Leading up to my study abroad experience, I have not had enough time to truly relish in excitement. In the week approaching my departure, I had three final exams, two lab practicals, one final paper, one final presentation, I moved out of the house I was renting on south campus, attended my step-sister’s graduation, and went to a concert with my mom. With so much going on, studying abroad has never been absent from my thoughts, but it has not been my focus. As I write from my gate at the airport, I now allow my emotions of excitement and nervousness, anticipation and exhilaration, uncertainty and curiosity, to wash over me. For every aspect of the journey that lies ahead of me, there is a form of this duality. I can’t wait to meet my host family and my fellow students, get back into studying French, explore Lyon and the surrounding area, and start my classes. Yet, I worry I will not connect with my host family and peers. I worry I will feel alone and trapped. I worry about getting lost or taken advantage of in an unfamiliar city. I worry I will flounder in a foreign classroom setting. It is easy to lose confidence and succumb to related what-ifs, but what can you gain from such a negative outlook? Even if the worst-case scenario does not occur, in expecting it, you are blinded from the good. I have traveled on my own (without family and separate from a program) in the past, and while I enjoyed many parts of it, I also let anxiety and homesickness weigh me down. But I learned and grew from that experience and it brought me here. This time around, I want to prove to myself that I truly have grown. I want to appreciate every moment of this experience, even the ones that are hard because I know they will make me stronger. In reflecting on my past experience, re-re-reading the description of my host family and learning about Lyon’s history and culture via its Wikipedia page, my worries grow quieter. I know that through expecting to have fun, allowing myself to struggle, and recognizing how incredibly lucky I am to be given this opportunity, I will be able to make the most of my time in Lyon.
Hello again! It’s been awhile, but I think it’s about time that I sit down and really reflect on the time I was able to spend studying abroad in Grenoble, France. I arrived back here in the states at the end of December, and there hasn’t been a day that’s passed without me thinking about those four months in which I was able to fully immerse myself in a new culture, a new experience, and a new way of life. Looking back now, I can really appreciate my time abroad, and reflect on everything that I gained.
Now, there are of course the usual takeaways; I was able to improve my french language skills, I met some really great people that I still consider great friends, and I have so many memories that will always be with me. This experience gave me so much more than that, though, and I will forever be grateful for that. I walked away with much more confidence, and the ability to really adapt to a new situation. I lived so far outside of my comfort zone that I now feel like I can conquer just about anything- within reason at least. Being in a country where I only had the most basic understanding of the language gave me a much better insight to other second-language learners, and empathy towards their very real struggles. I was exposed to new cultures and ways of life which opened me up to a new appreciation of cultural diversity and the importance of taking time to learn and experience new cultures different from your own.
Here’s the thing; I think it’s hard to fully grasp just how breathtaking and beautiful and diverse the world out there is until you get out there and just experience it. I am so incredibly grateful for the time I was able to spend abroad, and would recommend this experience to every single person out there. Whether it’s for a few weeks or a few months or a whole year, just get out there! See a new country, learn a new language, study in a new environment, appreciate new surroundings, and take advantage of all of the study abroad programs that are available!
I’m feeling especially lucky and grateful to be heading off for another study abroad experience in just a few weeks, although this time much closer to home. I’ll be taking full advantage of Western’s global learning programs and going to Montreal, Quebec on a faculty-led four week program. I’ll have the opportunity to continue to work on my french, albeit with a much different dialect and accent. I will say, the travel bug is very real, because ever since I returned from France I have been eagerly awaiting another opportunity to get back out there and explore the world. So this is a big shout out to Western for giving us so many opportunities like this! Looking even further into the future, with graduation just a mere 9 months away, I am constantly considering more opportunities that will allow me to continue to travel and explore. Studying abroad in France and heading off soon to Canada has given me the confidence and the motivation to not only use my language skills, but to also continue with my passion of studying and learning from other cultures (I am an anthropology major after all!).
So here’s to looking back on the experience of a lifetime studying in Grenoble, looking forward to a different experience in Montreal, and to an ignited passion for constantly wanting to explore and discover what the world out there has to offer us! I hope everyone out there that might be reading this will get to experience the joy and wonder that comes from traveling and getting out of your comfort zone 🙂
Winter quarter has officially started at Western, and it has been 17 days since I said goodbye to Lyon.
While I’m really excited to be back with my friends, and living the university life again; I’m still adjusting to life back in the states. Four months doesn’t seem very long, but it felt like a lifetime at the same time. Everyone has been asking me, “so… how was France?” My answer now is that it feels like a dream, and it truly does. But it was one of the truly remarkable and amazing times of my life.
A lot of people have asked me if I think I’ve changed, and I don’t think so. I feel more confident, and I feel that I’m more willing to take risks now, however, I don’t think that that’s something that’s changed about me. I think that those feelings have always been there, and studying abroad just allowed me to unlock that part of myself.
Studying abroad is one of the most rewarding things a student can do. The opportunity to discover new cultures, meet new people, and just take those chances that you wouldn’t take ordinarily… it’s difficult to put into words, but it’s a really wondrous, eye-opening thing.
If anyone is considering studying abroad, my advice is just to submit your application and do it. You won’t regret taking time for yourself; to discover who you are outside of the comfort of your friends and family, the USA even. Taking time to get to know more of the world that we inhabit. Just take the shot, trust me. It will be hard, but it will be worth it.
As my time abroad was drawing to a close, I had already decided to study abroad again. That’s the type of amazing impression it left on me. I want to take those risks again, learn new things about the world, others, and myself all over again. I’ve been doing research into new programs to check out, and I can’t wait until the day when all is decided again, and I can hit submit on a new application and open that new door, and I want other students to see that it’s not as hard as one may think.
I came into university knowing I wanted to study abroad, but not knowing if it would be possible. After doing it, I realized that if I had had someone talking to me about the possibilities before university, I may have done it even sooner, and I did it pretty fast once I did learn more. That’s why, when my old high school teacher asked me to speak in class I knew I was going to do it, and I haven’t given a full presentation for the students yet, but when I visited and the kids heard about my time abroad and their faces all lit up, I got excited just knowing how excited they must feel, how I felt in high school about studying abroad.
This program has truly affected me. From the sense of wonder I felt pre-departure; the excited nervousness of just wanting to be there already, and the crazy thought that it was really happening. To the complete bliss I felt while there (besides the occasional instance, of course) everyday I really had to remind myself of where I was, and that feeling of amazement was returned anew. Now? Now it feels really surreal, but I look back and I smile when thinking about all of the amazing adventures I had, because it truly was quite an adventure.
At this time, three days from now, my plane will be landing in Seattle, and I’ll be home. In all honesty, it doesn’t even seem real yet. It’s hard to imagine not waking up in my cozy little bedroom, hearing my host mom and dad talking in the living room, and constantly being surrounded by French. It’s crazy to me how quickly a whole new way of life can become the norm, and I’d be lying if I were to say I wasn’t at least a little bit sad to leave it all behind.
The past three and a half months have been a whirlwind of classes, traveling, making new friends, discovering new places, and learning to love life in France. I’ve gotten used to making conversation in a different language, the French grading system, the different class structure, living with a family that isn’t my own and being in a different city. I’ve fallen in love with the ease of the tram system, the abundance of pedestrian only streets, coming home to a delicious home cooked dinner every night, getting outside of my comfort zone and living so close to other countries. Above all, though, what I’m going to miss most when I leave to go home is all of the amazing friends I’ve made here in such short time.
With all of this being said, though, there are things that I miss about being home, and I’m excited to make my return to Washington. I miss my friends and family, of course, and my two dogs waiting for me at home. I miss driving, being able to cook for myself, not struggling to make conversation, stores that are open late and on Sundays, and the familiarity and comfort of home. Oh, and I definitely won’t miss having to think “well, if it’s 20 euros, how much is that in dollars?” every time I go shopping. It’s funny the things you miss when you’re abroad, sometimes things you wouldn’t normally care about back home. About a month in I started craving peanut butter, even though it’s not something I usually eat back home. I guess knowing you can’t have it (without paying a ridiculous price at the American import store) makes you want it that much more.
Reverse culture shock is something that keeps coming up as the days here are coming to a close. It may be naive to say that I don’t think I’ll experience it all that much, but that is how I feel. Sure, it’ll be weird to hear and see English everywhere, see cars used much more and much less public transportation, and not being a short train ride or flight away from multiple other countries. It might take a little adjustment, but I have no doubt I’ll fall back into my old routine in no time at all. I think the biggest adjustment will be going back to classes, as the school system was probably the biggest difference between here and home. Classes not taught entirely in French? Well, I’m actually looking forward to it.
