This past spring I studied abroad in a city called Le Havre on the northern coast of France and part of the historic Normandy region. I spent a total of five months in this incredibly rainy and cold city. I made so many new friends from all over the world. We held themed get-togethers and watched countless beautiful sunsets along the water. While much of my time was spent exploring the surrounding areas with these friends, I also took some other trips. I spent a weekend in London, a few days in Nice, a weekend in Lille, a week traveling through Strasbourg and Switzerland, and so much more. I even got to visit (and meet) my mom’s English teacher that she had when she studied abroad in France in high school. It was incredible to spend time and see the town that my mom had lived in for a year when she was even younger than me. I dove into some of the historically significant aspects of the region as well. I visited the American Cemetery along the Normandy D-Day beaches, visited the smaller, but still beautiful, Canadian Cemetery, saw the Tapestry of Bayeux and explored countless churches throughout the area. Personally, I’m very interested in sports so while I was there I took every chance I could to watch local sports. I watch several basketball and soccer games as well as rugby and even handball. I loved getting to watch sports that are not as common as what you would normally watch in the United States. It was such an amazing experience overall and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue it.
I have chosen to center my experience in the GLI program around the theme of culture and politics. This theme was very prevalent in my out-of-classroom experience. I spent five months in a completely new environment where I knew no one. The culture in France was drastically different than the culture I had grown accustomed to in the United States. From things as simple as the way their school system was laid out to the general way of life, it was all a change that I had to get used to. During the time that I lived there the country held its presidential elections as well so it was very interesting to see how their system works compared to the one we have in the United States.
One of the main things I learned was how different ways of life can be favorable to different people. In the US we have a standard 5-day work week, while a lot of places in France only work a half day. Additionally, there is a very big emphasis on dining together with friends and family. Their way of life was a lot slower-paced and more carefree. I had never lived somewhere like that and I really enjoyed it. I was under a lot less stress and I was able to enjoy my time a lot more. Coming back to the United States has reminded me how draining it is to constantly be under a lot of pressure and be rushed all the time.
Overall, I think studying abroad has given me the opportunity to experience other cultures firsthand. I lived in a completely new place with its own culture and I was surrounded by people from all over the world. I got to learn about new cultures as well as share my own culture with the friends I met there. I loved getting to see the world in a new light and from other people’s perspectives.
This experience made me a lot more independent and thus helped me develop as a leader. I was in a foreign country where I knew no one so I had to figure everything out and navigate my new environment by myself. Additionally, one of my closest friends didn’t know any French, so often, when we would go out I would do most of the talking and have to navigate by myself for both of us. This made me a lot more confident because it forced me to communicate and be in situations that were intimidating. I gradually became less fearful and was more comfortable in these situations.
The main question that this experience brought is how I change my way of life or how I live this more carefree and slower-paced life that is such a big part of French culture. I don’t want to feel stressed and rushed all the time. I think I need to work on giving myself more leniency as well as work on my time management so I don’t end up in as many stressful situations or situations where I do feel rushed.