Before writing this post, I was thinking about titling it “What Not to Do in France,” considering that I had spent this past summer studying abroad there.
But then again, I was thinking that I could apply it on a broader scale, to other college students who are thinking of, or having already been through, the study abroad program at their universities.
The trajectory of this post will be divided into two parts: 1) my personal experience of/reflections on studying abroad and 2) a quick list of do’s and don’t’s while in France (or any foreign country, really).
Shall we begin? 🙂
During my first two years in college, I had never really thought about actually doing a study abroad program. Well, I had dreamed about maybe going to places like England, China, or France, but back then I was a science major (a field that doesn’t offer many opportunities to do so, or at least not the ones that I was interested in), so I never seriously considered it an option. Even when I switched over to English, I still wasn’t on board for overseas learning (pun intended). That was before I declared my French minor (at that point in time, I was only taking French classes to satisfy my foreign language requirements for the university and my major).
So, to put it in more concise terms, it took many steps (and years!) before I finally decided to study abroad in France.
And so I did, during my third year in college. Filled out all of the applications and waivers and stuff during the Winter, attended orientation sessions in the Spring, and was finally on the airplane to Paris in June.
I tell you, it was an amazing experience. Although one month wasn’t too long of a stay, those five weeks in a foreign country not only helped me improved my French, but also inspired me to return again some day (more to come in the future!).
For those who are interested in studying abroad, I say go for it. Really, what do you have to lose? Granted, it doesn’t come cheap, but there are so many financial and scholarship opportunities that will help pay for at least part of the cost. I don’t even qualify for financial aid, but I still managed to receive several scholarship and awards to pay for around one-third to half of the price. It can’t hurt to apply. The experience will make up for all of that hard work and stress in the months prior. I guarantee it.
As promised, I have compiled a brief list of what to do/not to do while studying abroad, or even just visiting France (or, again, any foreign country). I hope you find it useful (even humorous). Onward! 😉
1. While you don’t have to speak it fluently, try to know some words/expressions in French. Even saying “bonjour” when first meeting a local will definitely give off a good impression. You can always say afterwards, “I’m not very good at French, but can you speak English?” Most French people will be sympathetic towards you, because of this.
2. Especially if you’re in Paris, always carry around with you these two items: a map of the city (the structure of the city can be very confusing to first-timers) and an umbrella (weather in Paris is temperamental; one minute it’s hot as hell, the other pouring rain).
3. Take the Metro. Super efficient and you can go almost everywhere with it.
Also, if you will be staying in the city for more than two weeks, it would be very useful to purchase the Navigo Pass for the metro. Its a card that you can easily swipe to get into the station. It’s less of a hassle than it is to constantly buy tickets that you have to feed through the slots before you can enter the place.
1. Don’t be too loud, especially when talking. Even in a noisy place like the Metro, the French use their inside voices. If you’re talking too loud, you will be singled out as “not French.”
Another thing about noise is to be quiet when closing doors/drawers/etc. Basically, don’t slam doors or let them slam. I had such a hard time being quiet in my host mom’s house, because no matter how hard I tried, it was never quiet enough for her. 😛 Ah, c’est la vie…
2. Unless you’re really close friends with them, never give the French a hug. It’s too much and, according to them, it’s like a full-body assault! What they do instead are cheek-kisses, which we Americans/non-French aren’t very comfortable with (trust me; I had to do it a couple of times in France and I felt uncomfortable), but it’s their culture. So try to respect that.
3. Don’t give tips. Strange, I know, but it’s already included in the bill. Unless it was outstanding service and you feel oblige to show your gratitude, you could try, but it’s not necessary.
Voila! I hope this helps for your next stay in France, or wherever you choose to go. Bon voyage! 🙂
– The Finicky Cynic