Thinking about all of the time I’ve spent here in France, there are many things I’ve experienced and learned here that I’ll keep with me for years to come. Starting with the obvious, my French language skills have greatly improved over the last few months, and that will be beneficial as I go back to my French classes at Western, and is a skill I’m happy to have in general. I’ve made amazing friends that I hope to keep in touch with for a long time, and hopefully be reunited with in the near future. I’ve learned a lot about traveling consciously, and how to avoid being the wrong kind of tourist. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to travel again in the future, and I’ll be able to use what I’ve learned from living in a foreign country. More than anything else, this experience has helped me become more globally aware, and has given me a first hand look at what others are experiencing all around the world. This is something I’ll keep with me for a long time, and is an awareness that’ll help me as I go back home.
Overall, I can’t necessarily say that I’m ready to leave the amazing city of Grenoble behind, but there’s no doubt that I’ll make my return here, or at least to France, sometime in the future. For now, I’m looking forward to reuniting with my family, friends, and dogs back home. Thank you for the memories, Grenoble. You’ll never be forgotten.
We are now 12 days away from the end of my semester abroad, and to sum it up into one phrase, it’s been one crazy journey.
My program adviser here in Lyon said the very first day at orientation that we didn’t actually know who we are, but at the end we would discover who we truly are. My friends here and I have been talking about this a lot this past week.
Who are we? Have we really changed that much? We feel different, but do we actually? Is this feeling a real feeling or is it because we want to believe we’ve changed?
My answer to all of those questions is that I don’t know.
I feel braver now, and I feel more free. I think there’s something really special about studying abroad for a month, a semester, a year… no matter how long you’re gone it doesn’t really matter, what matters is that you took that risk. When you take a risk like that you will be different, but studying abroad doesn’t really change you. All it does is unlock that part of yourself that was still afraid. It doesn’t matter what your fear was really, but when you leave behind everything you’re familiar and comfortable with, it’s like you can finally just be you, and just experience the world with this beautiful and liberating sense of wonder.
It’s difficult to think about how I won’t be living in Lyon anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so incredibly thrilled to be going back; I miss my family and friends so much, and I can’t wait to be trampled and licked to death by my dogs. But while I’ve been here in Lyon I made new friends, and my host family is genuinely like my second family, and it’s going to be so hard to leave them behind. Lyon truly has become a home for me.
That’s something they try to explain to you, but it never sticks pre-departure. You leave a part of yourself in your host country when you return home, a portion of your heart remains, and I haven’t even returned home yet, but I know it’s going to be a very tough transition. This experience has been so life-altering and rewarding, and it’s going to be difficult going back to the day-to-day life in the US.
There are a lot of things I’m really worried about for my return. I’m worried I’m going to be in-denial about not returning for a long, long time even though I know I want to be back some day, it may not be for a while. I’m worried that I’m going to throw myself into different aspects of my life to try to forget about the Lyon-shaped hole I’ll have. I’m worried that the reverse culture-shock is going to be way worse than the culture shock coming in, and that was already pretty bad.
However, I can’t let that get to me before I’ve even left. I’ve been trying to make plans for how to prepare myself for any counter culture-shock, such as keeping in contact with all of the amazing friends I’ve made here. We all live in different states, but we are already making plans to visit one another, and I know that we will all remain friends for a long time; you don’t go through something like this together and just forget about one another. I also have plans to keep in touch with my host family, and they’ve encouraged me to call as often as I need to if I ever just want to chat in French.
Speaking of French, I am also planning on rejoining French club so I can continue to speak French, because it would be shame to lose all of the progress I’ve gained this past semester just for lack of practice.
I know that it’ll be super tough, but I have a lot of love to surround myself with when I return. Memories of my time here, the life I shared with my host family and my friends here, the sense of joy I’ll feel to be with my loved ones back home again… the possibilities are endless.
My journey may be coming to an end in Lyon, but the adventure never truly ends, and I’m excited to see where the adventure of life takes me next.
Sitting in my bedroom at my home stay and looking out my window, I’m reminded of home. It’s strange to me that while I’m over 5,000 miles away from Bellingham, in a completely different country, it doesn’t seem so far away. Maybe it’s because I’m looking out at the pouring down rain and thick fog that’s hanging low on the mountains… I mean, what’s more Bellingham than that? But it also might have to do with the fact that over the last few months, this place has begun to feel more and more like home.
In the mornings, I wake up (usually before my host parents) and get ready for school and whatever I have planned for the day. I have my typical French breakfast of some slices of baguette with jam and a large cup of coffee. The days are getting a lot colder now, similar to the weather in the Pacific Northwest this time of year, so I bundle up in all of my layers before heading out to catch the tram. I walk out the front door of my apartment to see the small market that is set up in the square just in front of my building. The vendors are all set up with their selections of fruit, vegetables, bread, and whatever else they brought for the day. As I make my way to my tram stop, I pass by the butcher shop and the bakery that tempts me every morning, with delicious looking pastries and croissants. I gaze out the window during my 15 minute ride to campus across town; no matter how many times I take this route to campus, I always notice something new along the rivers or up in the mountains. When I get to the university, I usually run into some of my friends, a good way to spend the last ten minutes before a two hour block of classes. At the end of the school day, I take the tram back into town to grab a bite to eat or head to a cafe to do some homework. While I’d like to be able to stroll around town or enjoy the crisp mountain air, it’s officially a little too cold for that. Instead I prefer the warmth of a hot coffee and the comfort of one of the many bustling coffee shops throughout the city. It’s nearing the holiday season, so as it begins to get dark outside, the streets light up with color, coming from the alleys and roads covered in Christmas lights, with trees decorated throughout the town as well. I make my way back to my apartment each night in time for dinner, where my host family will have a delicious home cooked meal waiting. I get to share my day with them, and talk about the news and current events and weather and whatever other topics happen to come up. This has become one of my favorite parts of the day, and not just because of the great food.
Given that my days left here are dwindling, I’ve been able to reflect on my experiences so far, and begin to think about what I hope to get out of my last few weeks in Grenoble.
I’ll be honest here, it hasn’t always been easy living here in a foreign country that speaks a foreign language with people who started out as strangers, but if nothing else it has definitely been a learning and growing experience. When I first arrived, I greatly struggled with making small talk and casual conversation with my host family and others, but now I look forward to be able to express myself in French and continue to practice my language skills. My French is by no means perfect, it is very far from it, but I can tell that I’ve progressed, which is really important to me nonetheless. Classes at times have been difficult, especially since there are so many international students from around the world that there is no common language here, besides French. It was frustrating at first trying to get through classes, but being “forced” to use the language at all times has had its benefits, and I feel more confident as time goes on.
Nevertheless, though, this experience so far has had its benefits. Being in France, and in Europe in general, is especially awesome because of how easy it is to travel. As of now, I’ve travelled to about 14 different cities in a total of 5 different countries, not including Ireland which I’ll be adding to the list after this weekend. With all of those travels, though, I can still say that I greatly enjoy coming back to Grenoble and being here in this city. There’s just something about it that makes me feel at home, and it might be my favorite place of all.
Looking ahead to the time I have left here, and heading home in just about a month, all I can say is that this experience is not something I’ll soon forget. The friends I’ve made, the daily routine that I’ve grown to love, the French family that has become my second family, and this cute little town that has become my second home; I’m not entirely sure how I’m supposed to leave it so soon. I plan on making the most out of these last few weeks here in Grenoble, as I know I’ll miss it when I’m gone.
Engaging in an international education opportunity can be a life changing experience. It means a new place with new people, maybe a new language to learn, and a new culture to soak up. With International Education Week happening, I felt it was important to connect and share a few tips and suggestions that I have found helpful since first getting started with my international experience. Here are three ways you can make the most of studying abroad.
1. Explore new places and new sides of yourself.
Being dropped into a new place with new people can be scary at first. You may get lost and fumble asking for directions as you explore. Don’t lose hope — getting used to a place takes time. Wether you’re taking the bus or mastering the metro, you’ll get the hang of it. Learn how to ask for directions and don’t be afraid of the unknown. The world can be a wonderful place, and you just need to gather up some courage and explore it. I have always been afraid of being on my own in new surroundings, and moving to Paris was just that at first. I was scared, but only for a day or so — then I made some friends, got a roommate, and bought a metro map. I’ve gotten lost and had to ask for directions in a language I wasn’t very good at. Now that I’ve been here for a few months, I can navigate the metro system, I know some delicious places for lunch at a student-friendly price, and have found a new confidence in myself I wasn’t aware I possessed.
2. Connect with your roots and learn a new history.
Coming from the United States, also know as the melting pot, many of us have different heritages that we might like to learn more about. For me, connecting to my French heritage has always been a goal. I wanted to learn more about my personal family history.
Since coming to France, I have learned that my Great-Great Grandfather was born and raised in Honfleur, France. It’s a small and beautiful waterside town in the north of France. It’s a place where painters like Monet painted the boats in the harbor and the old wooden church that stands is the oldest wooden church in France. I learned that my Great-Great Grandfather ended up moving from here to Paris. He set up shop as a tanner, and had the privilege of attending Louis Pasteur’s funeral. This was his life before becoming a privateer and falling in love with my Great-Great Grandmother in New Caledonia, a small french territory in the South Pacific. There, he started his family — myfamily. By coming here, I have been able to find out more about myself and my family history, and for me, that makes this the most invaluable experience of a lifetime.
3. Do as much as possible while you’re there.
You’ll hear that you can “sleep when your dead,” and to an extent I agree with that. But if you get sick and can’t enjoy your time, you’ll regret it. Get good sleep, eat well, take vitamins, and do your homework.
Once those are done, go adventure! Do some research before you leave home. Make a bucket list of foods you want to try, places you want to go, museums to visit, and monuments you want to see. (A quick note for museums: if you don’t want to look at everything in a museum, seeing as they can be huge, make a list of the most important pieces to see and go to them first, then you can do a double take to see the rest.) Embrace the markets. You can haggle and get better deals on pretty much anything, from boots to food to souvenirs. It will also be a great place for you to work on your use of the language, and even learn some new vocabulary.
Check your school bulletin board for local events and shows. Immersing yourself in the culture means getting involved in the community and attending public events. Frequently, these events will be free to attend and you can always find yummy snacks and pamphlets to read.
Expand your comprehension of the new language. When you’re in a new place with a new language, locals appreciate you trying. Try and use the language as much as possible. This will help you get the most out of your time abroad.
Most of all, have fun! This is your time to explore the world, meet people, and discover new things about yourself. Enjoy the time you have there and make the most of it.
“Life as a person from Lyon”
I have officially been living in Lyon for 55 days, and I can’t help but wonder where all the time has gone? It seems like just yesterday I was getting lost in the public transit or getting locked out of my apartment. (Although I still stand by the fact that the doors here are way less user friendly than at home!)
In these 55 days Lyon has truly become a second home for me, and I’m not looking forward to the day that I have to leave this all behind. I will miss stepping outside of my building and being immediately greeted by the glistening waves of the Saône River, and my walk to class when I pass by at least four boulangeries where the warm scent of fresh baking bread greets me. I’ll miss the swarms of pigeons and the quick bobbing of their heads when I walk to close and they rush out of my way.
Each day holds something new in store for me, and it’s been a welcome change from my days at home that sometimes start to seem robotic. Of course I still have my routines here though too, just on a smaller scale. There’s this café called, “Comme à la maison” (like home) where you can find my friends and I whenever we have free time between class. We’re there so often that the employees all know us and our orders, although we do tend to change it up on them from time to time. We’ve discovered many nooks and crannies of our city, and what’s so thrilling is that there’s still so much more to discover, every day we try to go somewhere new or try something new. A new bar one night, a new store another. “Let’s check out this place I heard about,” or “let’s wander around until we find something that sounds good.”
I’m honestly not sure what I expected studying abroad to be like. This always seemed like a faraway dream that others got to do, and that no one really knew how to describe. That still holds true for me, everyday I still think to myself, I’m in France right now, I’m walking around in France. While I don’t really know what I had expected studying abroad to be like, I know that this is beyond anything I had thought. The amount of information I’m learning about the world is still amazing to me. In my class alone we have students from eleven different countries; the US, Taiwan, Ukraine, Columbia, South Korea, Russia, China, Norway, Venezuela, Syria, and Mexico. I didn’t expect to learn so much about the world and myself from this trip honestly, and I’m so glad that I decided to take this chance.
Lyon, while it’s the second largest city in France, is surprisingly not a huge tourist destination, and I’m incredibly thankful for that. The main aspect of the tourism here is Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) which is a little bit more out of the main metropolitan area. Not having a huge tourist destination has made it a lot better for my french skills because not everyone speaks English, so I can’t take the easy way out. Also, it just makes it a lot easier to become a part of the city. I feel like I’ve begun to integrate a lot into the day to day life here, and I can make my way through the city on foot or on the metro without any incidents. I feel like I belong, and it’s weird to think that in just a couple months I will be leaving again.
If you’re thinking about studying abroad. Do it. Do your research of course, and choose your country/city carefully, but don’t overthink it. I was so close to overthinking my decision to study abroad this semester, and I’m so thankful I didn’t. You’ll discover so much about yourself you would have never dreamed of before, and get to know the world just a little bit better.
I figured I would start this blog out now with one of my certificate posts, and a sort of introduction more than what you can find in the about.
My name is Brenna, and this fall I will be entering into my second year at Western Washington University. My current plans (as we all know how finicky these things can be to finalize) are to double major in French on the main campus at Western, and Cultural/Travel Play-writing (still working out all the technicalities of it right now) at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, which is a small college that is a part of Western.
During this past year I was completing my fifth year of French language courses. I had already taken four years in high school you see, and after high school I just knew that my continued education path had to include the language. I had fallen in love with it. So between the prospect of my sixth consecutive year of studying French and trying to figure out how to work Traveling/Cultural Exploration into Play-writing; I decided it was time to consider studying abroad. Which led me to the Lyon, France program through University Studies Abroad Consortium aka USAC.
One thing led to another and I was accepted and beyond excited to work out the specifics of my Independent Study Program (ISP) for this very blog, and even more-so, to get to move to France.
Now we are T-minus 30 days, 9 hours, 58 minutes and 10 seconds (yes of course I have a countdown app installed on my phone, are you kidding?!) until I take off, and honestly the nerves are starting to kick in. Of course I’m beyond thrilled to have this incredible opportunity to live in a new country and experience a new culture first-hand, but there’s that little bubble of silly doubt too. What if no one will want to speak French with me, and my language skills don’t really improve? What if something goes wrong with my flights and I don’t get there on time? What if I don’t like escargot? Okay… that last one is only slightly real, I’m still deciding if I’m brave enough to try it. But I know that all of these worries will diminish when I get there, I meet my host family, and I start my classes. Because that’s what this is all about, putting yourself out there, and being brave enough to take on these doubts and experience the world. I’ve done the research on local customs, I’ve taken precautions, I’ve asked for help when I need it. And now? Now it’s time to go out and live. Well… in 30 days, 9 hours, 50 minutes and 34 seconds it will be anyways.
Today marks my third day officially living in Lyon, and my fourth day since leaving the United States; and let me tell you, it has been a rocky first few days. I’ve gotten lost, had to walk through dark places alone, had issues communicating, and gotten locked out. However, there’s also been many more good times to overshadow these troubles, so you could say it’s been a roller coaster journey thus far.
Fresh off the plane, (after 16 hours of travel) I received an email from my advisers with instructions for getting to La Statue de Saint Exupéry à Place Bellecour, where I was supposed to meet my host family for the first time in a few hours. With four hours on my hands I decided to give public transit a shot. The instructions seemed fairly clear to me, so having navigated the Portland public transit a lot I thought I could handle it. Of course I was wrong.
I got onto the Rhone Express, and settled in for my ride. The sign said that “Vaux-En-Velin La Soie” was the next stop, however, when I got off at the next place it stopped, it wasn’t Vaux-En-Velin La Soie at all. In fact I had no idea where I was, and because I didn’t have service I couldn’t really figure it out. So I went to my next best option; I got back on the Rhone Express heading the opposite direction, back to the airport. At this point I had already wasted forty minutes, and public transit just seemed daunting to me, so I had to walk all the way back to the airport entrance and hail a taxi.
