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Nantes: Intercultural Communication Accomplished!

January 3, 2019

As of writing this, I’ve been home with my family for a couple weeks, and I’m really enjoying being back!  France was absolutely amazing, but you just can’t beat home!  For my final post, I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve taken from my time in France.

First and foremost, it is absolutely exhausting to go through life in a language that isn’t your native one.  When speaking English, I’m not constantly reviewing my speech for grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation like I am speaking French.  I’m sure it gets easier with practice, but there were many days I came back to my room needing to vegetate after hours of class time and interacting in French.  I now see how easy it is for me to think, read, write, etc. in English.  Major props to international and non-native English speaking students in America—their work is just that much more impressive to me now!  Similarly, after exerting myself trying to speak French to friends and strangers alike, I now feel so much more confident talking to people in English!  After four months of thriving while French people only half understood me, I feel like I can talk to anyone now!

Another major takeaway is that I am not French!  Nor will I ever be!  There are so many intricacies to language and culture that you can’t possibly learn it all unless you’ve been living it since birth.  I was never expecting to come home from France one hundred percent fluent, but I realized pretty early on that constantly being in French mode wasn’t necessarily going to give me the best experience.  Obviously, while interacting with French people, like my host family, I was not about to give up speaking French!  In fact, the only times the words “anglais, s’il vous plaît” left my mouth was at the airport hotel after a challenging day of trying to get back to America!  That being said, I didn’t have much issue speaking English to my friends when we had downtime.  Given that it’s our native language, our interactions were simply easier and more enriching in English.  It was certainly good to practice French with my friends, but everyone needs a break now and then!

This lead to the most important lesson from my trip: the value of communication!  I don’t need to be fluent in the French language or the French culture to have meaningful learning experiences talking to French people.  Even through broken English or French, we can still understand each other and that’s what counts, being able to share our ideas and worldviews.  The only person who fails in intercultural dialogue is the one who draws a hard line in the sand and says “it’s my language and culture, or bust”.

Which is why it bothered me so much when Americans in my program started criticizing French culture as being wrong.  Admittedly, the French are edgier than Americans and they particularly are not the most politically correct.  This is in part due to how their language works and is moderated, but it’s also simply not a huge part of their culture.  But there’s nothing quote-unquote wrong about the French.  Their culture is different than ours, but that doesn’t mean that you know better about how they should think or feel.  I don’t mean to badmouth my fellow IES Abroad peers; however, we went to France to learn more about the French and to see the world from their perspective, not to educate them with superior American culture.  Like I said, the goal is dialogue, not shouting matches.

I would like to thank you all for following my blog posts!  Once again, I apologize that I wasn't more regular, but hopefully you enjoyed it nonetheless!  Visiting Nantes was an absolutely amazing experience and I would strongly recommend studying abroad to anyone who is considering it!  Thanks once again, James Daigler signing off!  (Exclamation point!)

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