Home Alumni Alumni Spotlight: Brent’s 1971 Study Abroad Experience in Aix-en-Provence, France

Alumni Spotlight: Brent’s 1971 Study Abroad Experience in Aix-en-Provence, France

by AIFS Abroad
Brent Kostyniuk 1971 - AIFS Alumni - Summer Gap Year in Aix-en-Provence France 7

Calling all AIFS alumni: Did you study abroad in Aix-en-Provence in 1971? You won’t want to miss this! Brent, who participated in a Gap program the summer after graduating from high school, is looking to reconnect with others who were on his program. In the process of getting in touch with us, he was inspired to tell his story and offer a unique glimpse into life studying abroad in Europe in the early 1970s.

“On July 1, 1971, I left Edmonton, Canada with a group of 40 high school graduates, part of an AIFS summer school study program to Aix-en-Provence, France. We spent just over three weeks in Aix, where we became friends with members of a similar group from South Carolina. We shared classes, meals, and many trips through the local region. After Aix, my group continued on our own to Rome, Paris, and London.”

Doing a study abroad program can impact you for a lifetime — personally, professionally, and academically. It can also have a ripple effect. Brent’s experience in Aix-en-Provence sparked a love for international travel, which he passed on to future generations.

“Regarding my overall AIFS experience, it opened my eyes to Europe and certainly influenced my life in many ways. It gave me a taste for French cuisine and a fondness for the relaxed style of living we experienced in Provence. I saw that there was another way of life, very different from that on the Prairies. It developed a love of travel – I have been to Europe 12 times since then – which I have passed on to my children, and now grandchildren. Experiencing such a different world instilled a desire for more knowledge, leading to two degrees. Finally, keeping [a] diary eventually led me to realize that I have a talent for writing and a career as a freelance writer and editor. To this day, I fondly remember that summer.”

Read on to learn more about Brent’s study abroad experience in Aix-en-Provence, France with AIFS in 1971.

Then vs. Now

International travel and global education opportunities like studying abroad have changed a lot since Brent’s 1971 summer abroad in Aix-en-Provence with AIFS. We asked him about this changes — and what aspects he believes have remained constant.

“Travel in 1971 was so different from today. To begin with, overseas travel was still a rarity. It was just the beginning of the 747 era which revolutionized travel by making it both less expensive and more available. When we went, we travelled on a Boeing 727, carrying about 140 passengers. It was so small, we had to stop in Iceland for refueling! That in itself was an experience, because we got to experience the midnight sun.

Once in Aix-en-Provence, we encountered very few English speakers, other than students on the campus. This made our immersion experience all that more powerful. We had to speak French for everything we did off campus, including shopping, recreation, and eating out. Today, it is quite possible to travel in France with only a very limited knowledge of the language. However, I would imagine that the sense of discovery and even culture shock would be just as strong for first time visitors to France as it was for us.”


The early 1970s had unique geopolitical challenges. As a young student traveling in a new place and being exposed to new ways of life, Brent came face-to-face with those challenges — and, subsequently, opportunities — during his study abroad experience.

“At that time, there was a great deal of political unrest with French possessions in North Africa – although at the time I didn’t understand the situation. We were required to carry identity cards at all times and had to present them if asked by police. I recall walking past a bank one morning. An armored truck pulled up to make a delivery and guards jumped out carrying sub-machine guns. It was quite a shock from someone used to a more mundane society.”

Key Takeaways

AIFS alumni from decades past have such an amazing perspective, so we asked Brent to look back on his study abroad experience in 1971 in Aix-en-Provence and think about the advice he would give to current students considering studying abroad.

“Take advantage of all the opportunities which are presented to you. The tours…provide many different ways of learning the culture of the region you are visiting. We went on bus trips to wineries, historic sites, as well as day trips to the beach. If I have one regret, it is that I did not learn more about the area before I went. I think this would have allowed me to appreciate the experience more fully.

Dear Diary

Nowadays when we share a “day in the life” of our students and interns abroad, we think of the digital — vlogs, takeovers, and so much more. There’s something to be said, though, for a good old-fashioned journal. Read a few of Brent’s diary entries from his 1971 study abroad program in Aix-en-Provence with AIFS for a unique glimpse into his adventures as a recent high school graduate exploring Europe for the first time.

Wed. July 14 — Bastille Day. Woke up about 9:00. Washed clothes in laundry room. Finished about 10:30. Must use laundromat next time. Plane water bombing in valley about 1/3 mile south. Found out the water bombing is because of a small forest fire. Had some cafe au lait about 11:00. Read until about 1:00. Had some cookies and jam for lunch. Left for pool about 1:15. Same pool as before. Clouded up on all sides but didn’t rain at pool. Clouds came very slowly. Saw rockets send up to disperse hail. 5:30 left for restaurant. Trip took 1 hour. Ate at 9:30. Had melon similar to canteloup but a bit tangy, french fries, green beans? which tasted a bit like green pea soup and whole roast lamb. I had some ribs, crisp on the outside tender inside. Very good. Dessert was a sponge cake topped with meringue and baked a bit. Top hot, bottom cold. Also an apple. Had a good discussion about America [with some of the Americans who were sitting at the same table]. Sinks in washroom have electric eye. Ate in a sort of dungeon nice atmosphere.  Got back about 12. Plan to read a little then go to sleep.

Thurs. July 29 — [On this day Theresa, one of the Americans who befriended me, wrote “Hello” in my diary] Woke up at 6:45, thought it was 10:45. Woke up again about 7:40. Got ready for going downtown. Left about 8:15. Had usual breakfast and went to Grand Marche. [A large street market held on Thursday and Saturday mornings] Bought 2 wallets. Had a tango, [Beer with lemonade] wandered around. Had a ham sandwich and orange syrup for lunch. Mailed film. Got back about 12:15.  Went and suntanned for about 2 ½ hours. Had a hose fight with Tom. A lot of fun. Came back and was resting when I thought of something. On the day before I left, Linda said that she wished she was going to Europe. I said that it really hadn’t dawned on me that I was going. I left my home 4 weeks minus 7 hours ago and it still hasn’t dawned on me. Maybe it will when I’m leaving or when I get back home. Another thing; I noticed that my diary has less and less detail in it now. I guess I’m getting into a routine. Went to graduation. Nice.  We gave Nancy a standing ovation. Had cocktail party afterward. Boring. Ordered pastis [Provençal anise flavored liquor normally mixed with water] and lemonade. The guy thought I was crazy. It was good. Had a good talk with Jim [a chaperone from the American group] about S.C. 59% of the G.N.P. is military, 65% government. The people have a British background and feel they are aristocratic. Inspector from CIFS [Canadian affiliate of AIFS] came. Had first good meal in a long time. Chicken, peas, shredded white stuff with mayonnaise, salad, peach on pastry with syrup and a peach. Good. Got back and was duty chaperone for a while. Nobody signed out. Just had a shower. Feel a lot better. Exactly 12 days from now I’ll be back home. I’m very sleepy, must go to bed. 11 days till London and home.

We want to hear from AIFS alumni who also studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence in 1971.

One of the best parts of doing a study abroad program is the connections you make along the way. Brent is looking to reconnect with the classmates that he holds so near and dear to his heart. If you did a study abroad program in Summer 1971 in Aix-en-Provence with AIFS and would like to get in touch with him, please contact our Alumni Team and we will connect you.

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