Interview with Andrea Bouchaud, Book Author and Study Abroad Blogger (Part 1)
Posted by Laura iE-USA
“The whole point of study abroad is to change, and to have self growth and reflection”
iE-USA’s Outbound Director, Laura Higgs, was pleased to interview the author and blogger, Andrea Bouchaud, for her virtual book release tour. She wrote The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored, to be released on Amazon Kindle Store on April 11, 2014. It is a sequel to Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris. Both books track her experience studying abroad in Paris and the difficulties and beauties of a long term immersion experience. Andrea now resides in Dallas, Texas.
If you or someone you know would like to study abroad in France, go to the iE-USA.org website to find out more.
L: What do you appreciate most about French culture?
A: I appreciate the most the “Joie de Vivre’, an appreciation for life. I didn’t recognize it for what it was at first, as Americans, we don’t take time to stop and smell the roses, but for example the French eat because it’s pleasurable, and to enjoy good company, to enjoy good food, it’s not just doing things because you have to, but because it’s an enjoyable experience. And it took a while to get used to, now I incorporate this into my life here, when I’m walking through a park, it’s not just a walk in the park to get to my destination, I appreciate the little things: people laughing, smiling, I also appreciate city life for what it is.
L: Is France for everyone?
A: There’s a little bit of France for everyone, it’s a cultural hubbub, in Europe for sure it is one of the most cultural places. Science is big, there are amazing hospitals and industries, of course the art is fabulous with the world class museums, it has cooking and fashion too, it really has something for everyone. They are proud of their culture though, so you have to be ready to adapt to their culture if you aren’t already living and looking like them. If a student isn’t ready to adapt, then France might not be for them.
L: Was the time when you published your first book your first time traveling?
A: This was my first long term experience traveling. In high school, we took a six day trip and it was my first time out of the country. We spent two days in Paris and also visited Normandy, but otherwise I hadn’t traveled a whole lot in my youth. The most international I had been was going to the Bahamas when I was eight, which I don’t remember much. Living abroad is definitely different from vacation. You think when you are without your mom and dad, it will just be so cool and free. It’s very different, and vacation sometimes distorts perceptions of travel. I thought just being able to go to the corner cafe by myself would be cool and make me independent, being away from my family and home, I thought I would do what I wanted. Instead of this, I realized it was a new experience and had to be much more responsible and deal with new challenges.
L: What fears did you have going abroad and how did you overcome them?
A: I actually didn’t have any fears, and that was the problem. I thought, “All will be fine and dandy”, and while studying abroad is not a fearful experience, you should have some questions and concerns before you go. Just saying, “it will work out” (which it certainly does) does not help you adapt. It could have saved months of confusion if I had looked into some concerns beforehand and practiced my french more. But they didn’t come across to me, I was first in my family to study abroad, the first of my friends, and really out on my own, and I had to go alone. The program I had to choose (because my original program was cancelled) had no support orientation or courses, no preparation information, so I was just going with my dreams and hopes and deluded expectations, and that was an issue.
L: You say you should have questions before you go. Many students find the French language hard to learn, or hard to progress. Any suggestions before they leave?
A: The best option is to talk with natives; it’s tried and true and never fails. I discovered this website, www.mylanguageexchange.com, you can sign up for free, and it’s for people who are looking to improve their french and you can improve really fast. It’s a really great way to speak with someone who’s a native, and really cool because you find out about the culture at the same time. You might not even realize some things, but you will be talking with a native, and they mention certain things in their daily life. It opens the door for cultural understanding, and improving language because class and textbooks can only teach so much; it’s really about getting your hands dirty and practicing. If you have the means to do so, there is also Alliance Française, (http://www.afusa.org/) which is a cultural organization group in every major city, and they have classes taught by native speakers. So in addition to taking French at school, you should find out about the culture and really talk with a native; any language course at school, the teacher will talk slow, repeat themselves, etc. but that doesn’t happen in real life conversation. Everyone speaks so quickly, so if you talk with a native before you go, you’ll be better prepared for how they will speak abroad.
L: Did you make Parisian friends, and what was the easiest way to meet people?
A: My first semester, I was concentrating on such a tough transition, that I didn’t make a lot of friends, I would go out with other Americans in my program though. Second semester, I only made more American friends, and my program was mainly Americans. At Sorbonne, they had students from all over, and the others spoke so well, almost fluently in French, and I was always so envious. There was a Russian girl and she made more friends because she could speak the language. I was friendly with a couple French girls, we would talk in class. I actually have more French friends now that I’m in the States; in Dallas there is a huge french population. The real issue and lesson learned was that I didn’t push myself out of my comfort zone and I didn’t try to fit in by looking like them, and I might have scared some of them. Maybe they didn’t know how to approach an American, especially one who looked different. If you are going abroad you HAVE to be the extrovert; I didn’t even think about that. They (the French) had been in school for 3 years already. They already have established friendships, so I realized later, they won’t just be friends with me because I’m the new girl; the other (American) students also didn’t make friends because we assumed they’d be interested in us and we just waited, but it wasn’t so much that they weren’t interested in meeting us, you just have to work your way in and make an effort.
I have a blogger friend, who made an interesting comparison. She said, Europeans are like Coconuts, and Americans are like Peaches, with their friendships. Europeans are harder on the outside, and then warm on the inside once you make a friend. Americans are the complete opposite, we’re friendly and then we put up wall after a while, and you have to work harder to keep good friends. When you are across cultures, you have to work a little harder to “get into the shell”.
L: Yes, one of the exchange students from Germany, in Texas, made a similar connection, in a local newspaper interview. This must be a very common difference between cultures. So what is the easiest way to meet people?
A: Friendship concepts are different; we as Americans have many acquaintances who we are friendly with, but the French, they want to have a true commitment from another person. It’s a different way to think about it; they take it more seriously. You have to push out of your comfort zone, because otherwise while you are waiting for them to come to you, they are waiting for you to come to them. You have to be the one who will be making those attempts at friendships, otherwise it won’t happen.
Continued in Part 2 here
Andrea Bouchaud is available for questions, and loves being a mentor for students. Her Skype or Email is available upon request, and you may submit questions she will respond to, below in the Comments section.
About Laura iE-USAI direct the study abroad programs for iE-USA and have studied abroad in Argentina and Spain. I have a passion for travel and language immersion.
Posted on March 1, 2014, in Study abroad and tagged author, book, cultural, culture, europe, france, International, paris, parisian, Study Abroad, travel, twentyinparis, youth exchange. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.