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.
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.