La rentréeNantes, Fall 2011
My Experience in France
I never expected France to accommodate me. When I knew I would be studying abroad in Nantes, and living with a local family, I expected myself to be challenged, shocked, uncomfortable, and changed. I didn’t expect to just stay on the green side. It would be impossible to have a complete experience without confronting the unexpected: cultural clashes, stereotypes, prejudice, and the social realities masked in the parade of France’s tourism industry.
My only and most important piece of advice to anyone considering studying in Nantes is to not leave your experience only in the hands of the IES staff. If something goes wrong, it is not their fault. If you are not completely satisfied with your host family, don’t generalize your observation to the entire French population. Be objective, and be ready to face the reality that a different culture may inevitably clash with your beliefs, ideas, and customs. Many students become easily frustrated with the commonly held belief that French people hate United States people. If you pack this belief along with you to Nantes, you will only confirm your own bias by reinforcing a specific attitude. My main point is that I think it is extremely important that you engage in the French culture with a constructive approach: be ready to be taught, and not just the different conjugations. Don’t think that the entire country is prepared for your arrival, because the majority of the population is going to continue to live their normal lives, and it is you that will go to learn from them.
Take as many classes as you can at the Faculté, with other French and international students in diverse fields. This is where you will really be able to delve into the real French university system, and talk to other students about contemporary French society. It was the best decision I made during my semester. Though you may have your own objective for your study abroad experience, consider making your personal challenges and development an integral component, and do so by disturbing your comfort zone with new faces and perspectives.
After studying abroad in Spain, and having immigrated to the United States at a young age, I’ve learned that even the most unpleasant and uncomfortable experiences abroad are what teach you the most. So don’t let the negative aspects ruin your experience, and when something bad happens, don’t blame it on the French. Learn from them, whether you believe you are right or wrong.
I’ve been back in Portland, Oregon for the last month and a half. Unfortunately, things didn’t allow for me to return for my second semester in Nantes. Yet, the experience I had during the fall was enough for me to create a lasting relationship with my host family, new friends, and the French language. I haven’t begun to “lose my french”, as most people say they do. I’ve been in contact with my host family on a weekly basis, and I get to skype with them and talk to them on the phone often. I can confidently say they are the primary reason I want to return to France!
Things back at my home university have not changed much, and I miss the university and education system in France. I miss having classes with students from very diverse backgrounds, who speak a variety of languages, discuss familiar topics through a completely different perspective. Fortunately, my French professor here in Portland is one of the most amazing on campus, and class is still as enjoyable.
I’ve planned to visit my host family in May, and am very excited about it. I miss them very much and appreciate everything they taught me and shared with me. Our cultural exchange is one that I will never forget; by teaching me about their culture, I really began to think about and consolidate my own ethnic identity. Kudos to IES for choosing such an incredible family!
Back in Oregon I am enjoying the rainy days, the few days of snow in the mountains, and of course, time with my family!
You May also like: