Week 6/The End

Wow, alright so I have been awful at keeping up this blog. I have been home from France for a little while and now I finally have time to sit and reflect on my trip.

First off, I really, really miss France already. Coming home was such a culture shock at first and I was only gone for two months. I can’t imagine how weird it would be to come home after being abroad for a semester or a year. In retrospect, though, I really wish I would have taken a semester to come and study here. Summer just was not enough time and when I had to leave, I felt like I was finally getting used to hearing French on the street, reacting in French, and trying to understand French culture. I’m considering coming back for a year to teach English in Paris as a way to have more contact with locals and get a feel for how French daily life actually is.

I felt that being surrounded by English speaking Americans in my study abroad group hindered my progress in French and prevented me from becoming familiar with French social norms. It was nice to be around people from my own culture, but I didn’t come to France to constantly be reminded of my home culture. Most people in my group did not speak French most of the time, which I think would have been the best kind of practice (aside from speaking with locals). I had very limited contact with native French speakers, aside from my teachers and people who worked in stores, which I felt was a great detriment to my intended immersion into French culture.

I have talked with some of my friends who have spent time abroad, and they all seem to have come home with a new set of foreign friends and a significant improvement in their language skills. I came home with no new friends (aside from the Americans I met in my group), and feeling like my French improved only in listening and written comprehension. My spoken French is still a bit slow and would have benefited from more interaction with locals. If I ever go abroad again (which I really hope I will be able to do someday), I will make more of an effort to step outside of my comfort zone and try to actually spend time with locals, rather than interacting with them for short periods of time.

I would also recommend, for anyone who is considering studying abroad, to stay abroad for as long as possible. Like I mentioned before, the whole time I was in Chambery I wished I was staying longer. A summer program is just not long enough for someone who is legitimately interested in learning the ways of a different culture and immersing themselves in a foreign language. I spent some time at the end of my trip with a friend who had spent the last year in France. He had experienced it completely differently than I had, and pointed out cultural differences between my behavior and how people behave in France that I hadn’t noticed. For example, he pointed out that the French are much more communal in their lifestyle and do not practice “every man for himself” as Americans do. He pointed out that Americans are always in a hurry, while the French like to take their time with things (especially with meals), which in my opinion, makes for a better experience. From his observations (and my own), French people are much more laid back and less plan/detail oriented than Americans. Being very plan/detail oriented myself, life in a more relaxed culture helped me immensely in relaxing my grip on life a bit and with learning to go with the flow of things without needing to control everything. I feel like a much happier, relaxed person after my time in France. I am able to see the world through more than just my own perspective and use my experiences abroad to continually improve my life.  Living abroad has inspired me to travel and experience the beauty in difference. I am planning more trips around my home state, the United States, and eventually out of the country. I am extremely thankful I was able to spend time in France, and I am going to try my hardest to return.

Here are some pictures from my last days in France (I spent them in Paris). Click on the pictures individually, they look better that way.

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Note:

I’m sorry if this blog is not a run-through of every day I spent in France with a million pictures, but frankly I find that kind of travel blog to be a bit tedious. I suppose I prefer to read about someone’s reflections on themselves and on the culture they’re trying to understand, so I tried to make my blog that way too.

Week 5

This week has been quite eventful and as each day passes, I think about how much I am going to miss it here when I come home. It has finally hit me that tomorrow begins my final week in Chambery. I feel like no time has passed at all, but at the same time, I look back on the first day and I realize how long I have been here and how it has changed me as a person. Being here has opened my eyes to the vast number of opportunities life has to offer if I am open to change. Being here for this long has taught me that life is a lot easier (and more exciting) if I let up on my need for a routine and just let myself go wherever life takes me, while not worrying too much about “doing things right.”

Nearly every day this past week has brought a new experience that I will look back on with happiness after I get home. I got to visit an escargot farm (which unfortunately did not include a lot of escargots but was pretty informative regardless), find a beautiful spot in town with a waterfall and a green hiking trail, and explore the inside of a glacier in Mont Blanc.

Mont Blanc was absolutely beautiful, though the ice cave was a bit smaller than I expected. I came wearing my hiking clothes expecting to be going down into a cave, but instead I walked around an “ice house”, complete with an icy kitchen and bathroom. Nevertheless, it was amazing to spend time in the mountains and see the Chamonix from above. I would really like to come back to Mont Blanc one day to camp and hike; the climate is amazing and the air is so fresh and clean. It reminded me of home, if home were in the heart of the Swiss/French/Italian Alps.

Last night was the Bastille Day celebration in Annecy. Out of all of the events on this trip, I have to say that this one was the most surprising. Before I came to Annecy, I thought of Bastille Day as a holiday that would be celebrated in a very French fashion (good food, French flags, things like that). However, when I got to Annecy, I was greeted by an English language country music concert, hot dogs (served in baguettes), and a crowd of people sprawled out on the grass waiting for the fireworks to start. It felt exactly like Fourth of July celebrations at home, which really surprised me. I guess that makes up for missing Fourth of July at home, but I thought Bastille Day and the Fourth of July would be pretty different.

