Part 2, Interview with Andrea Bouchaud

So immerse yourself around new people, you’ll adapt so much easier, no matter where you go abroad, and those skills will follow you through your life and in your career. 

Andrea Bouchaud attended a study abroad program in college in France, and learned useful tips to adapt to French life which she includes in her study abroad memoirs and it’s sequel being released April 11, 2014. Read Part 1 of the interview with guest author, here.

L: In one of your recent blog posts, you asked: “So what can you do to counteract the home country effects on your study abroad experience?” Can you explain a little more what types of behaviors or attitudes French families find normal, which might clash with Americans and how to best adjust or prepare?

A: On the whole, French culture is more formal, even amongst each other; whether a good friendship or parent-child, it’s more formal. For example, you wouldn’t start an email with, “Hey, can you do this?”, even if it’s your best friend there. You use formal greetings, like, “How are you, hope everything is well…”. Just think about formality, and try to be your most polite self. You really have to consider the culture. French students are more reserved in class, and not as touchy; Americans are touchy, we might reach out and brush your arm or hug you, but that’s not very French. They aren’t cold, they just aren’t touchy. So if you feel like reaching out to people, or hugging your host family, it might not put your host family at ease, so that would be something to hold back on a little. Also tone down the way you dress; the 80’s style is becoming more popular (in the States), neon, distressed denim, holes in shirts, so tone it down for your time in France. Young people might get on those trends there, but it’s stil better to just wear cute flat shoes, skinny jeans for girls, simple t-shirts, not offensive, and no American bands, etc., basically more neutralized.SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

-You are going to buy a lot of clothes there to fit in, so I wouldn’t bother packing much either. H&M is a Swedish company, so even in the States, they always have more European trends, so if you shop there, you’ll definitely fit in and you can’t go wrong.

-Also, do your research, use native exchange opportunities in your town. On phones now there is a great application, called YahooFrance which is a news app. It will post general world stuff, and so you can know who their people to know are, who’s their “Brangelina”, what concerns the french, and it pops up daily on your phone, so it’s a great way to get a quick glimpse of “oh this is a topic”, a general idea of what’s going on, and in French! So you can practice and be able to say “Hey, I know this expression now!”.

-Prepare mentally. Challenge yourself. When I was 20, I didn’t push myself out of my comfort zone much. If you’ve never had to do this, or meet new people, then try it in your hometown before you go. Say hi to one new person in class, join a new club, volunteer for community service, or at a church. Push yourself even before you go abroad, then it’s easy to carry with you that skill when you go abroad. Don’t just think “I’ll change abroad”; if you do that, it will take more time. I thought that too, and I had trouble because I wasn’t pushing myself. So immerse yourself around new people, you’ll adapt so much easier, no matter where you go abroad, and those skills will follow you through your life and in your career. I now feel I will adapt quickly to any situation, and people find that useful as a life skill.

L: Do you feel that tracking your experiences such as in this book has helped you reflect on your experience, and how so?  

Absolutely. There are so many things seven years later that I notice looking back at my journals, I had a different mentality. What I thought was the French being difficult, was actually me being difficult. Of course, some things really are frustrating, and you can’t change it, like strikes. I would say, “What are these people doing? They are so strange”, but that’s because I didn’t do my research. Now I know to look out for it (a metro strike), I bring my walking shoes in my bag with me, and I know they might do it once a week. So if you want to wear heels around in Paris, bring flats in your bag because you never know when the Metro will go on strike.

There are things that are SO avoidable in the transition process, that I realize now. Whether studying abroad or just visiting even a couple weeks, there are so many things that if you reached out and researched, for example, just go on Google and type in, “current french news”, and it will pop up! Just by having that basic comprehension and knowledge base, it will take you so far on understanding and accepting the new culture. I didnt want to change, my idea was that I was going to study abroad, and they would be friends with me and I would just have to sit back and relax, and I didn’t realize it wasn’t going to happen that way. The whole point of study abroad is to change, and to have self growth and reflection, and I didn’t realize that. I was fighting the process, and thought if I changed, I was saying there was something wrong with me. It’s not about not liking who you are, but growing as a person. Change isn’t negative, it’s always positive,  and you become a more accepting and understanding person by doing so.

