As I’m writing this blog post, I’m currently in the middle of my fourth week in France, finishing up my finals, and nearing the end of my program. It’s not a mid-program post, so to speak, as it’s way past the middle of my program (life here has literally been non-stop, and I have not had any time to work on my blogs sadly), but even though I am leaving France right after, I will still be in Europe for 4 weeks in Germany and Poland, and so in that way it’s a mid-time in Europe post.
In the short time, I’ve been here though, Lyon has become a home to me, with me already feeling kind of like a local. This feels the most apparent to me when I’m on the underground metro. I just sit/stand there on the train waiting for my stop, looking at all the people around me and they at me (it’s a little common to stare in France). I usually try to rest my lips/mouth in a more forward posture, as I if were about to start speaking from my front plate, as that’s how most Europeans speak, and simply immerse myself in the atmosphere. Interestingly, people are already seeing me as a European, they know I’m not French as I have an accent when I speak it, but I’ve been mistaken for English, German, and Swiss, many times.
Here for the program, I’m currently in what’s considered to be a student residence, but it isn’t like a dorm in the U.S at all. First off its privately owned, and a lot more like a student apartment. I live on the 8th floor of the building (which would be the 9th in the U.S since the ground flood isn’t considered a floor in Europe) in a studio apartment that looks fresh out of an Ikea catalog, complete with a kitchenette, and private bathroom, all to myself. The residence is in the 7th arrondissement of Lyon, which is a much younger part of the city. Many of the buildings here a still being built (my residence was merely built in September), and thus, there is still a lot of construction going on (which is annoying to wake up to when I want to sleep in, but then again I have classes so it’s probably a good thing). My favorite thing about my neighborhood in Lyon would probably have to be the view from my window, in a sense it isn’t anything special, just some new apartment buildings, office buildings, and some older buildings scattered in between them. But whenever I look out it reminds me that I’m in a different country, whilst feeling a little familiar at the same time.
My days in Lyon tend to be long, starting at 9, and ending at midnight. I usually go to a boulangerie (bakery) on my way to school and get a pastry and espresso drink all for around 2.50€. Coffee and pastries here are so much cheaper than in the U.S, there is a little less coffee here, but it’s stronger and I think it tastes better. Each day I try to get a different pastry, and so far, my favorite has been a type of viennoiserie called a torsade au chocolate, or as I like to them chocolate custard twists (exactly what it sounds like). After getting breakfast I walk 20-30 minutes from my residence to get to campus, either by myself or with fellow classmates I run into. Once there, I head straight to my first class, in which we read texts in French, have debates on small social issues (should students have to wear uniforms to school or not?), and watch parts of French movies. Then, I have an hour and a half to get lunch with some friends, either at the school café or local restaurants. Lunch is probably one of my favorite times of the day because I get to catch up with friends in other classes. After lunch, I have one of my project classes, depending
on what day it is, and then if it’s a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, I have my travel photography class. This class tends to go late and I’m usually tired and hungry during it, but we get to follow a professional photographer around various areas of Lyon and take pictures, which is pretty fun and gives me the chance to explore Lyon. After all my classes, I either stay downtown and go out with my friends to explore and get food, or go back to my apartment, go to the local supermarket to restock my mini fridge, work on homework and plop right to bed, as by the end of the night I’m usually extremely tired (I’ve been getting some of the best sleep while I’ve been here).
As I’ve already mentioned, Lyon is a beautiful place, and I have already many favorite places here within this city. The first one I’d like to talk about would be La Croix Rousse, a neighborhood on a hill in Northern Lyon. It’s considered to be the artsy part of Lyon, with a thriving cultural scene. It is also home to many of Lyon’s hipsters or BoBos as the French call them. Croix Rousse strongly reminds me of Capitol Hill in Seattle, and in that way, feels kind of familiar to me, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to explore Croix Rousse as much as I would have wanted to, but I’m thankful for my
time there nonetheless. Another neighborhood that I enjoy would be Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon). Vieux Lyon is the oldest neighborhood in Lyon dating back to the 1500s, thus, there is an enchanting Renaissance feel to the place, with beautifully colorful buildings, and narrow cobblestone streets. I’m always here with friends exploring this part of the city and/or trying authentic Lyonnais cuisine at one of the many Bouchons here, in fact as I’m writing this post, I’m preparing to go out with friends to Vieux Lyon.