Ice cave

Ice cave

Spot we found

Spot we found

Spot we found

Spot we found

View from Mont Blanc

View from Mont Blanc

I am happy I got to have such an eventful week since my trip is coming to an end. I am starting to adopt a mindset of letting go and saying goodbye, mainly be easing out of the routine I’ve been following here. I spent most of today relaxing and waiting from my friend from the States to arrive. I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to do with myself during this week. I feel like I should be doing more, but I’m kind of out of money. I suppose I could spend my time walking around Chambery to see if there are any spots I missed. This morning, Ian and I took a walk through peaceful neighborhood on a hill, which I hadn’t seen before.

The next time I update will (probably) be after I’ve left Chambery and am in Paris. I’ve heard that Americans are treated differently in bigger cities, so I think it will be interesting to write about that in my next post.

Week 4

To start, I can’t believe I only have three weeks left here. I feel like I got off the plane yesterday, but looking back on how I was on the day I arrived in comparison to how I am now, I can definitely feel the difference the first month here has made. My spoken French has not improved as much as I expected it to, which is a little disappointing. However, I feel like my listening comprehension and ability to understand spoken conversation have improved the most. I want to meet some non-Americans who don’t speak English, so I’m forced to communicate with them only in French. I try to speak French with the Americans in my group, but most of the time we switch back to English so we can have more in-depth conversations. I would like to eventually be able to have those kinds of conversations in French, so I’m going to try my best to use French more often when I talk to people. 

This week and last weekend have been great. I’m really starting to get the hang of living here and have been trying to explore the region more. Since I last wrote, my boyfriend and I have made two trips to Lyon. Lyon is overwhelming to me, since I’ve spent most of my life living in towns the size of Flagstaff or smaller. It’s a beautiful city, especially because of its old architecture set against the backdrop of the river that separates old town from the rest of the city. I noticed that there was a lot more English in Lyon. I heard multiple English speakers, and to my surprise, many of them were Americans. In Chambery, I hardly ever hear English, much less American English. Many of the shops and restaurants in Lyon had French/English signs and menus, which I assumed was because Lyon is the second largest city in France and is probably a big tourist hub. Despite English being my native language, I found its use in Lyon to be a little off putting. I wondered why there was so much English and little to no Italian, even though Italy neighbors the region I’m in. Lyon was much more accommodating to English speakers than Chambery, but I still used French in order to practice and to not assume the stereotype of the “Ugly American” who expected everyone to speak English. In my opinion, I think that people who visit Francophone countries and don’t speak French should at least try to learn a few phrases instead of expecting everyone to speak English. I’ve heard of the stereotype that assumes French people don’t want to speak French with non-native speakers, but so far, I have found this to be completely untrue. Some people will switch to English if they can’t understand my French, but for the most part, many locals I talk to will speak French with me. I’m sure they know I’m foreign, but they still help me practice, which I am extremely grateful for. Some people, like the woman who works at a restaurant that I frequent for lunch, recognize that I am an English speaker and want to practice their English with me. This kind of cultural exchange makes me happy, because I get to practice French with them and they can practice English with me. 

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Lyon

Anyway, aside from my experiences in Lyon, I also went parapenting this week. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life, but being able to see acres and acres of land beneath my feet was an unreal experience. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to do something like that. The pilot I flew with was very nice as well. He spoke only in French to me and sat down to have a conversation with me while I was waiting for the rest of the group (it had started raining and I was nervous because my boyfriend and my friend had not landed yet). Yet another positive experience with a local, which are some of my favorite things about my time here.

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View from paragliding

 A bientôt !

Week 3.5

I’m finally starting to feel “normal” here in Chambery. I feel like I know my way around town so much better than the first rainy and confusing day that I arrived. Instead of feeling lost and overwhelmed all of the time, now I can relax and spend time exploring the nooks and crannies of Chambery. I’m starting to see the same people around town, which reminds me of being home in Flagstaff. Still trying to work up the courage to make friends with a local. I’ve been going to a jazz club every Monday night to try and mingle with some local people around my age. The bar, called Le B.a.b’art is small and filled with artwork and friendly people. It reminds me of Sundara in Flagstaff, but with better beer and a more welcoming atmosphere. Hopefully if I keep going there, I can maybe make some connections with locals and see what Chambery is like through the eyes of someone other than a lost American student.

