Office of Global Engagement

Brown alum who studied in Bologna and Paris discusses life abroad and what led him to stay

Ethan Kuhl '23 reflects on his senior year abroad in both the Brown in Bologna and Brown in Paris programs.

Ethan Kuhl, who graduated in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature, always knew that he wanted to study abroad for at least a semester. After his original plan to go abroad during his junior year was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided that once normalcy began to return to the world, he was going to spend his entire senior year overseas. 

Participating first in the Brown in Bologna program during his fall semester and then Brown in Paris in the spring, he describes how spending the entire year abroad “felt like the next step in my journey of becoming an adult.” He added that as a student concentrating in comparative literature, it “seemed fitting that studying abroad would enhance that passion.” Now after completing his studies at Brown, he’s living and working in Paris.

When thinking about his choice to study abroad in Bologna for his first semester abroad, Kuhl describes how Italy was “always in the back of [his] mind,” particularly as someone who is half Italian. Thus, when he came across the opportunity to study in Bologna, where he could completely immerse himself in a language and culture he hadn’t yet had much exposure to, he was eager to do so. 

He talks about how the people in the program “felt like a family” in addition to being able to take great classes at the University of Bologna and gaining fluency in Italian. But he also describes the lessons learned beyond the classroom: “There’s so much to be experienced from the people you’re meeting, the food you’re eating, and the wine you’re drinking – and you can’t do that in a college classroom.” 

He also realized that while he was able to more easily find community in his hometown of New York City and at Brown – both very diverse populations – Bologna was different. People had such distinctly different life experiences, and he learned to “make friends where typical aspects of identity that had helped [him] in the past weren’t there.” Though he certainly loved his time in Bologna, he left feeling ready for the next step in a bigger city, and decided that Paris would be the ideal next locale.

“My mom said that since I was a kid, I would always say how one day I want to live in France,” Kuhl says. He entered the Brown in Paris program with the goal to “immerse [him]self in French culture and meet French people.” However, he describes the challenges of making friends in France due to the different way in which they view friendship: “for them, friendships are based in history and time, whereas in the US you can go to a bar and meet someone. You can’t necessarily do that here easily. But once you make connections, it’s extremely rewarding.” 

It’s a cliché that studying abroad changes you, but it really does in ways you can’t prepare for...I didn’t think I was going to actually move to France, but one door opened and that opened so many other doors with it.

Ethan Kuhl Class of 2023
Ethan Kuhl

Whether through rooftop gardening, soup kitchens, or language workshops, Kuhl describes the myriad ways he was able to foster meaningful relationships with both international and French people. So when February of his senior year came around and he started thinking more seriously about the future, he realized, “I had done all the networking and the internships, but didn’t feel like I knew what I wanted. But I knew that personally, being in Paris felt good.” So after “growing so much and meeting so many incredible people,” he decided that “the lens for the upcoming year could be personal growth, and the professional would fall into place with that.” 

As a next step, Kuhl talked to Brown alumni that lived in Paris, who guided him in his thought process about staying in Paris past his semester abroad. Now, Ethan works at a cybersecurity company in their strategy and marketing department. 

“I work, do what I have to do, but I also get to be in Paris and continue with that cultural education.” 

When asked about any advice he might give a student thinking about studying abroad and perhaps embarking on a similar path after college, Kuhl says, “it’s a cliché that studying abroad changes you, but it really does in ways you can’t prepare for.” He elaborates, “I didn’t think I was going to actually move to France, but one door opened and that opened so many other doors with it.” 

He also notes how he never resonated much with his American identity growing up, but living internationally, “you’re forced to confront and reconcile those parts of yourself that you take for granted sometimes.” He acknowledges that his path is certainly a unique one and “the majority of students don’t end up moving to the country they study abroad in.” But whether you stay in the country you study in or go back to college in America, “you learn so much about yourself and what you want in life, as well as the kind of people you want to surround yourself with.”

To hear more reflections from Brown in Paris alumni, visit the OGE Instagram page for a 30-for-30 video series featuring interviews with 30 student alumni as Brown in Paris celebrates three decades of cultural immersion, academic growth, and unforgettable moments.