Saturday, January 17, 2015

Reverse Culture Shock- Yes, It's Real!

It's been almost a full year since I first left America to study abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France for a semester, and I never could have imagined the roller coaster of feelings I'd experience once I returned to Marietta, OH for my senior year.

Thank goodness the Office of Education Abroad prepared me somewhat for Reverse Culture Shock. You see, I had no problems adjusting to life in France. We had a one day orientation program at my school and it was the perfect amount of information to help me adjust to the new culture. I quickly felt at home, and was able to connect both to the culture and to the amazing friends I met. The months flew by, and eventually it was time to say goodbye to my best friends, Alyssa, Taylor, and Greg, amongst other close friends.

I'm an emotional person, but the feelings of saying goodbye to these three, and to my home were unbearable. I avoided packing the entire last week simply because I did not want to leave. And the crazy thing was that I wasn't even leaving France- I had 3 more weeks of traveling with my family.

June 8, 2014 I arrived back in Baltimore, and quickly began readjusting to life, a relatively easy thing to do since it was summer and I could just chill out at home, avoiding actually adjusting to the new changes.

Then it was time to go back to school, something I had been dreading because not only would it not be in France, but Alyssa, Taylor, and Greg wouldn't be there, and it would be my last year of college. All major changes I was not at all prepared for. The first few weeks back at school were rough. I wanted to cry all the time, but physically couldn't. I felt conflicted about missing everyone in France, and about being constantly annoyed by all the little American quirks. I wasn't used to saying hi to people anymore, and it was weird having to make dinner plans, instead of just eating with Danielle (my host mommy). Going to Chapter and other meetings was a pain. I didn't get to walk by the Roi Rene statue or the Cours Mirabeau every day on my way to class. And worst of all was feeling stuck on the weekends, unable to go anywhere exciting. I was miserable. Maybe that sounds a bit melodramatic, but I still hold that you honestly cannot understand the phenomenon until you have experienced it yourself.

I guess my purpose in writing this so long after the fact is to help people understand that studying abroad isn't just fun and games- its a life-changing experience that transforms you at your core. And as amazing as it can be to see loved ones and friends that you've missed, it can make you realize how much you've changed, and how life has continued while you were off having your little adventure. It reminds you that you aren't the center of anything, but another little piece of the rest of the world. And that's a little shocking to your ego.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bonjour tout le monde!

I apologize for slacking a bit, and totally missing the month of March. It was a little bit stressful to say the least- what with my lap top crashing, purchasing (and learning to use) an iPad, and dealing with all my registration things for next semester!

With the semester nearing its end I have started realizing more and more how at home I feel here, and I know it's going to be a difficult transition back into American culture this summer- but that realization is sort of a blessing in disguise. I am making more of an effort to truly enjoy these last few weeks and get as much out of this experience as I can.

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting up with my fellow blogger and friend, Madison, in London to attend the wedding of our former professor and mentor, Rel (Jennings) Heal! This has been without a doubt one of my most memorable experiences abroad. We traipsed around London for a day seeing all the famous sights (and of course quoting one of my favorite Mary Kate & Ashley movies), and were able to spend a few hours at the National Gallery discussing some of our favorite Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh paintings. We then made our way to Crowthorne for Rel's wedding -where we were the first guests to randomly bump into the groom prior to the wedding. Seeing these two amazing people exchange vows in a way very true to themselves reminded me to continue to live intentionally and to always remember perspective.

It was amazing to also spend some time with a friend from home and to be able to talk about what we had been feeling and experiencing while abroad, and to have that MC support system even though we are thousands of miles away from Marietta. Unfortunately we had to say our goodbyes in the Tube station, and go our separate ways back to our respective countries.

A few days ago I attended a student-led conference session on Recycling in Aix, France, the EU, and the world.  Unfortunately this conference confirmed what I had been feeling all semester- recycling is not a wide-spread activity here. In fact, Aix-en-Provence, one of the most bourgeois cities in France, has the worst recycling in France. How does France compare to the EU? It has one of the worst recycling rates in the EU. Having traveled to third world countries and seen the devastation and the need to conserve resources has made me more aware of my own consumption habits, and of the necessity of recycling anything and everything that can be recycled.

Waste is a major problem here, though, and it doesn't seem like it will be improving much anytime soon. When we are finished dinner at my host house, my host mother throws away all the leftover food- there are never any leftovers in the fridge to eat for lunch the next day. And I have never seen any sign that my host mom recycles- everything gets put in the same trashcan. This is something that myself and other students have had to come to terms with- it is bothersome, but it is part of the culture. And while they may not conserve certain resources such as food, they are definitely more aware of resources such as electricity and water which are very expensive.

In a week I will be heading to Morocco, Spain, and Portugal for Spring break and trying to take in those very different cultures. In the meantime I will continue to explore Aix and discover more of what this city has to offer!

P.s. Sorry about the lack of pictures-I am still trying to work out everything with this dang iPad! Feel free to check out my Facebook for all my abroad pictures!


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Navigating French Culture

Hey all! I’m going to do my best to answer some of your questions in this post, and then I’ll talk about one of the most important aspects of French culture- wine! 

  • Is it difficult to remember when to smile/say hello, and when to be more private?

For me, not at all. I joked with a friend recently saying that I have found my people. I am a much more introverted person, as well as a generally shy person, so I am not one to smile or talk to people I don’t know on the street. However, I was raised to be very polite, so I also don’t have any difficulty saying a simple “bonjour” when I enter a store. 

We were also told that smiling at a stranger, specifically smiling at someone of the opposite sex, could be seen as an invitation to come talk to you. This opens up an entirely new can of worms with the french “dating” scene, which is...different...than the way we go about dating in the U.S.