When I finally get a taxi, I learned that my driver doesn’t speak a lot of English, and at this point my French is really bad. I can understand him really well, but actually forming words seemed impossible besides very minor phrases. But, I at least remembered the phrase I had to tell him for the ride, so I said, “Place Bellecour, s’il vous plaît, à la statue de Saint Exupéry.” He responded, “Ça n’existe pas.” Wait, what? He went on to say that the only statue in Place Bellecour is the statue of Louis xiv, so he ended up taking me there instead, thinking that my professors must have been mistaken about the statue they meant.
So here I was, alone in a foreign country, at a statue that wasn’t the one I needed, lugging around a huge check bag, and to top it off, I didn’t have wifi or service of any kind on my phone. However, the shining light was that I spotted a café that was described in my arrival guide from my professors that was supposed to be next to the statue of Saint Exupéry. “Café Bellecour.” Working from there I actually found the correct statue and my heart rate immediately slowed again. Feeling more confident, I stopped at Café Bellecour and got une salade verte; jambon et parmesan, which was delicious; and set out for the statue to meet my host family.
My host family is a very nice family, and their house is absolutely gorgeous. My room is cozy, and I even have my own shower. There’s a minor language barrier still as I work to improve my speaking French, but everyday it has gotten easier.
Yesterday I had orientation and I met a lot of really wonderful people. Last night a few friends and I decided to go out and drink a bit on the Rhone river and it was the party central for all of the local Lyonnais. The second the first drop of rain hit everyone simply moved under the cover of the bridge. There was laughing and shouting, and it was a ton of fun. We learned that it is “not possible” (imagine a thick French accent) to enter a completely abandoned night club at 11:30 if one of your friends is in joggers, and that Le Prado, for all of it’s faults, is simply Le Prado; and that makes it the best apartment building ever for the students– according to the students living there.
But it got late, 2:20 in fact, and we knew it was time to leave Le Prado and head home. I didn’t want to risk the 40 minute walk, so instead I opted for an uber, which was actually really inexpensive. The cost was only 20 euros after the price flux for popular hours. However, that came with its own problems. My driver’s map took me to the street above my host family’s apartment, instead of the street where the front door is located, but he wouldn’t take me around to the front, so he dropped me off up there with instructions about a path in a park. Trying not to freak out because it was 2:45 and very dark, I start walking around to find this park. I do find it, and an unlit path winding down the hill that we were on. I risked taking out my phone for a flashlight and made my way down. I got through it completely without incident and found my apartment and used the code to get into the building. Then though, I couldn’t figure out how to open the door! I had turned the key every way I could possibly think of to no avail. It took me literally a half hour just to get into the apartment, and after that I just wanted to detox and relax. The good thing about being up at 3:30 am here was that it was only 6:30 pm back home, so after a calming video chat with my boyfriend, I went to sleep.
I love Lyon so far. It’s quiet, beautiful, and also magical in its own way. I’m excited to start my classes, and my university is like it’s own little multiverse of other French learners. Each day I feel more confident about my French abilities, and even though I still have a ways to go until I can have a conversation without asking for them to repeat themselves, I know I’ll get there eventually.
I remember clearly, the feeling of waking up at 4am getting ready and calling a cab to pick me up from the Kraków hostel I was staying at, of how drowsy and half asleep, yet serious I felt. I remember walking into the cold morning air, into darkness, and feeling a light breeze. I remember the ride to the airport which seemed like it lasted forever. I remember eating not one but two Paczki (Polish donuts) as I was waiting for my flight, savoring the last taste of my culture and homeland. I remember boarding a small blue
Royal Dutch Airlines plane for Amsterdam to connect to a Delta flight to Seattle. I remember seeing beautiful rolling green hills from thousands of feet in the air, admiring their beauty in awe, realizing how long it would be until I would see those hills again. I remember wandering the huge and beautiful Amsterdam Schiphol airport, somewhat disappointed that the art gallery was closed for renovation. I remember leaving Europe and the bittersweet feeling coming over me as looked out the window and saw the ocean. I remember the friend I made on that flight, who turned out to be a French-speaking Belgian. I remember landing in Seattle, and
going through customs, how nervous I felt about that, fearing they would confiscate my Swiss chocolate ( they didn’t). I remember breaking my luggage, trying to unjam the handle after retrieving it. I remember calling my parents to inform them of my arrival, oh how anxious I felt waiting for them. Finally, I remember bursting into tears in the car and crying oh so loudly on the way home. I remember how emotional I felt, and how it felt for those tears to roll down my cheeks. They were tears of joy, tears of sadness, and of pure confusion of the fact that merely 12 hours prior to that moment I was in a different country on another continent, and now I was back home with people that I had been so far away from…
A lot has happened between now and when I finished my experience abroad. When I got home, it was around 3pm. I had a very early dinner and attempted to tell my parents
about my adventures, I say attempted because I was in bed by 5pm. I went right to sleep. I woke up again at 10pm, had some tea but fell right to sleep again. I then woke up at 4am, and watched Moana on Netflix, it was pretty good. I had this kind of funky, wake up at 4 and watch a movie phase for the next day too (I watched the Founder), but after that, I progressively began going to bed at a later time and getting up at a later time (e.g. bed at 9pm, up at 7am). In general, my first week at home was kinda weird. I was really excited, and happy, but also sad and extremely confused. I kinda just wanted to not do anything and wait out the start of school, but that would not be the case. Turns out that even after I had returned home from an all-around exhaustingly amazing two months in Europe, I was to still have a pretty busy summer. Within the first few days of being home, I already ended up hanging out with one of my good friends Isa on Capitol Hill in Seattle, we kinda just walked around the park there for a few hours and talked. It was fun and low-key, a good hangout. Then soon after came another little adventure. Exactly ten days after I had
landed back home, ending a 9.5-hour flight (I landed August 10th), I was on a 10-hour bus ride to Pullman. See, my 21st birthday was the next day (August 21st, my golden birthday), and I was travelling to visit my best friend who had just started school at WSU, and he had rented a car and we were gonna drive to somewhere in Idaho within the path of totality to watch the solar eclipse that just happened to be happening on my golden birthday. When I got to Pullman, my friend and I set off for the path. We drove during the night, and we got to see some amazing views of stars. After 5 hours of driving, we made it to the path, pulled over and slept. The next day we got to watch the eclipse and I turned 21. We started driving back, attempted to avoid traffic by driving up a mountain (we had to turn back), got to listen to amazing music, and by the end of the day were back at WSU. Then the next morning I was back on another 10 bus ride to Seattle. Even after I got home from that, I continued being busy. Hanging out with friends often, getting the chance to bar hop, taking a rideshare uber and getting to speak with a French girl in French, dropping my mom off at Vancouver international airport in B.C, seeing LORDE live and for free at Bumbershoot, and hanging out with
someone who I hadn’t really hung out with for about 9 years. I guess what I’m trying to say through all this is that I hadn’t really had the time to sit down and reflect on my study abroad experience, it was just, go, go, go (which is weird for me as my summers tend to be boringly chill). And before I knew it I was already back at Western in the Residence halls beginning Resident Advisor training.
This was hard for me because that meant I did not really have time to mentally prepare myself for college, a place that had been pretty difficult for me over the last 2 years. The two weeks of RA training that I have just experienced have probably been some of the most stressful two weeks of my life. It was pretty intense, and we had to go through some serious policy things, but mostly I feel like I was so stressed out because, after this amazing summer, where even though I continued to experience anxiety and identity issues, I found love, and felt like I was myself for the first time in years, and now I found myself back at an institution where I have felt lost and alone, and have not found belonging, working with people who seem to have found belonging, and trying to promote the building of community with them. Within the first week, I had become so stressed out that it was noticeable to my coworkers. I became convinced that I was gonna quit and drop out of school, and talked to my boss about quitting, and dropping out of school, but before that one of my coworkers did listen to me vent for hours, and talked to me about how I was hired for my differences, and about how it’s so important to be myself for this job. But there is so much going on in my life besides, just not finding belonging in my job or at school, my family life is not the greatest, and I can no longer find the support I need at home, my old friends (including the one I went to Idaho with, who I deeply cared about) are moving on with their lives , and they have been my only belonging, I’m struggling with finding love both in terms of friendship and romantically, and I’m in this limbo of not knowing what I want to do or exactly what I want to major in.
