9 Things I Didn’t Expect When I Came to France

I had studied French during all four years of high school and learned a decent bit about their culture, so I figured I had a decent idea of how France would be like before I studied there. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Here are nine of the things that I wasn’t really expecting before coming to France and some tips to help you overcome them!

1. Clothes: Everyone wears jeans and only jeans. And if you’re a girl, its high-waisted jeans. I tried this for the first few days, then I realized I hated being so dang hot 24/7. I really don’t know how they do it. What’s even crazier is the fact that they are usually wearing jackets too. Absolute madness!!! Now, I just wear my nice shorts and welcome the stares from everyone(may or may not be because the shorts).

Tip: Bring at least two different pairs of jeans if you want to fit in and not get the endless stares like me!

2. Appearance: I really stick out in a crowd. Everywhere I go, I always get many people staring at me. It could be the shorts, could be the fact I’m about a foot taller than everyone else or that I look like I’m from the USA(some have thought Netherlands). I didn’t expect that everywhere I went, I would constantly get stared at because of my appearance.

Tip: Don’t be tall or wear colored, pastel shorts like me.

3. Driving: The drivers here are CRAZY!! They weave in and out of lanes, dodge motorcycles that seem to have no rules and do it all while staying calm, cool and collected. Not to mention, they actually let drivers over when they have their signal on, and they do all of this without undercover cops patrolling the streets to hand out tickets(they use cameras). The best way to describe their driving is organized chaos. It is 10x worse than anything in the USA, trust me.

Tip: Don’t drive yourself unless necessary. Take the metro or walk and burn off those calories from the cheese and bread!

4. Food: Before I came to France, I assumed I’d be eating a lot of French food. Crazy right? But everything in Paris and the major cities has been Westernized and it was like eating back at home, except not as good. Even when we wouldn’t be in residential areas it seemed like all you could find were burger shops and Italian restaurants. Of course, you can go get an amazing crepe at just about any place you go, but you’re hard pressed to find restaurants with truly French cuisine. Don’t fret though, you can still find great food(like the fish and chips above) you’ll just have to search a little harder.

The main thing I didn’t expect when it came to food, was the fact that the seafood tastes could be so different in France than the USA. When I stayed at Mont St-Michel, I ordered a Fruit de Mer(fruits of the sea). I was looking forward to eating some scallops, shrimp, fish, mussels and crab. I was in for quite the surprise when they brought me out a plate with only one of those. My first reaction was to literally throw the plate across the room. Yeah, a little over the top, but it was warranted. It was one of the most unappetizing dishes I had ever seen. I gave it the ol’ college try and had some of these alien snails, prawns that had their insides explode on my hands and much, much more. If you’re like my brothers right now, you’re thinking I’m just a picky eater. That might be true, but even my parents couldn’t choke down this food. Needless to say, it was the worst food experience of my life and it still gives me the heeby-geezies thinking about it. Don’t worry too much though, I had fantastic lamb after that and the best vanilla ice cream I have ever had for dessert.

Tip: Try and ask locals where the best restaurants are and try and eat outside of the touristy areas. Also, try and clarify what exactly you will be getting and don’t assume it is the same as at home.

5. Language: They. Talk. So. Fast. When I listen to them speak it is like one long word that never stops. Add in the fact that they are speaking a foreign language and you’re completely toast figuring out what they are asking/telling you. And before you say, “Well why did you go to a country you don’t speak the language”, I DO!!! I am not fluent, but I know enough to be dangerous. Hopefully by the end of the summer I will be proficient enough to understand everyone and communicate much easier.

Whenever we went out my parents would typically ask them right away if they spoke English and typically the waitress/waiter did. We were at a nice fish and chips place(Poissonpare, highly recommended) on the Loire River in Nantes and my parents went through the usual routine and found out our waitress didn’t speak English and really didn’t seem very interested in having us eat there. So I stepped in and starting using my French skills to ask questions and order all the food for us. Everything changed after that. Our waitress was peppy and sweet, and no longer looked like she wanted to throw us into the Loire. When I went to pay, she was very sweet and was trying to tell me something in French, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying because she was speaking a million miles an hour. After, having her repeat it multiple times, she ended up telling me in broken English “congrats on your French, it’s very good”. HA! I didn’t even understand her complimenting me on my French. So much for being very good… In all seriousness though, it made my day. Let this be a reminder to always try your best to use the local language when visiting a foreign country because you never know what can come from it.

