Posted by Laura iE-USA
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.
-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.
2. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Comments or questions for Andrea Bouchaud? Comment below or follow her on Twitter @twentyinParis !
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.