But after experiencing all these stressors and almost quitting, I began to internalize what my coworker had told me about being yourself. I began to think of how much of an impactful experience my time in Europe had been. First off for the first time in years I found belonging, and unlike previous times in my life, it was because I was myself, not
because I tried to be someone else. This was a huge step in the right direction for me, and by the end of the trip, my friend Kylie told me that the trip would not have been the same without me as we were saying bye to each other. I also had a similar experience with my family in Poland. Both of those experiences meant so much to me. I was myself, and I was loved and valued for that. Secondly, I followed a desire that I have had for years, to learn French, and after l year of studying the language, I am in a place where my French is on par with 300 level students, which to me is amazing. And the reason why I’ve learned French so well so quickly is not that I’m special and have this magic power to learn French, but because it became a passion. Thirdly, I followed my passion for adventure. My journey saw me experiencing the culture of Paris, studying
abroad in Lyon in France, trying snails, visiting Geneva Switzerland, staying in hostels, experiencing solo traveling, exploring the modern hipsterness of Berlin, and visiting and experiencing my own culture and family in Poland. All of this has helped me realize that life is an adventure, and this was especially solidified when an old friend in Poland had told me that “everyone’s life is an adventure, and you gotta find the place that makes you happy”, after I confessed to him that I have struggled to find where I belong back home. Life is an adventure and my goal is to find my happiness.
All of these reflections have been going through my head over the last few weeks as I’ve been trying to figure out life, and while I don’t know all the answers yet, things feel clearer and clearer each day. I’m feeling alone and struggling in a lot of ways, but I’m on my own adventure and maybe all that’s part of it. Maybe there’s a lot more left to learn about myself and maybe I can learn more about them through these struggles. I don’t exactly know, and I don’t have the answers. But I do know one thing, and that is that I need to follow my path, and in order to do that I need to love myself, and I need to be my authentic self, to society, and to the world. I need do what makes me happy in life. One of my favorite rapper/poets Kate Tempest in her songs Theme From Becky raps “all of us walk to our own beat and each person’s rhythm is unique, you can’t hear somebody’s tune if you count in your time, you must count their time to enjoy how their mind makes its music.” For most of my life, I haven’t been counting in MY own time, and I haven’t been able to walk to MY beat, but that’s something I need to do in order to enjoy how MY mind makes its music.
I admit, I was fairly nervous about studying abroad when I first decided to do it, but I had this confident feeling that it would be a life-changing experience. That is what drove me toward this experience. Today, I can say with certainty that I was wrong because it did not “change” my life, or who I am. But my life is different in ways I would not have been able to imagine a year ago when I first walked into the Study Abroad office. I have grown so much and learned so much about myself, and what my passions are, and the kind of person that I am becoming. So no, I would not say studying abroad has “changed” my life, because it has brought me closer to what was already there all along. It has only brought me closer to myself. But that journey, the great journey to myself, it’s not over. It continues.
To Hannah Nevitt for being an awesome study abroad advisor and getting me to do this blog. My parents for supporting me through this even though we are struggling financially. Leah Lippman for being an awesome teacher for global studies and really inspiring me to visit Geneva and the UN branch there. To Beverly, the Lufthansa flight attendant that was super sweet and let me explore my all time favorite plane. To USAC for offering and administering the program, and for making it affordable. To my French Grammar teacher in Lyon Madame Florence Bordois Le Jeune for being really cool and teaching us about French social issues while teaching French grammar. To my French theatre teach Monsieur Eric, for teaching the most fun and interactive class I’ve ever taken. To Christina Keppie for being there to help me figure how the credits would transfer to Western. To the close friends I’ve made in France: Joel, Penny, Kylie, Amme, Rachel, Haley, Laura, for accepting me for who I was, and for teaching me so much about friendships in so little time, and for all the fun we had. To all my family and friends who hosted me and took care of me in Poland. To my friend Oscar for being so chill, and for that deep conversation that about life being an adventure. To my cousin Linda, for being a real hommie, and being true to herself (taught me a lot). Finally, last but not least Thank you to all the amazing travelers I had the chance to meet on my journey, you are all interesting, inspiring, and amazing people, and I hope to run into you all again one day!
Well, here I am! I arrived in Grenoble, France a little over a week and a half ago, and what an adventure it’s been already. To start out, I’d like to say that jet lag is very, very real! I had an overnight flight to London, and figured that as long as I slept on the plane my body would naturally adjust… Or not. The first few days of touring in London then making my way to Grenoble were some of the longest and most exhausting (albeit also very exciting) days of my life. If you’re planning on going abroad, give yourself time to adjust to the time difference; you’ll need it!!
The less than three days I spent in London were really nothing but a whirlwind, and before I knew it I was back at London-Heathrow airport boarding a plane to France. While I’m almost positive I was in a jet lag-induced haze the entire time, I’m incredibly glad I got the opportunity to see as much of London as possible. This included a city tour, going to Buckingham Palace, seeing the London Eye, and inevitably ending up in a tattoo parlor (not for myself, but for a friend). It was certainly an experience, but I’d love to be able to go back again and really explore the city when I’m not running on zero hours of sleep
And now I find myself sitting in my room, in an apartment building dating back to the 1700’s, with views of the Bastille out my window. How did I end up here?! I’ve asked myself that question a lot these past few days, as it still doesn’t seem real. One of my absolute favorite things about Grenoble so far is that no matter where you are in the city, you can look in just about any direction and have an incredible view of the mountains right in front of you. It reminds me of home in so many ways, and has proven to be very comforting. When it’s cloudy or rainy, which has been the case more often than I’d like, mist clings to the mountains and provides some eerie but breathtaking views. There’s history everywhere you look, with old buildings and old streets, narrow and winding through back alleys that can be quite difficult to navigate.
As far as the school life here, that’s another situation all on its own. Today marks the end of my first week of classes, and it’s been quite the experience. Universite Grenoble Alpes is a large university, with 45,000 students (3 times as many as WWU), so as you can probably imagine the campus is much larger than what I’m used to. Luckily, us international students have all of our classes in a small part of campus know as the CUEF, which makes it somewhat easy to get around. As far as my schedule goes, I take 8 hours of language classes a week, 2 hours of vocabulary, and 3 different elective classes. Some days I start classes at 8:30 am and don’t finish for the day until 5:30 pm. I’m not going to lie; it’s been exhausting. With that being said, though, it’s not overwhelming. We have plenty of breaks throughout our day and time to study, relax, or grab food on campus. The classes are taught entirely in French, which is quite difficult for someone with only one year of French experience, but I can definitely say that my language skills have already grown considerably.
Speaking of language, that is by far the biggest change with coming here to France (surprise surprise?). Being constantly surrounded by people speaking French is a big adjustment, and just making small talk or ordering food at a cafe can be challenging. I’m living with an amazing host family, but they speak almost no English, so just asking simple questions and talking about my day with them takes some serious concentration. Despite the difficulties, I’m incredibly happy living with my host family, and I think I made the right decision in the housing department. I could have lived in an apartment or university housing with other English speaking people, but would I have had ample opportunities to practice my French or come home to an amazing home cooked French meal every night if that was the case? I don’t think so.
All in all, even though I haven’t even had a full two weeks in Grenoble yet, I’m enjoying everything this area has to offer me. I’ve only seen a small portion of the town, so I look forward to exploring more and discovering what else lies between the towering old buildings and cobbled streets.
Until next time, I’ll leave you with my favorite little tidbit about Grenoble so far:
On the university campus, which is a generally “green” and environmentally friendly area, they have a whole fenced in area of goats, and their main purpose is to cut the grass. You can even go up to the fence and pet them. Take notes, WWU, take notes.
In less than 24hours I’ll be on a plane, flying away to a country I’ve never been to, getting ready to spend the next four months out of my comfort zone and studying in what seems like a whole new world… Alright let’s do this. I’m almost fully packed, all the paperwork is done and documents filled out (hopefully), and all that’s left to do is show up at the airport and get this show on the road!
I’m heading into my Junior year here at Western, and instead of spending fall quarter (my favorite, by the way) on the beautiful WWU campus, I’ll be halfway around the world in Grenoble, France, studying at the Universite Grenoble Alpes! I’ll be studying language and culture, taking classes like French vocabulary enrichment, French cinema, history of art in France, and whatever else I can fill my schedule with. I’m embarking on this adventure with AIFS (highly recommend!!), and since I decided to go with their flight plan, I get to spend a few days in London on my way to Grenoble with some other people on my program. I’ll take any chance I can get to explore more of Europe while I’m away!