  • Why did you choose a home stay?

The simple answer to this is that the program I came through requires a homestay. However, as soon as I decided to study in France, I knew I wanted to live in a french home. The idea of living in a foreign country for 5 months by myself (or maybe with another American student) seemed lonely to me, and I did not want to be limited to only learning French culture at school. 

Being in a homestay has allowed me to become close to an older French woman and to learn about the culture and language more than I would have in an apartment. My house is warm and inviting, and it’s hard to feel homesick when I’m already home. My mom feeds us amazing food every night (including dessert!) and she genuinely cares about us. She is incredibly patient with me and helps me with my french every night at dinner. I have some friends living in apartments here, and I know they really enjoy it, too, but I could not imagine my life here without my amazing mom!

“La vie est trop courte pour boire de mauvais vin”

One of the classes I am taking here is Wine Studies: European Wine Regions. Most of my friends know how excited I was to take this class, and some people were jealous that I actually get to study wine- but it’s not all fun and games. We actually don’t just sit around and drink wine all day (as fun and relaxing as that sounds), but we study in depth the systems and regulations of wine production in the European Union. And amazingly enough, there are so many crossovers to Global Leadership (203) within this class!

In France, and in many other countries, wine can make or break a deal in business, politics, or what have you. Wine is always enjoyed with food, and it is *not* something you should get drunk off of- some restaurants will not serve you wine unless you also order some food! Bringing wine as a gift is almost never a good idea, as you can quickly offend someone by giving them the wrong wine for them. Think of it this way- you wouldn’t buy underwear for someone you don’t really know, would you? You have no idea what size or style they wear, and they could be offended that you think they have a certain taste. The same goes with wine- we all have different likes, and we don’t want to feel judged on which wines we drink.   

In a week I will be heading to Vienna and Prague for my winter break, and am very curious to see what cultural differences I will experience there! Feel free to message me if you have any more specific questions!

Au revoir,

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Bienvenue à Aix-en-Provence!

I have been in Aix for a week, and already have learned so much about the people and culture! This week we focused a lot on the cultural faux pas that frequently occur when American students come to France.

The first difference you will notice in France (especially coming from a small town/school like Marietta) is that people do not smile at strangers. If you smile at someone you don't know, they will assume you are not from the area, and they tend to think you are strange. Our french professors told us that to look like we fit in we should look straight ahead while walking and maintain a more serious demeanor.

The next cultural difference to be aware of- always, ALWAYS, say "bonjour" when you enter a store or restaurant. This is a simple act that goes a long way to the French, and if you fail to say bonjour you may not be served, or you may encounter some rudeness. It seems unimportant to us, but its considered just having good manners in France.

Lastly, the French are very private people. When you are invited into a French person's home, you are a guest, and you should not "make yourself at home" even if they tell you to. Often when you enter a French household you will not be given a tour of the house, unlike in the U.S. The only rooms I have seen in my home stay are the living room, kitchen, and my bedroom/bathroom. It is also rude to clean your own dishes at someone's house; it can be seen as you thinking they are not good hosts, or that they are not maintaining a properly clean home. It is always polite to offer to help with cleaning, but you will usually be told to "reposez-vous," relax yourself.

NOTE: These of course are generalizations, and may not always be true in France or French cultures, but they are a good jumping-off point for understanding the French a little bit better.

The City of Water

My homestay

Friday, January 10, 2014

T- 2 Weeks!

It is surreal that in 2 weeks I will be getting on a plane to London, and then France! I haven't started packing yet, and really have no idea how I am going to get everything I need for the next four and a half months into 1 suitcase and a carry-on. Anyone who knows me knows that packing lightly is not my strong-suit. This will be my first challenge to overcome as I begin a semester that I'm sure will have many challenges, good and bad.

This website seems pretty helpful for the packing department:

Last night I received my roommate and housing information, so that definitely makes everything seem more real. My roommate is from Colorado and studies at Gettysburg College, so it is comforting to know that she is coming from an environment similar to Marietta. She doesn't speak any French, so hopefully that will force me to really communicate with our mom in French and get some legitimate language practice in.

The picture below is the general location of my homestay in Aix en Provence!

I also have my official class list, assuming nothing gets cancelled between now and the first day of classes:

ART 232- Survey History of Western Art: Renaissance to Present
FRE 202- Intermediate French
HIS 303- France and Europe in the Cold War
PSY 304- Human Development in Cultural Contexts
WS 303- European Wine Regions

As my final 2 weeks at home are winding down, my focus will be preparing myself with basic knowledge of French history, the history and culture of Aix en Provence, and current political issues. As an International Leadership Studies major I want to incorporate the theories and concepts I have learned in my leadership classes thus far to ease my transition.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Study Abroad Preparations

Study Abroad Preparations!

I am in the middle of the finalization process of preparation for my trip to FRANCE this spring! And it is stressful. My posts in the future will hopefully be much more exciting than this one, but hopefully this is helpful to anyone considering going abroad (and I encourage you to consider!).

This will be my 7th international trip, 5th crossing an ocean, but it is by far the most stressful! I have never been in charge of planning my trips myself, or making sure I have everything I need. I definitely feel like I am an "adult" now.

In a few weeks I will be going to D.C. to apply for my Visa (fingers crossed), and after that hopefully everything else will simply fall into place. Sidenote: If you ever plan on traveling to France for an extended period, start the visa process early- there are many steps and it is very complicated.

In the coming months I will begin receiving more information about my home stay and roommate, as well as the other students in my program, and I will hopefully find out which classes I will be taking (fingers crossed for Wine Studies) so I am definitely looking forward to that!

A Bientôt!