The Halfway Point: Update About Life Abroad

The Halfway Point: Update About Life Abroad

By Rosie Lacy

Adjusting to Life Abroad

As I approach the halfway point of my experience abroad, I feel as though I am fully adjusted to life in France. I have gotten into a pretty stable weekly routine which has definitely helped Lyon to feel like a new home for me. In my program, we have 4 hours of class on Mondays. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. We have Wednesdays off. Interestingly,  for many years all school children in France have school off on Wednesdays (until about 2014), now schools in France have more flexibility around their schedules but many elementary & middle schools continue to have class-free Wednesdays. This was something that was very surprising to me as an American. Although there has been somewhat of a discussion in America about 4-day work/school weeks, we always seem to discuss Mondays or Fridays as the day that will become work-free, thus making for a longer weekend. This is why I found it especially strange that France chooses to break mid-week. However, I have come to really enjoy my Wednesdays off. I have traveled on many of the weekends that I’ve been abroad, so Wednesdays are usually when I explore more of Lyon and do all of my chores/errands (laundry, grocery shopping etc.). This day off mid-week has been very helpful in establishing myself in a routine that doesn’t feel too busy, but that also allows me to fit in all that I want to do! 

“Culture Shock” Moments in France 

One thing that you are always warned about before studying abroad is the culture shock that you will experience. While I didn’t experience quite as much culture shock as I had anticipated, there were definitely quite a few things that surprised me as an American in France. The first thing that surprised me upon my arrival was that “one-stop shops” are few and far between here. There is maybe one store that could be compared in some ways to a Target or a Walmart, but usually, they are located further from city centers. Even thinking on a smaller scale, I have yet to come across any store that could be compared to a CVS/Walgreens, where you can get just about any essentials you need (medicine, makeup, snacks, paper goods, etc.). Here in France, the pharmacies truly only sell medicines and other health/well-being-related products. Although this makes perfect sense, it was still something that came as a surprise to me when I arrived here. Another thing that surprised me was the low cost of baked goods. While France is no stranger to inflation, you can still get a baguette, or a pastry for under 2€ ($2.17) at most places. This is something that really surprised me considering in America the only pastries you can get for that price are usually found at Dunkin’ (not quite as fresh as the ones from a French bakery). It has also been interesting to adjust to the pace of life here. Despite being in a city setting, things still occur at a leisurely pace. People often don’t rush to get things done, which can be inconvenient at times, but also allows for a more relaxed feel in day-to-day life. Like in many European countries, when out to lunch you have to go up to the counter to pay, or signal for the waiter to bring the check. Servers do not check in frequently and leave you to enjoy your meal. This is quite the opposite of in the United States where waiters are constantly checking in with you about your meal, in a way that can often feel like they are rushing you out of the restaurant. Although this has definitely been an adjustment from America, I have really enjoyed a more slow-paced lifestyle.  

American Stereotypes Abroad

Something else that has been really interesting to see while abroad is the perceptions others have of America. My classes are comprised of students from all over the world, so these stereotypes are not necessarily from the French point of view, however, they were very interesting to me nonetheless. In America, we hold many stereotypes about countries all over the world, but we also are aware of many stereotypes of America, especially within the different regions of the U.S.. In France, I have heard some of those same stereotypes, but many that were quite different than expected. Upon finding out I was American, one of my classmates asked me, “Is it true that most Americans take a plane to work every day?”. At first, I laughed, until I realized this was a genuine image that she had of Americans. I explained to her that while there may be some (quite wealthy) people in America who fly almost daily for work, it is definitely not the majority. Most people only travel by plane for business, on much less frequent occasions. Considering the size of the United States compared to many other countries across the world, this idea perhaps isn’t too far-fetched, however, I explained further to some of my classmates that most Americans work within fairly close proximity to their homes. I explained that those who live further from their place of work will usually drive or take the train, but very rarely fly. I have also found that people are often shocked when discovering that I am American and am able to speak conversationally in French, I would say most French people consider Americans to be unwilling to learn foreign languages, and thus expect them to speak only in English. Often when discovering that I am American (usually because of my accent) French people will start speaking to me in English regardless of my efforts to speak in French.

I look forward to learning more about France and the French culture in my remaining 2 months in Lyon. 

Roseanne Lacy is studying Psychology and French at Salve with minors in Neuroscience and Applied Behavior Analysis. She is studying abroad at the Catholic University of Lyon in France to further expand her knowledge of the French language and French culture as a part of our French program here at Salve. 

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