Studying abroad has always been a goal of mine, and it’s really quite surreal that I’m just a few hours away from actually experiencing it. Deciding on Grenoble, France as my destination was a long time coming, but I couldn’t be happier with my choice. It’s a smaller, university-based town, with a large student population. All in all, I think it’ll prove to be a great fit for me, and I’m excited to experience it myself.
As the hours tick down to takeoff, I’m starting to think more about what I’m hoping to gain from my time abroad. I’ve done a ton of research on Grenoble, as well as the University that I’ll be attending there, so I’m feeling ready to take the plunge into this new adventure. Given that it’s not a big city such as Paris, I hope to be able to immerse myself in the French culture and lifestyle on a smaller scale, and see what France really has to offer. While it might be obvious, I’m also hoping to greatly improve my French speaking skills while abroad, although this goes hand in hand with my biggest anxieties about my trip. I only have one year of French language classes under my belt, which really just doesn’t seem like enough to get me by. Sure, I know the basics, but will I be able to hold an actual conversation with someone who doesn’t speak any English? I’m not so sure… But alas, I suppose there is only one way to find out; put myself out there and see what happens! Besides, I’ve been on DuoLingo practically every day working on my French, and that’s got to do me some good at least! Right?
As far as what I’m excited for… Well, what isn’t there to be excited about?! I get to spend four months in Europe, trying to check off as many cities and countries as possible, meeting new people and trying new things along the way. It’s just a waiting game now until I get on that plane and it leaves Seattle, and I’m impatiently watching the final hours tick away. Here’s to new adventures, heading out there in the world, and stepping out of your comfort zone! That’s all for now
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.
I have been in France for almost two weeks now, and I’ve had the time of my life. In the short two weeks that I have been here, I have already experienced so much and tried so many new things.
Paris was truly wonderful (although the traffic was terrible). My program had arranged tours for us at Notre Dame, Palais de Justice, Le Marias, and Versailles with a wonderful tour guide by the name of Gwen (she was super nice, upbeat, and eccentric, I just loved her). All of these places were beautiful, especially Versailles, which I was ecstatic to go to. It was beautifully adorned with gold, and covered in so many unique paintings, most of which symbolized Louis the XVI comparing himself to God (but hey he was the King of France, right). USAC also took us to La Tour Eiffel. La Tour Eiffel was
beautiful and had totally surpassed my expectations. It was a lot bigger than I thought it would be and the view from up top was beautiful. In addition to
all this, we were given 4-day museum passes for all of Paris’ museums and historical landmarks, and I was able to explore places like the Louvre and Centre Pompidou as a result, both of which were fantastic museums, that were huge (got lost in both of them), beautiful, and filled with so much unique stuff, definitely coming back one day to explore more of them. The city was filled with so much history and culture, and I feel like my cultural competency is now through the roof.
After My short 5 days in Paris, we took the French High-Speed Train or TGV down to Lyon where I am now studying at the Lumière University Lyon 2. So far Lyon has been amazing, and I’ve already madly fallen in love with this place. Lyon is gorgeously situated in-between and around two rivers, Le Rhône
and La Saône (Fun fact: Le Rhône is a “fleuve” or masculine river because it is seen as aggressive, having a very strong current. La Saône, on the other hand, is a “rivière” or feminine river because it has a weaker current and is seen as more gentle.). These two rivers beautifully complement the city with its red tiled roof buildings, giving it a very classically European feel. Lyon also contains an entire fully preserved Renaissance era neighborhood called Vieux Lyon, consisting of narrow cobblestone streets, and beautifully colorful buildings dating back to the 1500s. To contrast this old-world charm, Lyon has a very modern side to it as well. For example, Lyon has a very efficient and relatively new metro system, as well as plenty
of shopping centers, clubs, and college students. There are also plenty of art galleries and museums that I will have to check out one of these days.
The food in France has so far been amazing. The wines, bread, pastries, and cheeses, have all been to die for, and additionally, they are relatively cheap. You can get a decent baguette, for instance, for .80€, and I bought 2 morceaux of St Marcellin cheese for 2.65€ at a farmer’s market. Of course, the more expensive food is much better, but the cheaper food is still good, and considering I’m a broke college student who can’t afford expensive food, decent cheap food is appreciated. I have even had the opportunity to try escargot (crossed that one of the bucket list) for the first time, and it was actually not bad at all. It definitely wasn’t slimy, and rather tasted like oysters covered in butter and garlic, I would totally eat it again! So far I have noticed that the French diet consists of mainly carbs, fat, and wine. The French eat a lot of bread and patisserie, as well a cheese and
butter and they drink a lot of wine as well. They eat noticeably less meat than we do here in the U.S, but they still do eat plenty of meat. Now that I am here in Lyon the Food and the culture associated with it has become better, as Lyon is regarded as the gastronomic capital of France. Just the other day I ended up having one of the best meals of my life, at a Bouchon (a type of traditional Lyonnais restaurant). It consisted of a Salade Lyonnais (a salad with some ham, dressing, and a poached egg), and then a plate of Saucisson Brioché (French sausage baked into brioche bread), served with the most amazing fried potato slices, as well as a medley of sautéed peppers and onions. For dessert, I was served a Tarte au Praline, which is some kind of tarte with a red sweet filling that I could not decipher, but it was delicious nonetheless. I left satisfied and I truly cannot wait to try more food at a Bouchon. However, some of the food here is a bit out of my comfort zone. For example here in Lyon it’s said that you can order pork brains fried in pork fat, and while I haven’t come across that on a menu, I have come across (ordered and disliked) pan fried beef belly, and Paté en Croute, meat paste made of the lives of different animals, all baked into a pastry-like bread (although I actually do want to try this). But even if this food is “too interesting” for my taste buds it still contains a lot of history and culture, and I respect that.
As a student, my life here has been filled with classes, studying, and a lot of trying to decipher French. There around 70 of us, as there are other programs here besides just USAC, and so my classes have been composed of around 15 people each, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet U.S students from different U.S programs, as well as a handful of students from places like Italy, Spain, and Brazil. I’m taking 4 classes here, A French
grammar class, a French theatre “project” class, a French computer “project” (I’ll go into what the “projects are in a bit), and a travel photography class, so I am constantly busy with something. I was placed in a much higher level of French than I expected to be placed in, and after only one year of French, I find myself in class with people who just finished 3rd-year college French (it’s pretty intimidating). As a result, the professors speak fully in French (some of them can’t even speak English) and expect near perfect comprehension. They also expect you to speak only in French during class. Both of these expectations have proven rather hard for me to meet, as I am fairly new to the language, but I tend to like a challenge, and I think being at such a high level will be good for me, and as of now I’m managing this challenge fairly well, with my comprehension and speaking skills improving each day. In terms of how the organization of the courses looks like, in the language track of my program, everyone is taking 3 language classes: one 2hr grammar class, as well as a 2hr “long project” and a 1.5hr “short project. The grammar classes simply cover grammar, whereas the project classes are focused on interactive activities and a final project at the end of
the course. So far out of my classes (photography included), I’ve enjoyed my theatre project class the most, and can honestly say it’s the most fun class I’ve ever taken. We constantly play games (like the French version of Red Light Green Light), act out skits, and make sculptures with our bodies. Our final project is to perform a skit in French in front of French theatre majors, which is kind of scary to think about, but I’m excited nonetheless.
In terms of culture shock, I don’t really think I’ve really experienced too much. France is a Western Country with a predominantly Western Culture, therefore there the differences haven’t been too stark. But even though the differences haven’t been enough to “shock” me, they are still noteworthy nonetheless. One of the first things I noticed, in coming to France is how fast, and seemingly reckless the driving is here. Drivers will cut
each other off very closely and motorcycles will drive between cars very quickly during traffic. In terms of driving people to tend to just kind of go for it, and as scary as it seems to my American self, it seems to be working just fine for the French. People in Europe also tend to walk everywhere, but as a result, public transportation is amazing and extremely efficient, and walking everywhere does help get some good exercise in. Another difference is in regards to smoking, it’s seen as a normal everyday activity here and many people do it, regardless of the fact that anti-smoking campaigns are huge (all cigarette packets say “smoking kills” in huge letters, and many of them contain pictures of people sick in hospitals), and smoking cafés or Tabac café which serve coffee and cigarettes are common. One of the biggest cultural differences I’m noticing here is in regards to openness towards others. In France, people tend to be open, in most aspects of socialization, whether that be displaying love, or casually saying a bonjour to someone in the elevator, which is in contrast to at least Washington State where people tend to be a little more introverted. All of these differences initially stood out to me, and I am still getting used to them, and sometimes failing, but with each passing day, I grow more and more accustomed to them.
