Wanderings and Ponderings

My Study Abroad Adventures in England & France


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Reverse Culture Shock : France to England

Well, I’ve told you what France is like, and last semester I told you what England is like. Going between the two was the coolest experience, as it really highlighted the difference between the two cultures.

For starters, before I’d even left France I was sitting at my airport gate with a bunch of British people who were also on my flight. Hearing English all around me was a strange experience, and there were times I had to think twice to get what they said. But the part that stood out to me most was when I ate an apple. This chart that my friend Bethany posted a few days ago sort of explains it.  


In France, munching on an apple isn’t a problem. Generally speaking, they’re higher up on the “Confrontational”/”Emotionally Expressive” ends of the axes. Les français are going to go about their business unbothered by what others think. Which is fine, it’s just a different culture and way of living. (The more timid side of my personality never really meshed with it, though) But there, amidst the British, I got a few looks. Crunching on the apple, I was disturbing the peace! Surprised at myself, I remembered that this collective politeness was one thing I loved about the British culture.

I didn’t finish my apple. God, I’d missed this country.

When I got off the plane, I grabbed my suitcases from the carousel. I had a Bilbo Baggins moment then, and it hit me that I’ve been on a very long trip. The culmination of all my communication frustrations and paperwork incidents and overall exhaustion hit me then, mixed with feelings of intense relief at being back in England. I had a major breakdown by the carousel, but I tried to pull myself together and asked for directions to the taxi bank. I accidentally asked for help in French, because, life. This wasn’t helpful in England, obviously, so I turned around and asked again in my American accent :P The kiosk to order a taxi was broken so I was temporarily stuck without transport. The train would have gotten me part way, but not to my friend’s house. So her sweet mum and sister came to pick me up from the airport, for which I am so, so grateful. 

Despite my fatigue that night, the thoughts swirling in my mind kept me from falling asleep, at least immediately. My study abroad experience in France was over. I’d said goodbye to some of my best friends there. I was back in England. With another wonderful friend. 

My friend, Jasmine, and her family welcomed me with lots of hugs, Christmas music, coffee, a colorful happy house, and a complete lack of paperwork! I’m already missing their sweet family as I’m staying in Canterbury, and I can’t wait to spend Christmas with them <3

How bizarre it was to bop around from country to county and still not be home. Well, who can really say where home is? I felt home when I heard English again. When I heard the British accents that I’d missed so much. When I stepped off the plane and smelled the English air. When I got real hugs for the first time in months. When I saw the bunnies hopping around campus. 

Home is England and home is with my family in the United States. And scattered with my friends throughout the world. It’s where you feel relaxed and safe and happy. Where you love and where you are loved.

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Packing.

I have 4 days left in France. 

Packing isn’t hard, but overcoming the heart sickness and getting the task done is. It’s difficult to sort through a semester’s worth of stuff when the very things you’re sorting constantly remind you of memories, friends, and oh-so-much new knowledge.

In England, I couldn’t make myself do it. I put it off until the last minute and stayed up two days straight packing, watching the sun rise two days in a row.

I vowed I wouldn’t do that again this time, but so far I just keep realizing things I’m going to miss here.


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Exam Adventures

Heh. Ok so I have to tell you guys the story of my taking some of my exams yesterday. 

First of all – taking an exam should never be this difficult to organize!

For my French grammar classe, there were 2 other international students who needed to take the exams early. We spoke to the prof and he said sure, jeudi at 10h00 we could meet him at room 023 in the Censive building. So we met. We went to room 023. The room was empty. We waited 20 minutes (hoping maybe if he’d forgotton he’d just give us a take-home test – lol that didn’t happen). We asked at the main office, where the surprisingly nice & helpful lady looked all throughout the master schedule to track him down. Apparently he was “in room 023.” Lol, cause he wasn’t. We went to the office across the hall. (By the way, this self-doubt and wandering about and asking for help is a lot of fun in a foreign language…) The lady across the hall didn’t know anything either. She actually snapped at my friend Mared, essentially saying, “that’s all I know! That’s all the information I have!!” ‘Kay, sorry, we just wanted help…! We went back to 023. Where he still wasn’t. We sat down and wrote him an email, then went to get a coffee. 