Tip: Know some French before coming. Also, make an effort to show you are trying and they will typically be helpful and speak in English.

6. Beaches: France has some amazing beaches… and they’re not even on the Mediterranean. I usually associated Italy, Thailand and Fiji with having nice beaches, but France definitely had a surprise in store for me!

For my parents last day in Nantes, we drove 1.5 hours outside of Nantes to Ile de Noirmoutier on the Atlantic Coast. What I thought would be an okay day trip turned into us discovering the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to. It had nice sand, a great town around it, nice blue-green water and many trails that led to semi-private, picturesque beaches. I may not have been able to get into the water because it was still too chilly, I can say with confidence it is one of the best beaches in France and everyone should go soak up the sun on the beautiful Les Dames beach of Noirmoutier.

Tip: Don’t skip out on the Atlantic Coast beaches. They may not be as famed as the Riviera, but they are just as beautiful.

7. Smoking: I had no idea how many people smoked in France. I am used to seeing a few people a day back at home, but when we were going through France about 50% of people smoked. No, I’m not exaggerating. It was absolutely mindboggling for me, because I now see more people smoking in 5 minutes than I would in an entire day at home. Basically the only place they can’t smoke is inside the restaurants and hotels. If you have issues with smoke, COME PREPARED!!

Tip: Eat inside restaurants if the smoke bothers you.

8. Tourists: I hate being ‘that tourist’, but there are just too many of them out there. We came when it isn’t even peak season, and I completely hated some of the places(Palace of Versailles) that I knew I would like, simply because there were 10x too many people there. I couldn’t enjoy the palace, the Musee Orsay and many other places because you would be packed in like sardines with people who don’t care that you’re trying to enjoy the moment.

At one point in the palace, some short little kid was bumping into me and I had mumbled something like “Watch out little guy”. Turns out it really was just that! An extremely short man, twice my age.

Tip: Visit main tourist attractions during the middle of the week. Also, plan your visits outside of the peak season of June, July and August.

9. Markets: Before I came here, I assumed everyone did their shopping like we do in the USA. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. First off, everyone here has to have their own reusable bags or a cart and if you don’t they will make you buy one. Secondly, most people walk to the market just about every day. They’ll get their fruits and veggies, protein for the day and a delicious baguette. When I realized this, I was thinking, “You mean they don’t hoard away 17 years of food in their basement fridge? Weird.” After going shopping a few times, I realized I definitely like this better. You always have fresh food. You get to exercise and burn off all those calories from the cheeses and baguettes. You just feel healthier.

Tip: Buy a few reusable bags and enjoy the daily ritual of walking to the market for fresh produce.

This list is by no means all inclusive of everything that I didn’t expect, but it highlights the main topics. Be sure to follow the tips to help make your time in France easier and more fun!

P.S. Most of this is applicable to every country I visited in Europe, so be prepared regardless of where you go!

The Power of a Postcard

I have always been a fan of hand written notes. I started sending postcards in preschool and my hobby for it has continued to grow throughout my life. I send about 10-15 postcards anytime I visit a new place. I started to send so many it got to where I would have to do a rotation of people to ensure I didn’t leave anyone out but that I also didn’t spend my whole budget on postcards.

During my time abroad, I have mailed over 40 postcards in 5 months. I decided that I would send postcards from each place I went to and also keep one for me. By doing this, I have been able to remind my friends and family back home that I am thinking about them. It is a cheap way to update people and show that you care. The process of picking out the postcard for each person is exciting too. You have to think about the sights they would’ve wanted to see and figure out what postcard fits their personality. It sounds a little extra, I know, but I enjoy it.

It has been fun collecting them as well. I have a postcard from each city I have visited and once I return home, I plan to make a collage of them. I wanted to get a souvenir from each place that was affordable and would mean something to me through the years. I am so glad I was able to carry out my tradition while abroad and share it with my family and friends.

Intro to Bregenz!

Opera stage floating on the lake – used for annual opera festival in Bregenz

Last Friday, I arrived in Bregenz, Austria! Bregenz is a small town near both the German and Swiss borders and on Lake Constance. The city only has around 30,000 people! I have been surprised by how many speak English here. This has been very helpful for me though, as I do not speak German!

Lake Constance

The day after my arrival, we headed to Feldkirch, Austria to kick off our travel. Since then, I have been getting to know Bregenz, which I will call home for a month total! I recommend spending time by the lake and especially the historic buildings and churches if you ever visit.

