A French Perspective on the Study Abroad Experience

In my next post I wanted to address some questions that many people have about studying abroad. As my time in France comes to and end, I took some time to reflect on what has happened over the past three months. I have to say it’s been absolutely everything I imagined and more!

  • What is it like living with a host family? Can I still “do my own thing”?

Personally I live with a host family and absolutely love it. There is a sense of security, belonging and welcoming that cannot be matched by living in an apartment. Deciding to live with a host family was quite difficult because it comes with some risks. For me I wouldn’t change my choice one little bit. In my case the family completely let me “do my own thing” because they understood that I am a college student who is interested in many different things from traveling to nights out in Lyon. The best thing to do is talk with your host family and if you can’t get home at a reasonable time just crash at a friend’s place. I have learned that communication is the most important part of your relationship with your host family. Whether it’s to say that you won’t be home for dinner or that you decided to stay with a friend for the night, they just want to know!

  • What will the local food be like?

Lyon is known as the gastronomical capital of France and it truly does not disappoint. In Lyon there is20160303_130043428_iOS a place called Vieux Lyon where you can find restaurants called “bouchon” serving typical Lyonnaise dishes. Two of my favorite dishes from Lyon are the Salade Lyonnaise and the praline. Salade Lyonaise is lettuce with bacon, dressing and a poached egg. The egg is s12915145_984090504977554_2024956142_oerved either warm or cold however either way it is delicious. The praline is a Lyonnaise specialty that is a mixture of ground almonds, sugar and pink food coloring. They mix the praline into tartes, cookies, macaroons, brioche and many other pastries. In Vieux Lyon we found a boulangerie that sells a majority of its food with homemade praline.

At home we eat soups and gratins for lunches and dinners. My favorites are the romanesco and eggplant gratins. Unfortunately romanesco isn’t found in New England but it is quite popular in France. It is a mix between cauliflower and broccoli. For soups my two favorite are zucchini and butternut squash. My host mom only uses two ingredients in her soups: vegetable and water. I think this is what makes it taste so good, the simplicity of the recipe. Of course when you are in France you can’t forget about the cheese. It is typical for French families to have cheese trays in their fridges normally with 2 or 3 types. My host family enjoy chevre (goat cheese) and conte. Normally for desert we have yogurt or fruit salad. The yogurts are plain but we add sugar or jelly. The jelly we have at home is handmade by my host mom every summer and she has stacks of jars all over the kitchen. Generally we go through 3 jars every couple weeks. My favorite part is the leftovers because I get to take them to school the next day!

  • What is a typical day like for you, especially within your host city and study abroad program?

While studying abroad there is no “typical day”. I’ve noticed that for me every day if different. You have to learn to be flexible with plans and adapt to the culture around you. I have never lived in a city before but living in the second largest city in France has been an adjustment. Quickly I realized that public transportation would become my friend. One thing that never changes in my daily schedule is my bus, the C20. Every day I take this bus from home to school and switch to another bus along the way. The total time is about 25 minutes. Once I get to Perrache, the main bus station, I only have a five minute walk to uni (this is what we call university in France). At uni they have a small cafeteria similar to Wakehurst at Salve. After I arrive at school everything during the day is unpredictable. The day might include two classes or one class but the majority of my classes this semester were 3 hours long. This is quite a difference from Salve but I adjusted quickly. In my program at ESDES we had a lot of group projects and therefore were constantly meeting with groups to put together weekly presentations. I never knew at the start of the day what time I would be leaving uni because it always depended on other students. However I returned home for dinner every night which is quite later in France than the States. I am still not fully adjusted to the late eating lifestyle of the French but I am improving. On a normal day we will eat around 8pm and finish around 8:45pm. In the states I was used to eating around 6 so this still is an adjustment. Also my some of my Spanish friends mention that they eat even later at 9:30/10pm so I shouldn’t be complaining. Anyways my schedule from day to day always changed except for the beginning and ending to the day always remained the same.

  • What’s your student travel advice? What should other Salve students know before they go abroad?

Traveling is a bit tiring but extremely rewarding. In the beginning of the semester I made a list of places I would like to visit and so far I have visited 8 out of the 11 places. The next step to plan a trip was finding people who wanted to travel to the same places as me. Once I found a place and people to go with the next step was finding accommodation and transportation. The planning includes finding a hostel/Airbnb. Sometimes the Airbnb is cheaper with more people then you look for the best form of transportation. For transportation the bus will almost be cheaper but also longer. It is important to always compare flights and prices in order to find the cheapest ones available. Some of the low cost airlines include EasyJet, Ryanair, and other companies that have basic fare prices tend to be lower cost. Furthermore you have to be careful because some airports can be more expensive than others due to their unique location. For example Lyon airport is smaller than most and isn’t known for its cheap flights however you can always travel to nearby airports to find cheaper tickets. Also I highly recommend participating in all the events the program arranges because it gives you the opportunity to meet people in your program and find people to travel with as well.

  • “I’m not sure if I still want to go abroad because I don’t want to miss opportunities at Salve”

Salve will still be there when you return from studying abroad. It is not going anywhere and it is easy to keep in touch with professors and friends who are still at Salve. Also, this is a one in a lifetime experience and it’s not worth worrying about what’s happening at home when you will be experiencing a whole new way of life. Just one thing about keeping in touch, it goes in waves. There are times when you can talk to friends every day and times when you can’t talk for weeks cause your traveling or have some schoolwork. This is completely ok and you shouldn’t be worried about this especially because there are many new people to meet from around the world.

  • “Why should I study abroad?” Are you happy with your decision to study abroad? If yes, explain why.

Overall I am very happy about my decision to study abroad. This is absolutely a personal decision that will take a lot of courage to both think about and then make. Of course we have times where we are completely overwhelming while studying abroad but that’s the fun part about going to a foreign place. I have learned more than I could have every expected from both French language and culture but also talking with friends from other countries outside of America and learning about their homes. Being in an international program does not compare to anything else. When you have the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone please take it!

  • Is it safe to study abroad?

This question has become more relevant this year due to the multiple terrorist attacks happening in Europe. While in Lyon there have been military men stationed in the main train stations and because of the latest events in Brussels are walking the street now too. Study abroad is safe depending on where you go but you cannot predict attacks just no one could predict the Brussels attack. However I would like to add one thing about the refugees in Europe.

Currently in France and specifically in Lyon you can heavily feel the presence of refugees. You see them camping under bridges, in the tram stops, and even selling newspapers in the street. A couple months ago my host sister told me there were hundreds of tents pitched under one of the entrances to the tunnels. However the number has dwindled down to much less. Today in Lyon I pass these tents every day and wonder to myself how did they get here? how are they living like that? You will also see Syrian refugees carrying their suitcases at the main tram stops and sleeping there as well because they have no place to go. Lastly, it is quite common to be approached by someone who hands you what you think is a free newspaper. Once you take the paper they follow up by asking for euros and money for the newspaper. The people handing out these newspapers are refugees who need to make some extra money. This tends to put you in an awkward situation and most people just hand back the newspaper. For me Lyon continues to be a safe place to live and I would not want to live anywhere else.

I hope this helps those of you out there interested in study abroad and it gives you some insight into the life of a study abroad student.



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