We had his class later that day. I went, though none of us expected him to show up. Surely he’s sick, we thought, to just not come. Haha but no, he was there. I spoke to him before class, and he got ticked at me saying that he had been there this morning. I don’t know what to believe. He definitely told us room 023, and furthermore, he was definitely supposed to be teaching in that room. Anyway, he told us we could take the exam after class. So we hung around, waiting for him to finish talking to students. All the sudden he just walks out the back door of the classroom with all of his stuff. What?!? Freaking seriously?  It didn’t look like he was planning on coming back, cause he took all his stuff with him. We said maybe he went to the restroom? So Mared and Im hung outside the restroom (yes, I know this story is tragically comedic. Enjoy), while I waited in the lecture hall just in case. They saw him pass by the stairs or something and messaged me to come up to the main office. We waited outside the main office for a few minutes until he exited. When he saw us he was totally surprised! Perhaps he had totally forgotten. Anyway, there’s adventure #1.

Adventure #2 occured the same day, with another exam. First of all, if you go to France, you’re going to do a lot of wandering around blindly looking and hoping for help. Ok, so I was supposed to meet my Literature professor in classroom 1008. She wasn’t there, and another lady was teaching a class – what?..what?!?! Ok, ok, I just went up to her office, right? No big deal. Except between that day and the previous, it had been emptied of furniture and was undergoing construction. Well. Ok, slightly bigger deal. I went to the main office, where the aforementioned nice lady was and asked for her guidance. Apparently my literature professor was “in room 1008”. Great. No she wasn’t. The lady at the office said “je suis désolé pour toi” (I’m sorry for you) cause I’d talked to her so many times that day. Sad and funny at the same time. Office across the hall is closed for lunch…ok! Go back down to 1008 where my prof has now appeared. Weird class change time maybe? I’m not sure. But I found here and finally got to take my test!


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I’ve decided not to return next semester.

I’d originally planned on staying 2 to become as fluent as possible, but that’s not going to work out. It was a difficult decision to make (involving extensive pro-con lists) because I have so many great friends here, but I’m gonna be honest here and say this isn’t working for me. I’ve spent the whole semester trying my best. Speaking French all day long and taking classes entirely in French. Dealing with beaurocracy and a whole new culture with which I’m not familiar and I can’t get used to. The Paris attacks have highlighted everything in fear and uncertainty.

It’s difficult to convey through text how simply exhausting it is here…reading my other stories (about paperwork, mostly) will give you an idea about what life is like here on a daily basis. These past few weeks have gotten even more difficult, especially after the attacks. “It was fun while it lasted” as they say, but now the semester’s dragging on and I really just want to go home. You know finals week at home, where you’re so tired and worked to the bone? Well this is like that, but in another country, in a foreign language. I’m exhausted. No matter how many times I break down, I still can’t leave. I have exams to take before I go. I want to make it clear there have been really wonderful parts of this semester – but at the same time, I need some level of stability.

I desperately, desperately want to go home.


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Italian

Because this anecdote is so dramatic, I have to share it. Here’s what happened to me in Italian today –

I go to Italian. The professor yells at us. I don’t understand why, but a friend later explains that it’s because we understand the other professor’s material (the course is co-taught by 2 profs) but don’t know much of anything with regards to what she has “taught” us <–notice the quotes…I’m using the word “taught” loosely here…
She calls a few of us up in pairs to do dialogues, and I’m paired with another exchange student. We look at each other with an expression that says nothing but “seriously…?!?”. We reluctantly stand in front of the class, and do the best we can. The professor becomes irritated when I accidentaly slip French words into the Italian, calling me out continuously on it to the class. Despite our clear struggle, she pushes and pushes us to keep continuing. I break down and run out of the classroom (like I said, my emotions were near the surface). Not two seconds later, my friends Noémie, Chloe, and Julien were out there with me, comforting me and hugging me. Despite difficulties I have, it’s moments like this I realize how lucky I am to have such wonderful friends. 