So far my experience in France has been beyond spectacular, however, there are a few things that have come as a surprise to me nonetheless. The biggest thing that has shocked me about France is honestly, how similar this place feels to the United States. I touched on this in my last post, and this observation has remained throughout my time here.
France is a very western country, so this should come as no surprise, but nonetheless, I was expecting things to be a little different than they were. I feel like with the U.S being so far from other places in the world, you develop this idea that those other places will be completely different than the U.S, and while it is true that other places are different, there are many similarities nonetheless. This feeling reminds me of a sticker in my study abroad advisor’s office, that reads something along the lines of “Through traveling, you realize how similar we all are”. This realization has only broadened my interest to travel, as I now want to go to a country outside of the Western world and experience its differences and similarities.
Before I embarked on this journey of mine, I talked about my experiences, with depression, and anxiety. I have personally struggled with making friends and feeling like I could be myself, for a very long time, and I wanted this trip to help open me up and help me work on my anxiety a bit. Now as I’m writing this post I honestly can say this adventure has helped me a lot. I find myself feeling accepted by the people I’m studying with and feeling like myself for the first time in years, but I haven’t magically become more confident/open and lost all my anxiety, rather I’ve made the effort to be a little more open, and I’ve grown to accept my anxiety for what it is. I think initially I thought that France would be so different and that that would change me, and while I do think that the differences here have helped me to be more open, excited, and less anxious, realizing how similar France is to the U.S has helped me realize that I’m going to have similar problems no matter where I go in the world, and that has been helpful as well. For example, just the other day, I had a little anxiety attack while performing my final for my theatre class in front of the entire program, and then I once again, got a little anxious hanging out with a group people that I usually don’t hang out with as I decided to check out a night club with them that same night. Both of those experiences were like experiences I’ve had with anxiety in the States, but being in a different country and having those experiences as well has triggered a certain degree of acceptance on my part, and thus it became easier to have to keep those feelings a little under control, and both of those experiences turned out well in the end. Of course, there’s more to just accepting things on my part that has helped me work on these issues, for example, I’ve met a wonderful group of friends that have made me feel loved and at home, and I’ve
been able to be me for the first time in a while, which has been amazing, and that has been so positive for my mental health. I also do think that it would be good for me to leave Washington State. I love my home, but I think I’ve simply reached a point in my life where I need to explore other places, other people, and other cultures than those found in Washington, and I know that I want to leave, and find another place to live, whether that be another state or different country. I don’t know if that place, is France as of now, but I am considering living here one day. Either way, I know I will be doing a lot more traveling in my future.
Another goal I had for myself was to improve my French. After all, I did come here to study the language. I was initially worried that only a month in France would not be enough, however, I have been pleasantly surprised by how well and quickly my language skills have improved. Since the day I arrived, I made the effort to try to speak French. Speaking French has been difficult and scary, especially when I can’t understand the other person or vice versa, and that becomes intimidating and discouraging, but I have had many experiences, where I second guessed myself in speaking, to only find out that what I was saying was fine. From my short time here I have learned just with anxiety and openness, to accept my language skills at where they are, and forgive myself when I make a mistake. Honestly, as I said in an earlier post if you can stitch words together that make sense you will be fine, people will correct you if you’re wrong it’s no big deal, and then next time you speak you will do better. That has been the mindset I have taken, in this endeavor, and now I find myself able to hold my own in conversations with native speakers, which is really awesome.
All in all, my time in France has been wonderful. I have integrated into the culture and community here, and have had the opportunity to grow so much as a person. I find myself dreading having to leave in a week. However, I do still have more adventures in Europe to come, before I head back home in August, and I’m hopeful that they will be as profound to my personal development as my time in France has.