L: So do you suggest students keep diaries and/or blogs?

A: Yeah, if I didn’t have my journal, I would’ve gone insane! Days when my language skills weren’t what they were supposed to be, I thought “this is never going to get better”, and I expressed frustration through my journal. It was there for me. When learning something new, I would say, “Why am not getting this?”. It was better to write it in my journal; don’t always to reach out to your family, to not scare them. I would vent my frustration on a bad day to my parents and they would say, “What’s wrong? What can we do?” and I felt bad because I didn’t have all bad days. Befriending someone in the program so you can talk about rough days also helps, it’s nice to hear a human voice not just a journal. Your program friends are good resources, or make a new friend! Just say, “Is this frustrating to you too?” Blogging, or any recording is great, because I could go back and write these books; I also have scrapbooks,  and it brings back great memories, and even the frustrating moments become funny later, it’s a great memento to have.

The other great part of the journaling aspect is being able to share your story with other students; you just helped somebody, by telling your story. The whole idea of paying it forward is useful, it really helps other students directly.

L: Has traveling influenced or changed your career goals that you might have had before you started traveling?

I was a very know-it-all young person, before I traveled, I thought I had figured the world out. Traveling helped show there isn’t just one way to do things; I was very stubborn, maybe it’s my french blood (ok, that’s not true but I like to blame it). I would always think my way is the best way, but as you experience other cultures you realize there are multiple ways to do things and you can see if it’s good for you or not good for you. We really are all the same, with the same desires, the same needs with just slight variations. That oneness is nice to see; it connects the human species no matter where you are in the world, and it helps you critical think better, and come up with better solutions.

When you stay stagnant in one place, or if you’ve never moved even from your state, you’ll think, “we always do it this way”, when in reality even in different states they do things differently. In my personal life I can find quick solutions now; my brain will start to absorb other possibilities and think big, because I know there are other ways to do things. Traveling opens your eyes and makes you a more accepting, understanding person and a more valuable person in your job, community, and workplace.

It’s even a trend now for high school and college graduates to put on their college application or job resume their travel experience to show you have been with other cultures, because the people in those positions know it makes you more accepting, and this skill helps a lot in the workplace and your personal life.

6. As a last note, iE-USA is offering a short term summer program in Paris for 2014. What would be your top three tips for students who apply?

1. You are the new factor, I can’t stress it enough. The Parisians have been living there for years, so make sure you are prepared to look into their culture, and immerse yourself. It’s difficult because you feel yourself resisting, but just go on a walk on those days and feel the beauty. The summer time will be empty but beautiful because the Parisians will be off and about on vacation. You have to change, not the french. If you make a language mistake, it’’s not the end of the world. I used to get hung up on it, and would get frustrated if I made errors. It’s better if you can learn from the issue, move on, and just keep talking! You’ll improve faster.

AndreaParis__00232. Challenge yourself. Go out on walks- I used to walk for hours around the city. It’s not a big city, so you can walk for hours and I never felt any discomfort or think “When am I going to arrive!”. It’s really enjoyable; it’s a beautiful city in the sunshine and absolutely gorgeous. If I had a bad day I would feel better just by getting outside.

3. The more activities you do, the better. It’s great that your program has activities, because our students on my program didn’t feel too connected to each other because we didn’t have activities planned. It’s easier to feel sad and stay inside without activities. But that’s the worst you can do,  because you’ll start thinking negatively. The best thing is to get your mind off it; interact with other students, even if it’s going to a cafe and getting a croissant and Perrier, it’s great to have those activities available to you in this summer program.

P.S. Here’s a quick language test, how do you say washing machine in French?

Also, I am always looking for students to interact with other students, on my blog, so if anyone would like to be a guest blogger if they experience France, I would love to have them and share their stories.

For more information about summer study abroad in Paris, email infoabroad@international-experience.net

Comments or questions for Andrea Bouchaud? Comment below or follow her on Twitter @twentyinParis !

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About Laura iE-USA

I 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, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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