Friday, October 01, 2010

Lauren F. - France - Fall 2010

Me and some friends at a traditional Breton-style Crêperie
Bonjour from Nantes, France. I know that Kristen is also studying in Nantes this semester, so I won't go on too much about the city itself. We were placed here through different programs, so I'm sure we'll have different experiences.

After a rough first week,  I've had a fairly easy and mostly wonderful month here in France. My advice for any students coming to France next semester: be prepared to fill out insane amounts of paperwork, and to have to run all over your city gathering signatures, identification photos, stamps, paying fees, mailing, waiting, emailing, calling, and waiting some more to finish it all. The good thing, is that you will quickly get to know your way around your city after these excursions.

I am incredibly thankful that the city I am in has such a fantastic public transportation system. There is a tram line which runs through the middle of the street, and can take you nearly everywhere in the city. It is generally very clean, and is much cheaper than public transportation in Chicago. I'm  going to miss it when I come home! There are also buses, and you can rent a bicycle if you would like to bike through the downtown area of the city.

I'm also thankful that there is an active youth culture here, since I've been feeling very isolated from France in my courses. I am taking courses at the university, but through a separate program for learning French as a second langage. I was expecting that I would enjoy meeting fellow francophiles, but most of my classmates are not study abroad students, rather, older people who have followed their partners here for whatever reasons. Needless to say, many of them are not interested in discussing French literature, or even showing up to class on time.

Since regular French university courses don't start until mid-September, activities and associations are only now becoming active. I'm looking forward to getting out and meeting some more French students in October, and I plan on taking advantage of the day trips to other regions in France sponsored by the association for international students.

I was prepared to go through a period of culture shock, but I haven't really felt it. However, what I was not prepared for, was how exhausted I would be. I attend classes 18 hours a week which start at 8 am. I'm still working on finding the motivation to go out and explore France after class. For the most part, I have been returning to the dorm and napping just enough to wake up and finish my homework. I'm hoping to eventually adjust to this schedule, because my weeks here are passing by incredibly fast!

I know that almost everyone who studies abroad gives this advice, but I will repeat it: If you can stay a year, do so. I can't believe that I only have three months left in France. Every time I tell someone that I'm leaving in December, I always let them know how sad I am about it. While my time spent here has assured me that I am 100% American, I feel as though France has become my second home.
Château des ducs de Bretagne


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds like you have been really busy! Why did you have to run around the first week you got there? Was it for school or stuff for the the country? That sounds really nice that there is a lot of public transportation! I think that since I have a car on campus it will be difficult to not have one but if there is a lot of public transportation I probably won't miss it at all!!

12:48 PM  
Anonymous Lauren F. said...

Bonjour Anonymous,

The paperwork was a mixture of visa requirements for the country, as well as requirements for the college and my program. In Nantes there is a pretty extensive network for public transportation, but I understand it will be different wherever you go. I don't miss my car one bit. :)

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Leah M said...

It seems like it's been hard for you to meet other people. I'm really worried about that myself when I go abroad. Do you have any tips for meeting locals? How are you finding connecting to the culture?

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Hannah W. said...

I have been thinking about this lately because my program is asking to submit an intended subject plan for when I go to Australia. There are so many options to choose from! How did you eliminate the classes down to the classes you are taking now? Did you take into account how long it was going to take to get to your classes? Are you just taking the same courses your would here over there? Or was there other factors that went in to it? What is something that you would have liked to know when you were picking your classes that you didn't find our until later?

7:05 PM  
Anonymous Matt Forster said...

I'm not going to France but I'm going to a settlement just north of us, Canada. I was just wondering what the attitude is towards Americans over there? I know there will be a decent number of exchange students from France going to my university so I'm curious about that. Also, I have a question of my own. How well rounded are the students there? I've heard that most people decided at a much younger age than here what career path they are going down so I don't know how wide of variety of material is taught to any given individual.

10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What kind of classes are you taking? Any suggestions for choosing classes? Do you pick them before you leave or once you get there?

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Lauren F. said...


You can look into student associations on your campus to see if there are any welcome events or activities for exchange students. Otherwise, you kind of have to just look out for friendly faces! Many French students live in university housing beyond their first year of college, so I've been able to make some friends and chat in the kitchen. Chances are you will be at a school larger than Elmhurst, so you will have many more opportunities to attend cultural and student events. Be on the lookout for flyers for things that might interest you! You'll be sure to meet like-minded students there.

I think the best way to connect to the culture if you're not in a homestay, is to go to cafés and pubs, read the newspapers, and keep your eyes and ears open! In France, there are flyers everywhere for cultural events. You can also ask the locals what they like about their city, and where they like to go. It's a great idea to take a guided tour of your city so you can get to know more about its history and culture.


Hannah and Julia,

Sorry, I don't have any advice for you, because my schedule was picked out for me!


I haven't noticed any negative attitude towards Americans, but no one seems to know that I'm American unless I'm speaking English, or if I'm with other Americans. I have made friends with many exchange students here, and I can't say that any of them harbor anti-American sentiment. Just act maturely and be a good ambassador for your country!

It's true that students pick their career early on, but a lot of students don't start college until they are older. I don't think the students here are quite as well-rounded, but it's hard for me to tell. While a science student may not have taken many liberal arts courses, they are still familiar with French history, literature, music, and film, because the culture here is held with higher regard than culture in the U.S.

Lauren F.

4:59 AM  
Anonymous Hannah W. said...

I know in your blog you said you haven't felt the culture shock. Since it has been almost a month since you posted the blog, have you started noticing that you are going through the culture shock or the beginning stages of it? Or still think you haven't starting going through it yet?

7:54 PM  
Anonymous Paige M. said...

How have you dealt with any culture shock that you've experienced? Is it really hard for you to get over it? I know people say that communicating with family doesn't help get over culture shock? Do you agree?

4:52 PM  
Anonymous Lauren F. said...

Hannah and Paige,

I still can't say I've experienced much culture shock in France. I adapt quickly and I'm pretty easy going, which I think has prevented me from missing home too much. I've also been a francophile for as long as I can remember, so I felt adequately prepared for the French way of life.

Strangely enough, I just got back from spending 5 days in Dublin, Ireland where I experienced some serious culture shock! I could not stop smiling once I set foot on French soil again.

I think the best you can do to prevent culture shock, is to get to know your country and its people as much as you possibly can before you get there. Try to find books, articles, or essays from travelers who have been to that country. If you're feeling culture shock in your country, go out and find something you can appreciate. Try out the regional food specialties, even if it's just candy! Walk around and look at the buildings, or read up on the history of your city. Replace whatever you miss from home with something new from your host country. Also, try to avoid hanging out with students who are clearly homesick. It's best to find some expatriates to talk to. They will have a sense of humor about being a foreigner, and they'll also know how to live it up and appreciate the culture.

I only speak to my parents on the phone once a week, and I think that has helped prevent me from becoming homesick. I made a rule for myself not to complain or whine about things to them, but I make sure to tell them all about my good experiences! It's true that family and friends have a tendency to enable you when you're feeling homesick.


11:51 AM  

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