This past Saturday I went on a hike in Cagnes-sur-mer and it was simply incredible: beautiful views that constantly looked over the glistening Mediterranean (see pictures below for an idea), weather conditions that were stellar for hiking, and simply the fact that I’m in the French Riviera getting to spend time doing something I love! Goodness, can you tell that I’m still not over the fact that I’m actually here? Not only was it incredible for the reasons listed above, but also because of the people I met. It was the epitome of international traveling because I got a glimpse of nine different cultures, without having to physically go anywhere!
In total, there were 14 people on the hike, and 10 countries represented! America, France, Russia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Columbia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and India. I came with one friend, as did some others, but most of us didn’t know each other before the excursion began. Throughout the hike, essentially, I had the opportunity to swap stories with each person and hear about who they are, where they come from, what they’re doing. Being from different countries, our conversations naturally gravitated toward the differences in cultural practices. Since we all share the status of sojourners here in France, we talked about our common experiences and feelings that come with living abroad as well. Here are some snippets:
There were young people from Nordic countries who decided to spend a gap year, which is apparently very common in Europe, as Au Pairs working for wealthy families in Monaco. Given the infrequency of gap years in the US, I asked Anna, who’s from Sweden, why she thought gap years were so prevalent in her country. With earnest curiosity, she replied with something I thought was quite profound: “How else would we learn about the world and understand our place in it?”
There were young working professionals deciding whether the livelihood they’ve created for themselves is as fulfilling as it once seemed. In particular, Guarav from India gets paid (well, I might add) to work as a portfolio manager at a financial company in France’s equivalent version of the US ‘Silicon Valley.’ His work environment is hubbub of culture, as his colleagues are from all over the world. He lives in the French Riviera, where, given the proximity to both mountains and beach, he has access to many of the outdoor activities and adventure sports he loves to do. By many standards, Guarav leads a very prosperous and well-rounded life. However, Guarav conceded that he’s experiencing somewhat of a quarter life crisis as he questions whether his ‘successful’ life is actually bringing him happiness. Attending a competitive university in a culture that defines ‘success’ in similar terms, his revelation really resonated with me.
There was a woman named Olia who, although originally from Russia, has lived all over the world (if you’re curious, New York City and Thailand were by far the most impactful places she had lived). When we reached the summit, she asked me to take a picture of her, which quickly turned into a mini photoshoot as Olia continued to strike different pose after pose and I just kept clicking away. I laughed and asked her what the deal was with the poses. She just said “Oh, it’s a Russian thing. They teach us girls how to pose.” I couldn’t help but smile. I know she was kind of kidding, but even though she hasn’t lived in her home country since she was a teenager and is very much a world citizen, Olia’s original culture still shines through. I was warmed and fascinated to see Olia demonstrate not only the inevitable pervasiveness of one’s roots, but also the value of our tendency, as humans, to cling to our home culture.
These conversations taught me that each of us has a narrative, defined not by the pre-conceived notions we have of citizens of certain places, but humanized by the aspirations and personalities of these individuals. These people opened my eyes to new cultural norms and I learned so much in the short time I spent with them. Although speaking with people from other countries has highlighted unique cultural discrepancies, it continues to amaze me how much I have in common, specifically at an emotional level, with people from completely different backgrounds. We seemed to share this yearning for something more. This desire to know others and to know the world. That in knowing comes understanding, and in understanding, comes kindness.
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<p>My name is Rosemary Newsome, and I am studying abroad in Nice, France! I study finance and political science at TCU. For me, there is always something new out there to learn, make, do or play, and studying abroad in Nice offers a whole new arena in which I can do that. If you want to learn about the triumphs & trials of a bright-eyed, goofy, restless, and French cuisine-loving girl, follow me as I immerse myself in the culture of a Riviera lifestyle!</p>