We went back inside after a minute. I sat in the back this time, and thought surely she won’t call on me again. Heh. No, she called on me again, standing right in front of my desk making me memorize a sentence to repeat it and conjugate the verb. Because I was in such sad shape I could only handle one word at a time, which was kind of pitiful. 

After class, I went up to talk to her about the exam. If we have an exam, I need to move the date so I can fly out earlier. I told her I’ve been upset since the attacks and stressed – it was then that she started screaming at me. Like, literally yelling. I tried to cut in, but I’m not fluent enough to form sentences in that type of situation, so I just kinda stood there making doing my best to make sounds. My friend Noémie, bless her, knew what I wanted to ask, so did her best to spout it out for me. That didn’t work either. The prof snatched her bags and stormed out. 

Noémie offered to go talk to the dean with me tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll make some progress.

Just one of many challenging moments in the life of this exchange student. 

Despite all this madness, I’m SO LUCKY to have such wonderful friends. And better yet, they’re French, so I can practice French while talking to them – never in my life would I imagine that so many of my best friends would be French ^_^

This experience has been a veritable rollercoaster

Bisous xxx


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Stand with Paris; Stand with the World

Well.

It’s been a terrifying past few days.

Paris, Baghdad, Beirut…while I’m not freaking out, that doesn’t mean I’m not scared. I’m scared for the world we live in. A place where all of this happens, and especially in such a short time span. 

I was 6 when 9/11 happened, and was actually fairly sheltered from what happened. Since we were all so young, the teachers didn’t turn the TVs on. I believe my parents came and got me soon after that. I mostly learned about it as I got older…..it’s weird for this to happen – essentially 9/11 for the French – and to be here. To be abroad. Away from home and everything you know, in a country where no one really speaks your language. It’s then that you realize how powerful the enemies are and how small you are.

You’re so much closer to things here in France. The States are so far away, so seemingly safe. The entire Atlantic Ocean separates it from Europe. Yet studying abroad – moving across that ocean – brings you so much closer to a lot of stuff. You can take a train to a different country in just a couple hours. And have to speak a different language. Due to the size difference, that’s like travelling from state to state to state and having to speak different languages whenever you cross boundaries. But when you study abroad, the danger gets closer too. Syria, Beirut, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran – while I’m not next door to them, I’m a lot closer than I was. 

Now the Paris attacks. The country I’m studying in. For the danger to come this close really stunned me. 

Luckily, I wasn’t in Paris when the attacks happened. I was safe in Nantes, and I got a news alert from my BBC app telling me as soon as the shootings occurred – a moment during which I was grateful I’d set up news alerts (though my friend Jasmine was impressively quick to alert me as well!)

I never dreamed how huge it would be (most deadly attack on France since WWII). I stayed up till 2 am watching the news, both unable to watch and unable to stop. I had friends in Paris, and was terrified for them – Were they ok? What if they were struck next? Luckily all of them made it out ok, and I’m so, so relieved for that! They’re shocked and upset, of course, but alive. 

I was amazed at the number of people that contacted me, asking if I was ok – it made me feel so, so loved. Despite the fact that my family is far away, you made it feel like I was part of a large Facebook family, and I really appreciated that, especially in the moment. <3

Between Paris and the other disasters going on at the moment, myself and others are feeling quite shocked. What do you say on the Monday afterwards? The “How was your weekend?” small talk seems to pale in comparison to everything else. Frequently it’s just “How are you?” and an understanding “Well…” “Yeah…”

We had a minute-long moment of silence on Monday at noon. Apparently they organized it outside, however I was clueless to this, and was sitting inside with my friends anyway. It was nothing short of eerie when 12:00 rolled around. Whereas people had been clomping through the cafeteria, chatting, etc., they all stopped at once. There was no clock on the wall. They just stopped. No one walked or came through the doors. People grew silent. And a minute later things went back to normal.

We’ve had a couple false alarms now in Nantes – people leaving stuff behind in the train station & tram, and they’re evacuating. It’s scary. On one hand it’s good that they’re being so careful about things. But it also keeps me really on-edge!

Really hoping everything calm down soon. 