Initially coming in I was a bit worried about how I would like French culture, as Americans definitely stereotype the French. I was afraid that they might seem rude or snobby, I was worried that my outfits would not be fashionable enough (my friend told me the French don’t wear shorts so I almost didn’t bring any), and I was worried that the clothes here would not fit me etc. Within the short time I have been here, none of these stereotypes have turned out to be fully true, and have been for the most part false. The French aren’t any ruder than you average American, regular clothes are found and worn here (shorts included), and you can find clothes of all sizes. Seeing all these stereotypes debunked has, once again reaffirmed my understanding of stereotypes being mostly false, and I have realized that we only create them to make others seem more different from us than they actually are. So far France has been an extremely welcoming host country. The history and culture found in this country is amazing, and I am super happy to be able to explore it this summer. I have already seen and done so much here, and yet there is still so much to seen and do, and I only have 3 weeks remaining on this program which is crazy to think about. But I know it’s going to be a full three weeks, with a trip to Geneva and Annecy this weekend, a dinner with a French family and chocolate tour next week, a trip to Avignon and Arles, next weekend, and Bastille Day the weekend after that. And in addition to all that I will be going to Berlin for 2 nights and staying in a Hostel after my program, and then to Poland for 3 weeks to visit family and friends after that. I’m super excited for all of these experiences to come, and cannot wait to share than in the coming weeks.
Since I have come here to France, I have already had plenty of opportunities to speak French, which has been really cool. I was initially intimidated by going to France with only a year’s worth of French, and yes I was afraid to speak it at first. Before coming to France I listened to a lot of French podcasts and music, but I would always have trouble understanding what was being said. I would try to speak with friends, but I would struggle to put together sentences. Long story short I did not have as much experience with the French language as I felt I needed, and that was scary to think about.
Coming in, I did not know what I was going to do or how I was going to survive, but many of my friends on the program were already speaking a little French with each other and so I was able to practice a bit, which was super helpful. I became a little more confident with speaking French as a result. By my second day in Paris, I was already confidently ordering food and drinks in French, by my third, I was already having conversations with my friends in French. I felt like my French was getting better daily. I was still struggling with comprehension and found myself simply smiling and saying “oui” when I didn’t understand anything ( I still do that ), but my French was improving so something must have been working.
Then on my fourth day in Paris, came a fateful night in which I truly shocked myself. I was out late in central Paris with my friends, so late that when we decided to get home, the metro was closed. Our only option was to take a taxi, after hailing a taxi and getting in I tried to tell the driver where our hotel address was (my friends were more experienced in speaking French, but I insisted talking to the driver to get the practice) The driver did not know what I was saying, and I did not understand him, my friend had to chime in to give him the directions. I felt embarrassed and defeated. I felt like I was not good enough to learn French. As the taxi ride continued on, however, I felt like I wanted to give it another shot. Ça va? I asked the driver, Ça va, was his response, and like that, a conversation had begun. He asked us if we were from England to which we responded no. We then all talked about where we were from the U.S and, how we were here to study French. As the conversation continued I found myself being able to understand him more and more, and I began talking more and more, I told him my parents were from Poland, learned that his parents were from Italy. I talked about some French comedy films I’d seen and learned that he had plenty of family in the U.S etc. He told me that I spoke French very well (vous bien parlez en français, très très bien, he said excitingly), and was shocked when I told him I only had studied French for a year. Obviously, I was not speaking perfectly, and I’m sure I messed up pronunciation and conjugations and tenses frequently in the conversation, but he was able to understand what I was saying, and I him, and that’s all you need for a conversation.
When we got to our hotel he complimented our French one more time, and we thanked him for the ride. When I got off my friend Penny told me that she was so proud of me for how well I spoke French, and I was just in pure shock. I could not believe it, I just held my own in a conversation in a foreign language! It was truly an amazing experience, and I am so proud of myself. From this single experience, I learned about how important it is to just try when learning languages. As long as you can stick a sentence that makes sense together you will be fine, the locals will appreciate it so much and you will get practice, which is so important. As of now, my French obviously isn’t perfect, but I know I can make my way in this country. Unfortunately, I still find that my comprehension isn’t very good, it’s my weakest area, I simply cannot get everything they say unless I give my full undivided attention, and even then I struggle. But I’m here to learn and thanks to experiences such as my night in that cab, my French skills will improve.
I have been in France for about a week and a half now, and I simply cannot believe it. It’s been great and I cannot wait to share those stories with you all. But alas this is not my arrival in France blog post rather it is one focusing my on my journey to France ( I would have written this blog earlier but I have had absolutely no time at all for anything in the last week and a half ), and boy did I have an amazing journey.
My day started out in a rush. I started the day off with some pierogi or Polish dumplings, not really a breakfast food but it is a comfort food to me and I wanted one last taste of home before I set off for France. After that, I quickly filmed my departure day video,
packed up my final things, tried to say goodbye to my beagle (he just kept wanting snacks) and set off for the airport with my parents. Waiting in line to turn in my luggage for the flight was surreal, and before I knew it I was saying goodbye to my parents. I almost cried, I could not believe it, I just kept thinking about how much I loved them and how I would be so far from them so soon, it was hard, but I hugged them tightly and got in line for the TSA security check. I then waived at them and yelled “I love you” in
Polish over a crowd of people. I went through security, had my phone in my pocket and had to go through the scanner door thingy again (I don’t know what it’s called but you all know what I’m talking about), and then I was on the other side of the terminal, young, by myself, with a backpack and duffle bag, off to an international flight. I had just begun my adventure, and I truly felt like a traveler.
After this initial realization of where I was going, and what I was doing, I got myself into the open minded state of a young traveler, scared, eager, excited, ready to go, and open towards anyone and everyone. I only had 30 minutes before the boarding for my flight, but I took a few minutes standing by a giant window in the central terminal taking it all in. I then
ran towards the international terminal, took an underground train at the airport to get there, and then found myself in front of a Boeing 747, my favorite model of airplane, awaiting my flight. I was flying from Seattle to Paris via Frankfurt on Lufthansa a German airline, and I was super excited and ready to go. I did take a few moments to marvel at the double decker 747, and as I was in the process of marveling, a girl around my age approaches me. She asked if she could ask me something, I, a bit confused, said sure, and then she asked me if I go to Western, to which I responded yes. She then introduced herself as Daria, and informed me that she too goes to Western and was flying to study abroad in South Africa, she said she recognized me from the mandatory study abroad orientation at school. I then talked to her for a bit, got to know her a little, and found out she was blogging about her adventure as well for my school’s travel writer program (check her blogs out on WWU Study Abroad Blogs!), and was also going to a study abroad program organized by USAC
the same company in charge of mine. We then talked for a little more and began boarding the plane, we were seated on opposite sides of the aisle, so we did not board together, but I ran into her once or twice on my flight, either way, it was a wonderful coincidence to run into another person from my school on my flight, and it honestly kind of made myI entered the aircraft, I was greeted by a giant staircase, I took a few pictures of it, thought about how cool it would be to sit upstairs (it was for business class only) and continued to walk down the aisle to take my seat. I was then greeted by a positively perky and very British flight attendant, “Hello darling” she said, ” and where are we off to today” ” Paris” was my response, “I’m studying abroad in France”. She then smiled and said
“Paris, ooh la la , très bien” and I smiled laughed and said ” au revoir” as I went to take my seat. I had a window seat, and I looked out and saw the giant wing of our plane, I was awed by its size. Then the man next to me introduced himself to me. His name was Rick, he was a graphic designer for video games and he was moving to Sweden to work for EA. We talked for a bit, I introduced myself, and before I knew it we were in the air flying over my home. The view from the plane was beautiful and I could not stop looking out my window, I then played around with my seat monitor to load the map and see where we were flying, loaded a playlist of top European songs on the monitor, sat back and relaxed. It was then time for the first drink service, and being on a German airline I decided to get some beer, which I was given without even being carded. I then found myself drinking legally (the drinking age is 18 in Germany), and listening to European pop music at 34,000 ft., it felt pretty darn cool.