Watching the sunset by the lake

 

 

Posing with Bregenz City Hall, as I hope to work in public service!

Bregenz has a lot of hills, but its location near the Alps and its hills provide for beautiful views. I am staying with a host family, and every day, I see the Alps on my walks to school. Our school is near the lake and many of the businesses that sit at the heart of the town.

 

Mountain view I pass daily!

 

While I have barely begun my study abroad experience, I would recommend a smaller town for students looking to feel at home where they are studying. The people here have been very friendly, and the town has been easy to learn! I anticipate that Bregenz will also help me understand elements of Austrian culture more than a larger, more touristy city may have.

One of many historic Catholic churches

I am taking an international business course focused on sustainability and an international management course in Bregenz. On the weekends, I will be travelling around as much as I can. For my courses, I will be looking for internationalized brands and for sustainable business practices to compare and contrast these throughout the area. I am excited for these real-world lessons and to see what all I learn in and out of the classroom!

Thanks for reading! -Peggy S.

Exploring historic areas of Bregenz

 

Never Bored in Bordeaux

This Spring semester, I studied in Bordeaux, France. It’s in southwest France and is the hub of the wine-growing region in that area. Coming over to Bordeaux one of my luggage didn’t make a connecting flight. Even though, it took a while to receive I had to look at it as if, “it can only get better from here.” The next day at orientation I met some great, friendly Canadians, some nice Finnish girls, and some intelligent German girls; we had our newcomers friend group set.

Kedge Business School located in Talence, France was a very interesting and unique school that I attended. Semesters there are split into 5 or 6 cycles, and each cycle is a month. Each month you can take either 0 or up to 3 classes. For the month of March there are classes offered weekly instead of for the whole month. I took 2 classes in January, two classes in February, and classes the first 2 weeks of March; I was done with school for the semester by St. Patrick’s Day. I already had my return flight set for May 1st, so I could be back for Derby weekend. Since I was done with classes by mid-March, that gave me 6 weeks to just travel the world and try to see as much as possible.

The European (16 y/o-26 y/o) lifestyle is wild. They do not sleep. They survive and somehow thrive off of alcohol, tobacco, and red bull. I knew they like to drink over there, but I was not prepared for how late that stay out and that they can continue to just drink and drink. But I was also kind of envious of the majority European mindset. They live in the “Now”, and they’re not as stressed as us, Americans. They enjoy the time they have and they’re not afraid to learn from their past.

Being able to study abroad as a Senior was a great close to my collegiate career. I got to meet so many wonderful people, hear different sides to history, learn history I had no idea about, see things that just make you say “wow!”, a new appreciation for Nature and the Earth, and so much more.

Five Things I Will Incorporate into My American Life

 

  • Biking

A fun fact about The Netherlands is there are two bikes for every one person. I heard this going into Holland, but I never actually visualized what it would look like. There are bikes everywhere! Every time I walked across the road I was worried about getting hit by a bike. I truly did the “look right, left, and right again” walking around the city.  Within the first week of walking miles a day, I did the Dutch thing and bought a bike. I fell in love with my bike, because I used it every single day. Now, being back in the United Sates, I miss it more than ever. I will start taking weekend biking trips and remember the good times I had biking to the North Sea.

  • Easy/Spontaneous Travel

In the States, I can hop in my car and drive anywhere I want, but I usually just drive to school or to get food. In The Netherlands, traveling was just as easy if not easier. I didn’t have a car in Europe, but that didn’t stop me from waking up early to catch the first three-hour train to Paris, or jump on the ten euro Flix bus for an eight-hour drive to Belgium. When I was in Europe, I had a sense of adventure. I only realized that I can do the same kind of adventures right here in the States when I talked to the people from Europe asking me if I’ve visited California. I now know how easy it really is to just make a destination a goal and go for it.

  • Language

I’ve always had an interest in foreign languages, but I never actually understood the importance of them until I went to an international school. I knew a little bit of Spanish, and I even got into an introduction to Dutch class, but none of those were quite enough for me to actually communicate with some of my closest friends in their native language. Hanging around many Spanish speaking people, the once English-speaking majority soon became Spanish. I was unable to fully understand what my friends were saying, but I could see the expressions on their face which gave me a little bit of an idea. Being back in the States, I am going to make it a goal of mine to practice different languages with the help of my newly made international friends.

