson spent a month in Lyon this summer learning about international human rights through a different cultural lens.

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As an intern in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Global Education Office, Frances Burson was on assignment this past January at a study abroad fair. She was there to take photos – and the scene revealed an unexpected opportunity.

Burson, a senior majoring in public relations in VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, always had a passion for travel. She had dreamed of studying abroad since high school, but with college graduation looming this December, she figured she wouldn’t have the time.

At the January fair, though, Burson chatted with someone about a monthlong summer program in Lyon, France, sponsored by the University Studies Abroad Consortium, a nonprofit with offerings in more than two dozen countries. She realized it was a perfect fit.

“I have taken French since I was 14 years old, so I've just always had an interest in the country and the language and the culture,” Burson said.

Another lure of the program was its course on international human rights. Though she had dropped a second major in international studies with a concentration in international social justice because of time constraints, the subject remains a passion, and she hopes to work in the nonprofit sector.

“And just because it happened to be in France with a language that I have some familiarity with, that was an added bonus,” Burson said.

The course offered her a French perspective on international human rights and focused on law. The professor used to work at the United Nations in Geneva.

A photo of a woman in front of a statue
In addition to her course on international human rights, Frances Burson also took classes on drawing and painting, as well as French conversation. (Contributed photo)

“She had this perspective that I don't know that I could have gotten from an American professor unless they had also worked at the U.N.,” Burson said. “She also had a lot of guest speakers come in from different NGOs and organizations that worked in humanitarian law. So that gave a very well-rounded perspective of what it's like in France.”

Burson said this context allowed her to compare how human rights are discussed and treated in the U.S.

“Even though I know that in the back of my head that everybody has their own cultural differences, it was really nice to see it unfold in front of me,” she said.

Burson added that being immersed in another culture was a compelling part of the experience. By the end of the four weeks, she said she had just started getting used to French culture and had built a routine and habits.

“It was cool to start to get into a groove with the way they do things there,” she said.

Another benefit was the friendships Burson made on the trip. Her program colleagues came from all over the U.S., and though they stayed in different dorms, they would meet up to go into town together outside of class.

“The program director told us that less than 2% of all college students will study abroad, so you're in this little group that not a lot of people belong to. But it's a very cool group,” Burson said.

One factor that initially made her reluctant to study abroad was the price tag; she works part-time in addition to attending VCU. But Burson received the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Endowed Fund  and the USAC scholarship, as well as a $500 voucher from the Global Education Office to cover the trip abroad and her bills at home.

“I would say to anybody who's thinking about [studying abroad] that they should look into it as soon as possible and start looking into scholarships and talk to the advisers, because they will make it happen,” Burson said.

“It was awesome. I definitely would not have traded it for the world, and I'm really glad I did it.”

For more information about VCU’s study abroad opportunities, visit global.vcu.edu/abroad.