Later on in the flight, it was dinner. I was given the option to have pasta or beef, and I chose beef, I also ordered some red wine to go with it. The food was alright. After dinner, while the flight attendants were collecting trash, I decided to ask the very nice flight attendant from when I boarded if it would be alright to go upstairs and see what the upper deck looks like. I was a bit intimidated to do so because upstairs was business class, but I asked anyways, and to my surprise, she said yes and that she would get me soon for the tour. I was ecstatic. I waited for about 30 minutes, after which the pilot turned to lights off for sleeping, and she told me that we would have to go in a few hours, I was a bit disappointed but nonetheless happy she would still take me. I then sat back and talked to Rick a little more, learning about his daughter, his wife, and his dog. I also talked to Maryanne, an older woman sitting on the aisle side of our row and learned she
was traveling to Albania with her friend to explore southeast Europe. All three of us talked to each other for a bit, and it was such a cool feeling, I once again felt like a young traveler going out in the world and meeting new people, it was a wonderful opportunity. I then sat back watched a movie on the seat monitor (I finally saw Hidden Figures, it was really good), and 2 hours zoomed by. After the film, I stayed awake cracking open my window to look at the arctic circle and taking my adventureagain two hours zoomed by and before I knew it, breakfast was being served. Soon after breakfast, we were already over Germany, getting ready to land, and the flight attendants were collecting trash. I wondered where the British flight attendant was, I still wanted my tour, and then there she was. She was extremely nice and very enthusiastic about showing me around the giant plane we were on. She first took me to the front of the lower deck which was in the nose section of the plane as the cockpit was upstairs. This area was also business class, and in no other passenger plane in the world is it possible to stand in the nose, as I was doing at that moment. Right then and there the plane began to slightly descend, and I could feel the nose tilt down, it was a unique
feeling. She then took me upstairs, and finally, I was on the upper deck of the plane. To the average person it might not be anything special, just a business class section on a plane, but to the airplane enthusiast that I am it was amazing. I walked up a staircase at 30,000 feet in the air and was now standing on the upper deck of a giant plane. Human engineering has brought us to that point, and that’s really cool to think about. I was able to catch a glimpse out of one of the windows up there, and it was so fascinating to see the how much higher the view was, I could also see the size of the engines of the plane from an upper angle, and let me tell you they were huge (I wish I had pictures, but I don’t think I was allowed to take any). She then took my downstairs, I thanked her and took my seat. Right then the captain informed us we were beginning our descent into the Frankfurt area. Once we landed and the plane was parked, I gathered my stuff and began to exit the plane. I saw the kind flight attendant again and once again thanked her. She patted me on the shoulder, and I
shook her hand, I asked her for her name and it was Beverly, I introduced myself as well and she responded with a “très bien” saying there was a Sebastian on her crew. I then bid her an “au revoir”, and exited the plane. After the flight, I once again met up with Daria, and we briefly talked about the flight. She also informed me that had a very long layover and was going to visit a nearby town in Germany, which I thought was really cool. I wish I could have gone with her, but I only had 3 hours till my next flight. As we were about to enter customs, we had to part ways as she was heading in a different direction than I was. I wished her well and headed toward the customs that would let me out toward my gate. When I got to customs, there was almost no one there, I took the line for European citizens (I have a Polish passport) which had no one in it and simply scanned my passport on a machine, and voila I was in the EU. I then wandered around the airport for a bit, waiting for my flight, ran into Rick waiting for his flight, and after about 3 hours began boarding my plane to Paris. Soon after take-off, the flight attendants gave us drinks and a small sandwich, and I sat back relaxed, ate my food, listened to some bosa nova music, and before I knew it I was in, as I sit here, already settled in at my dorm in Lyon. I cannot help but think about the act of traveling or being en route. My journey to Paris was amazing and I am so thankful for how it turned out. Many people hate traveling, and they have valid reasons. Traveling is exhausting, it’s hard to get decent sleep when you travel a lot of the time you’re cramped into little tiny seats on a bus plane or train, but I love it nonetheless. Being settled in in another place sure is great, and I love it as well, but there is something truly amazing and awe inspiring about traveling. When you travel you are constantly in motion, in a new place, catching glimpses of new scenes and seeing new things. There is this surreal feeling about being en route, and it gives you time look at the ever-changing landscape around your, reflect about your own life, and think about how amazing it is that you’re in motion. To me anyways there is something calming about that. Traveling helps you realize how big, beautiful, and unique our world is, and every time I travel I fall in love with the world all over again.
Now, as I sit here, already settled in at my dorm in Lyon. I cannot help but think about the act of traveling or being en route. My journey to Paris was amazing and I am so thankful for how it turned out. Many people hate traveling, and they have valid reasons. Traveling is exhausting, it’s hard to get decent sleep when you travel a lot of the time you’re cramped into little tiny seats on a bus plane or train, but I love it nonetheless. Being settled in in another place sure is great, and I love it as well, but there is something truly amazing and awe inspiring about traveling. When you travel you are constantly in motion, in a new place, catching glimpses of new scenes and seeing new things. There is this surreal feeling about being en route, and it gives you time look at the ever-changing landscape around your, reflect about your own life, and think about how amazing it is that you’re in motion. To me anyways there is something calming about that. Traveling helps you realize how big, beautiful, and unique our world is, and every time I travel I fall in love with the world all over again.
Hello!!! Thank you so much for deciding to read this blog, it means the world to me! As I finish up my spring quarter here at Western Washington University, I find myself extremely excited for the journey I’m about to undertake. This summer I will finally be fulfilling one of my childhood dreams of going to France. I will be studying abroad in Lyon, France, for 4 and a half weeks earning credit for my French minor and traveling as much as possible. After the end of my program, I intend to travel for a bit and make my way to Poland where I will visit family and an old childhood friend for a few weeks, and then finally head back to the States. This will leave me with about 2 months in Europe.
Traveling has always been a passion of mine, and ever since I was little I would dream of all the places I would one day go. France, England, Eygpt (those pyramids, I must see them!!!!), the Caribbean, etc. I have always had the travel bug as they call it. Each summer growing up, I would nag my mom and beg her to take me to a place I wanted to go to. When she would say that it was too expensive, I would complain and beg her all the more. I would tell her that it was my passion, and she would snap back in her native Polish, saying something like “masz drogie pasje” (you have expensive passions). After arguing with her I would begrudgingly accept that we could not afford to travel very far and gladly go where ever we could, even if that meant camping for a weekend.
My family and I did, however, have a few opportunities to travel. My mother works at a hotel and as a result, sometimes we were able to find discounted room rates all across cities in the US (LA, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas, D.C, Portland). I also have a few aunts and uncles in eastern Canada, and we were able to visit them a few times as well. Of course, whenever we would get to our destination, my parents both wanted to relax, especially my mom who just wanted to lay on the beach. But no I wanted to explore. I would throw a fit and nag at them to take me to the city to see all the cool artifacts, to go on all the tours, to see and do everything I could do.
Now that I am older and have the opportunity to travel for myself I cannot believe it. Being the person I am I believe this will be an important life experience for me, one in which I will grow and learn from. I have always struggled with anxiety and self-esteem, and when I hit puberty, I found myself struggling with depression (although I did not know it at the time). I struggle with confidence and anxiety to this day, and although I would no longer say I am depressed, there are still days when I struggle. By no means do I believe that this trip will magically make those struggles go away, but this trip does allow me to explore a passion of mine, and that can be extremely therapeutic. I also find myself in a point of my life where I want to explore myself, my identity, who I am, how others see me, what makes me happy, etc. Similarly, I know that studying abroad will not fully answer these deep questions, but I know that exploring this passion is the next step in the process that is finding these answers. Both with my mental health and existential questions I do not want to fall into the trap of thinking that studying abroad is the magic solution, but I do not want to deny the fact that studying abroad will have a meaningful impact on my life. No matter what, I am confident that I will come back a better, more well-rounded, and happier person.
Having these realizations has made me want to document this experience, via this blog and my corresponding vlog. I want to post and film my thoughts, feelings, and emotions so that I can have something to look back on when this is all over, and so I can share this amazing process with my friends and family so they can witness my growth as it happens. I’m also writing my blogs and vlogging, for my own mental health. I love expressing and sharing myself with my friends and family, and so blogging/vlogging will trigger my mind’s reward system. This blog/ vlog series will also act as a journal for me to keep while I am abroad, and I will be able to reflect on the positive aspects of the journey, as well as vent about the negative aspects. Doing this will be extremely cathartic for me. Finally, I was given the opportunity to be able to share my blogs with Western’s study abroad office through their travel writing program, which I am very thankful for. I hope that my stories and experiences are what inspire others to explore their passions.