  • News

In Europe, I started every single day by reading the news. I got my news from Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other forms of online media postings. This was a great way for me to be able to stay in touch with my friends and family back home. The only problem with my news was that it was a majority from the United States. I realized that for me to learn what was happening around in Europe, I had to ask my friends and classmates. They briefed me on the major events that happened in The Netherlands and what was happening in their home countries. This showed me that I didn’t have the perspective of the world like I thought I had. I now start my day on talking to people I have met, because it is usually mid-day for them, and get caught up very quickly on what’s happening around the world.

  • Friends

Friends and Family are the most important things in life. This is something that I believe and hope that everyone understands. I was very lucky when I met a group of friends on the introduction day at The Hague that lasted until the day I left. Even though oceans are between us, we still stay up to date using Snap Chat and Instagram.

Breaking a Stereotype

Social media had a huge impact on the people of 2017, and will continue affecting people for years to come. Every time I got on Twitter, Facebook, and even LinkedIn, someone was posting about not being understood for who they are. Going abroad has allowed me to realize just how important it really is to understand someone for who they are instead of the stereotype that people portray them of being. To begin with, I went to study in The Hague, The Netherlands. On the opening day for the exchange program all one hundred and fifty exchange students, including three University of Louisville students which were the only United States citizens in the room, watched what the school thought was a great introduction video to break the ice. The instructor first began the video saying, “I know all of you have seen this video before, but we can watch it again.” The video consisted of a foreign television host making a fool out of President Donald Trump. I felt absolutely humiliated, because before I didn’t have the chance to speak to anyone, and everyone made their stereotype about The United States. It was only after everyone in the room was laughing at the obscene footage that the instructor asked if any Americans were in the room. Two others and I raised our hands in shame and humiliation. This story is not to convince anyone not to participate in study abroad, because it was an experience of a lifetime. This allowed me to break a stereotype to every single person I had met. Over the four-and-a-half-month period I was in Europe, I had the opportunity to prove that I was not a stereotype. “You can’t be American. You aren’t rude. You aren’t fat. You aren’t something.”  For the entire beginning of the trip, I had to prove to people who I wasn’t before they could get a chance to meet who I was. I had to break down cultural barrier that should have never been built in the first place, and needless to say, I loved it. I got to show my new friends from all over the world what made me a United States citizen, and I stopped letting stereotypes make a name for me. As much as I felt like a victim of being misunderstood, I was also culturally uneducated. I have heard many stereotypes of countries, and as much as I knew they couldn’t all be true, it did give me a bias. One night I vividly remember was my friends and I cornering all parts of the globe sat around and began to allow each other to explain where the stereotypes come from. By the end of the night, we were all laughing at the common belief of people that new absolutely nothing about the culture of our countries. Now, I can finally say I am culturally taught, but I could never be able to assume anything about anyone based on where they are from.

Differences between the U.K. and the U.S.

Before departure in my study abroad in London, England I thought what could be so different about the U.K. and the U.S.? They both speak English! The longer I was there, the more I noticed the subtle differences between the two. For the first most obvious one everyone probably knows, they drive on the opposite side of the road! They also heavily rely on public transportation. They have the tube, the famous double-decker buses, and trains. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of cars on the road, but there are even more people using public transportation. Another big difference that I noticed is that their restaurants, stores, and pubs close far earlier than ours. On weekdays their stores will close around 9 p.m. or earlier, restaurants around 10 p.m., and pubs by midnight. Another big difference is the variety of cultures. We call America a melting pot, but London indeed is a melting pot. While in London, I only met two people who were actually from London! Also, when we would go out to eat, we would see our server once when we were ready to order, when we got our food, and then when we got our check. Where in America our servers would probably check on us 5-7 times or more!

For one of our projects, we had to go to the tube and compare the differences in the advertisements we saw in London versus the advertisements in America. Some of the main differences we noticed are that ads in the tube are very wordy. They will have nearly a whole paragraph on an ad. Where in America, we are short, sweet, and to the point. We also rely a lot on visual aids to draw attention. Another large difference is they do not focus on interactive advertising as much as we do. We try to get consumers involved and interacting with us and one another. Where in the tubes they mainly used only traditional media. Our main conclusion was that London is about 5-10 years behind America on effective advertising.

My point here is that I was expecting things to be so similar to American culture, which in a lot of ways they were, but the more I explored London, the more differences I saw.

