Mother, Daughter Duo Take on Paris

in Global Matters
March 13th, 2024

Laura and Julie Pitois Complete BU’s Paris Study Abroad Internship Program, 26 Years Apart, Deepen Their Love for the City 

In many ways Julie Pitois (UNCA ‘25) has followed in her mother’s footsteps. They both studied sociology and French. Their love for the city of Paris and its beautiful architecture is infectious. But perhaps the most striking similarity is that they completed the same Paris study abroad program – the Paris Internship Program – albeit 26 years apart, and both interned for non-profit organizations in Paris.

Julie’s mother Laura Pitois (CAS ‘98) first enrolled in the Paris Internship program as a junior BU sociology major in 1997.

“When I first went on study abroad, I wasn’t fluent in French,” Laura recalls. “And I would say by the end of the semester, I was pretty fluent. I kept learning and continue to learn…I still speak French.”

During her time abroad, Laura says she fell in love with Paris and calls the City of Light her favorite place in the world. Beyond developing fluency in French and falling in love with Paris’ rich culture, Laura notes that doing the Paris Internship program opened doors for her professionally. “Having a non-profit Paris internship on my resume definitely helped, especially because I work in international education,” she says.

When Laura graduated from BU she returned to Paris and was able to get a work permit. She loved it so much that she ended up living and working there for more than five years.

“I stayed in touch with Renée, [Pontbriand, then the Assistant Director and currently the Director of Study Abroad Paris for BU] and I was able to fill in for her when she went on maternity leave,” Laura says. When Renée returned, I moved into a program assistant position and helped with housing, communications, and other things.”

Laura worked for BU Paris until she had Julie, and their family moved back to the U.S. when Julie was 9 months old. “So it’s no exaggeration to say it changed my life,” Laura says. “Julie wouldn’t be here if I had never studied abroad because I met her Dad in Paris.”

Perhaps it’s of little surprise that Julie would end up studying abroad in Paris, but she doesn’t take any of it for granted. Julie has worked hard and knew that studying abroad would help her improve her French language skills. “I’ve looked forward to studying abroad for a long time so I could become more fluent,” she says.

Interning at the non-profit organization Prométhée Humanitaire has helped Julie advance her French, among other skills. “The organization helps children who are living in the streets in Haiti, Senegal, and Madagascar, and they help provide them with shelter, food, education, and community activities,” Julie says. “What I’ve done is help with all their fundraising efforts, contacting various sponsors who are designer clothing and jewelry companies that we can sell at a fundraising event.”

Before going abroad, Laura gave Julie plenty of advice and insight, no doubt, but perhaps among the most practical was the tip to get comfortable jotting down phone numbers quickly at her internship.

“Julie can tell you, I drilled her on catching phone numbers quickly, especially with the higher numbers like soixante-dix, quatre-vingts…it can get very confusing,” Laura says. “I told her how, as an intern, it was hard when people called me wanting to leave a message, and I had to try to catch their number. So we worked on that together, because I wanted to save her from what I went through with the phone numbers.”

Being able to catch phone numbers accurately helped Julie as she called on sponsors for her internship’s fundraising event. Aside from improving her French and getting valuable experience working with sponsors, Julie learned what it’s like to work in a non-profit organization, noting that the idea of it was completely foreign to her before the experience.

Another avenue of personal growth for Julie came in exploring new neighborhoods. Laura loves setting out with no real destination and walking around Paris all day, meandering in and out of shops and galleries. “I will go out all day and just walk around, but I don’t think Julie loves that quite as much as I do,” Laura says.

Julie admits that it’s not her favorite thing to do and that her feet begin to hurt, but Julie told her mom recently, “I actually did a lot of walking today, you’d be proud of me, because we were handing out flyers for the sale. I felt like I was channeling your energy today, because we were walking around neighborhoods that I’d never been in. I saw some really cool architecture and shops.”

Julie also praises the public transportation in Paris, which saves her feet, and allows her to get around the city quickly. “I never really understood the hype around public transportation, because we don’t have that anywhere that I’ve ever lived [before Paris]. But now I get it. It’s definitely fun to take the metro and just go wherever you want. Or the bus because I take the bus to my internship.”

Being able to see the city and re-live studying abroad, in a way, through her daughter’s experience has been special for Laura. Laura notes how brave and incredible she thinks Julie and all students who study abroad are. “The fact that you’re stepping out and being really brave and doing something totally different – it’s very valuable,” she says. “I’ve talked a lot about how I think studying abroad helps with your personal development – as a human, as a student, and as a worker – because it really takes you out of your comfort zone. And I think through that discomfort comes growth and maturity.”

Pictured: Baby Julie, visiting BU Paris with her mother Laura in 2003

Laura also notes her appreciation for longtime director, Renée Pontbriand, who has been working for the program since 1992 and at the helm for 16 years.

“I want to thank Renee for being such a wonderful director to me and to Julie,” she says. “Just knowing that she’s running the program was really comforting to me. To know that she was there and that she’s done such a fabulous job for so long. And that it’s still available for Julie and, who knows, maybe her sister in a few years, who is a senior in high school. I’m really thrilled that the program’s still there, it’s still going strong, and it’s still providing this wonderful opportunity to students.”