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Chambery Farmers Market

I’ve been experiencing some ups and downs with my French, some days are better than others. On a good day, I can understand a lot of conversation going on around me and my spoken French comes a bit more naturally. Other days, French sounds like gibberish and all I want to do is go home, go to Taco Bell, and lie in bed with my cat. Before I came here, I expected to be here a few weeks and suddenly be able to understand everything. Now, however, I have realized that the process is a bit more lengthy and complicated. I’m trying to take everything day by day and accept that my French is not going to be perfect and to embrace mistakes as part of the experience. From my experience so far, the most important thing I’ve learned is that the process of language learning is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s okay to not understand and it’s okay to not know everything, all that matters is that I try to approach things with an open mind. If I hold myself at an impossible standard of perfection, then I truly put myself into a box and limit myself from having wonderful, erroneous experiences. My goal for the rest of the trip that I hope to take with me back to Flagstaff, where a new apartment, two jobs, and a full school schedule are waiting for me, is to take every day for what it is, to accept mistakes as part of the beauty of the journey. Besides, if I don’t make mistakes, then how will I be able to see how much I’ve grown?

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I’m writing this and watching a hail storm.

 

 

Week 2

Bonjour,

So I haven’t been updating as often as I thought I would. My family and my boyfriend’s family have been in town for most of the week so I have been spending a lot of time trying to help them get settled and try to bridge the language gap. Having a group of solely English speaking people with me sparked an interesting change in the way I interacted with the city and its inhabitants. Coming here with three years of French, the language differences didn’t seem insurmountable. My family, on the other hand, relied completely on me to interpret the language for them. Every time we went out they would ask me or my boyfriend to order for them or they would just say what they wanted in English. It was often extremely chaotic because I had three people talking to me at the same time who also relied on my French speaking ability (which is nowhere near fluent). As happy as I was about them being here with me, it was tough at times.

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Days out with my parents in Thônes and Annecy

Traveling with my parents allowed me to experience being a true non-French speaking American in France. Before my family visited, I assumed most people in Chambery did not speak English. I wasn’t upset about this because I thought it would be a great way to practice French. However, when my parents were in town, I realized that more people spoke English than I originally thought. In a way, it was a bit disappointing to have people in restaurants speak English to my family and me, even though Ian and I spoke only French to the waiters. Still, we were given the English “GB” menus (Great Britain) and the waiters spoke to us in English many times. 

I noticed that French people are pretty quiet in restaurants, which is very different from the loud, laid back setting of an American restaurant. We were the loudest people in the restaurant most of the times we ate out, and I saw some people looking a bit annoyed. One group moved tables after sitting near us for a while. I felt a bit guilty about this, but it’s just a culture difference that I did not expect. 

I’ve found that my French hasn’t been doing very well lately. I think I am in what my ISEP coordinator told me about, called the “three week slump.” I’m tired a lot of the time and mostly I just want to come back to my apartment and sleep. French seems more difficult than it was before and I am a bit homesick. I’m just going to keep practicing and this feeling should pass in a week or so, I hope.

 

Week One: Bienvenue a Chambery

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Bonjour! So this is my first post on my blog for this trip, I haven’t really had the time to update before now because I’ve been so preoccupied with trying to figure out how to live my life completely in French. I have been in Chambery since last Friday, but I feel like it’s been months since I got off the plane in Geneva. Every day so far is a new experience and I am constantly on my feet, whether I am walking to school or walking around town (so I don’t sit in my room and watch Netflix all day like I do at home). Living in a new city in a foreign country is an experience that I couldn’t have possibly been fully prepared for. As with all changes of this magnitude, there have been things I love and things that make me wish I were back home.

Before I came to Chambery, one of my biggest concerns was how I would be perceived as an American in a foreign country. I heard a mix of stories about American experiences in non-English speaking country, ranging from encounters with kind, patient people who are willing to speak the language with you, to horror stories about being treated badly and spoken to in English (because the native speaker simply did not want to deal with someone who could not speak their language fluently). I wasn’t sure which one to expect, so I came to Chambery determined to try my best at speaking the language without asking the native speaker to switch to English. So far, I have encountered very few people who speak English to me. Most people I meet (like people in the grocery store or a restaurant), are patient with me and will speak French to me. I’m sure they know I’m an American because of my accent and pretty frequent pauses between words, but I’m glad they are nice enough to not write me off and refuse to talk with me. 

The most obvious incident of my lack of French fluency was when my boyfriend Ian and I tried to buy French cell phones. We spoke French to the people working at the store and they could immediately tell we weren’t native speakers. They entered us in their computer as “Mr. Anglais.” It was a little embarrassing but they did keep speaking French to us (I’m assuming this was because they probably couldn’t speak English).

Anyway, other than that, I haven’t had a hard time blending in so far. Being able to speak with locals is the best practice. I love living in a French speaking world, especially because I get to hear the language on almost a constant basis instead of just in the classroom. I am already becoming more confident in my French and am feeling less homesick every day. My parents are coming to Chambery this weekend, which will be comforting after living with so many changes.

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I’ll post more this weekend. Au revoir!