I have now been studying in France for two weeks and it has been quite a ride. Between learning to live away from home with people I’ve only just really met, to going to school with almost all my classes in French, to traveling around southern France and meeting someone new everyday, the action never seems to stop. Each day is a new journey learning French and living in France. There have been emotional ups and downs and a new understanding of culture shock, but through it all it has been one of the most eye opening experiences of my life.
Each day is new day of both confusion and greater understanding. One of the obvious sources of this being French. Living in France and not speaking French fluently has been a struggle, especially in the beginning. There are always moments when I don’t understand what people are saying to me and they don’t understand what I’ve said to them. With this there are many moments of blank faces of confusion from both them and me. This experience also happens when I speak with people in English, and can be quite funny to be on the other side for once. Often people want to speak English with me. The problem with this is that people speak well in English, but as soon as I start talking their understanding ends there. In these moments when the tables are turned, I don’t feel so alone in my journey of living in a constant state (on some level) of confusion.
One of these times was at a meal with a friend of my host family. They wanted me to explain something that I didn’t have the ability to explain in French. One of the people there spoke English and asked me to explain in English. I started to explain the story (trying to keep a slow pace), but after a few seconds of talking everyone went quiet and had absolutely blank faces. Then seconds later, everyone began to laugh. Forgetting myself, in the middle of telling the story I had sped up, and no one could understand what I had said. This exact thing happens to me everyday but in French, and the fact that other people were at the same place if I spoke English was humbling, and gave me a little hope to keep trying each day to speak and understand French as best I can.
Not understanding both words and culture has become part of life in France, and school is where this happens most. School in France was the biggest culture shock I have experienced so far. I really like school in the USA. Classes are fun and during them there is a lot of discussion and interaction between teachers and students. And although the classroom is a serious place, it can also be a place to joke around and have a little banter. In France this is not so. Teachers are very strict and serious, and each class is a lecture. The formality of school in France was incredibly surprising on the first few days, but now I have come to get used to it and realize it’s just the French way.
Like the teachers, the students are distant too. At my school in the United States, if there are international students, everyone wants to talk to them or at the least go up and greet them. In France, my experience has been the opposite of this. People have kept to themselves. Only after after a week of school did the other students begin to reach out. The other half of this is that when French students want to talk its usually in English, which I don’t want to speak because I’m here to learn French. And when they speak in French it’s spoken so fast I can’t understand. Yet, I have gotten past these difficulties and found a way to communicate. In the end it’s nice to talk to someone in whatever language it may be.
There are also many things I’ve enjoyed about my time here. My host family is incredibly nice, and during the few days of summer we went to the beach everyday, one of my favorite things to do. Also meeting other exchange students and French students has been exciting. Literally everyday at school I meet and speak to someone new. There’s so much to learn here, and I have nine more months to try and learn all I can from this experience which can only go up from here.