Much love & bisous xxx

 

Hung in one of my classroom buildings

 
 

Student-written notes of support & solidarity

 


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Cultural Differences, French Edition

For this post I’ll just do some basic points to compare the two cultures.

Fresh food & markets. In the US, you’ll rely on the grocery store for all of your shopping (except perhaps the odd farmers market during the summer). Nantes has multiple “marchés”, the most popular one being on Saturday. People come with backpacks and little wheeled baskets to buy their week’s worth of groceries, and the market remains busy all day long.

 

Goat cheese hearts – half moldy, half not

  

Marché Mediatheque

 
Specialty shops. While I came here knowing that France would have its fromageries, boulangeries, and more (cheese and bread shops), I didn’t expect it to this extent. It seems every single shop is a privately owned and run business, specializing in candles, toys, clothes…the list goes on and on. When I first arrived, all I wanted was a sense of familiarity. While I thought the specialty shops were cool, I couldn’t help but missing stores like Target. Chains where you know what to expect. I’ve come to realize that that’s boring of course – that’s not how things are done here and there are lots of cool places to look around.
Bottled water. Every time I go to the store, the main thing I see people buying are cases of bottled water. As if they will die of thirst without it. Not even the high-faluten sparkly stuff, but the plain water! Is the tap water that bad? It seems fine to me.

Fruit goes out of season. You may say “…duh!” at first. But seriously, think about it. In the US, you can get peaches and strawberries and watermelon in the dead of winter. Sure the price goes up, but if you really need them for a recipe, they’re available. This is not the case in France. I got hooked on nectarines pretty soon after arriving, and was fairly dissappointed  when the stores stopped selling them. Now the persimmons and fall squashes have come in, and it’s very cool to see the different options!

Grocery sacks. If you want a sack for your groceries, it will cost extra. A great way to encourage environmentally-friendly actions, right? They also sell reusable grocery bags at most every store (like Publix and Kroger have started doing).

Eating outside. Super popular (but costs extra). No idea what’s gonna happen when winter comes, but right now, outside is still the place to be. Perhaps cause you can smoke outside? Not sure. When it’s warm, the fresh air is nice, though.

 

These people have a cat on their table

 
Pencil pouches. In the US, if you choose to use real paper instead of a computer, you’ll probably just keep them in your backpack. Or maybe in a pencil pouch, but the pouch returns to the backpack! Here, everyone has pencil pouches complete with little decorative buttons and doodles and every student leaves it out on their desk throughout the lecture. This is so different to me! I had to buy a pencil pouch to fit in with all the cool kids 👍

Graffiti everywhere! Like, really. Covering the desks, covering the backs of chairs, and buildings, it’s everywhere! At first it struck me as horrid and grimy but some of it is actually sort of funny if you read it.

   

ZAD *everywhere*!!

“This is a pointillistic representation of your mother”

 Coffee, Smoke, & “Pause” (break). During long classes (so, like, *always*) the prof will let us have a break. During this time, it’s popular to buy coffee (from one of the vending machines, though I usually bring my own coffee cause it’s cheaper lol). Most everyone goes outside was well cause smoking is so prevalent.

 

Julien, Chloë, & Noémie during our long Italian break

 
No eye contact. This has been one of the most difficult things for me to learn. Especially in an environment like the tram where it’s just total strangers, eye contact seems totally taboo. It only ends in weird staring contests. That I always win mwahahahahahahah!

“Pharmacies.” These aren’t like the US pharmacies where you get prescription drugs filled, however they have huge selections of vitamins and general health stuff. A couple weeks after I got here, I was feeling a bit under the weather, and a lady was able to recommend a supplement with a combination of lots of vitamins.

Style. Truly, if you aren’t dressed predominantly in black, or maybe brown or maroon, you’re going to stick out. Similarly to England, everyone has black jeans, shoes, coat,with a bit of color in a scarf or something. The uniformity and classic black makes you look much more put together.
And here I’ll dump some pictures of other random different things I’ve seen:

A ruler with a handle – seriously, how genius is that?

A vending machine that sells apples and baguette sandwiches

I like the name. “Schtroumpfs” instead of “Smurfs” haha

Goat cheese hearts – half molded, half not. Yay!