You Never Know What You Can Find

I didn’t realize how much studying abroad had changed me until I got home. Traveling and being surrounded by other cultures has affected how I view life back home in many ways. Each place that I visited had something unique about the culture and some sort of signature piece to the city. Being back in Louisville has made me curious as to what Louisville, Kentucky has to offer. I have never had any interest in exploring Louisville until now. I can’t help but think “if I was abroad here, what would I do, where would I go, and what would I want to see?” These questions have been on my mind ever since I landed at SDF.

I think my biggest take away from this experience is to learn as much as you can, no matter where you are. Although Louisville has never been voted “the most exciting city in America,” it is still unique and a very important city to me. We have the Kentucky Derby, Thunder Over Louisville, 4th Street Live, museums, and have been home to legends such as Muhammad Ali. Although these are all amazing things about Louisville, I have come to realize that what you find, wherever you are, will surprise you and be unexpected. There is more to this city that just the big-ticket items. I cannot wait to go explore Louisville and learn more about the culture that I have been surrounded by my entire life. I am excited to go see another side to Louisville and see what treasures I can find away from the main attractions.

10 Tips for Studying Abroad

  • DO IT! This is most likely the only opportunity that you will have to travel with little responsibilities. Also, it is a great resume builder!
  • Pack light. When you are going from airport to airport and train to train, having to carry a bunch of luggage can be very tiring and make your traveling experience less exciting.
  • Travel around. Don’t just stay in the city you are studying in. Go experience other cultures and get a feel for how different parts of the world live.
  • Take a relatively “easy” course load. You don’t want to spend every waking minute doing assignments, studying, and being in class. You need to have time to explore the city you’re in and travel around.
  • On the other hand, go to class! It is just as important to learn in the classroom as it is to learn outside of it.
  • Eat the local foods. Even if you are a picky eater, like myself, try something new! You will be surprised at how much you like new things.
  • Call home, but not too often. Keep your friends and family updated on your well-being, but don’t make yourself homesick by always checking in. Life in Louisville will continue while you are away.
  • Bring a small trinket from home. For those times if/when you do get homesick, having something from home can help you get past it.
  • Have a budget. If you go without a budget, you will spend a TON of money. Budget out trips, food, housing etc., and try to stay with it.
  • Have fun. This is an experience that will change how you view yourself, others, and the world. Learn all that you can and just have fun and enjoy it.

Reasons to Study Abroad

Dining

While the dining habits are not too different from the US, it was one of my favorite things about my time abroad. To start off my day, I would typically just have toast and coffee. But, lunch was interesting; this was my biggest meal of the day and took place around 2 in the afternoon. Lunch was typically prepared by the grandmother/mother and they would prepare enough for their entire immediate family. I appreciated this so much, because for just an hour a day they got to enjoy the company of their family. And obviously after eating this huge lunch I would not want another big meal. So, dinner typically consisted of tapas, which is a shareable appetizer, and this was eaten around 10 at night. In addition, some helpful tips I would like to mention is that bread was served with almost every meal and it was used to get all the little bits of food on my fork and I used a fork and knife for almost everything that I ate.

Walking

At first this may not seem very appealing, but it allows you to really get to know your city. It gave me the opportunity to explore, get lost, hid from the sun, meet new people, and find new places. Sevilla is a big city in Spain, but a small city compared to Louisville, so I could walk everywhere. Not only did this allow me to burn off all those extra calories from the sangria, but it played a huge role in my love for Sevilla. And It is the reason I now call Sevilla my second home.

Friends

People have friends from all the different chapters in their lives. I have friends from home, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, sports, work, etc. And there is study abroad friends too. Meeting new people who are doing the same new thing you are doing is very comforting. They do not know what is going on either. You will struggle together. You will learn together. But, most importantly, you will succeed together. I meet students from all over the US and I am lucky to call some of them my friends. They were there to help me communicate, they were there when I did not want to go shopping alone, they were there when I wanted someone to eat gelato with, and I know they will be there if we ever cross paths again in the future.

Family

When you study abroad your destination will be like a second home. It needs to feel like a home away from home and the only thing that will be this is family. Never forget about the people that love you back home, but you need that same loving support abroad too. While abroad, my family consisted of my home-stay mom, my roommate, and a few of my classmates. But, families abroad can come from anywhere. They could be a program leader, a professor, a classmate, a roommate, a waiter, a member of a home-stay family, etc.