It’s been a little over a week now since I flew in to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. I wanted to wait before writing my final blog post so that I could share any feelings of reverse culture shock that I would possibly experience, but for me, that phase never really hit in a big way (yet, at least). When I got off the plane, I was so overjoyed to see my dad and sister waiting for me that all I could think about was how great it would be to relax at home for the next few weeks leading up to the fall semester, schoolwork-free! I’ve been extremely busy buzzing around this past week in Chicago, Bloomington and at Lake Michigan that I may have been too distracted to experience reverse culture shock in average, day-to-day life. However, the things that did sort of “shock” me immediately upon returning were 1) noticing that everyone around me was speaking English and that I was able to understand people’s phone conversations without even trying to listen, and 2) realizing that all of the billboards, street signs and ads were in my mother tongue! Needless to say, it’s definitely a little jarring when you go from being used to not understanding most of those little conversations going on around you to suddenly understanding every phone call and whisper you hear.
So, now that I’m home and my thoughts are all in order, I’d like to share the three most important things I took away from this incredible trip:
1. The Language – Before leaving for Paris, everyone was excitedly telling me how much French I would learn in just six weeks and how easy it would become for me to have conversations in French afterwards. Hoping they were right, I nodded along giddily, but I was secretly worried that maybe I would be a “special case” and that six weeks wouldn’t be enough for me to get a much better handle on the language. Thankfully, they were right! I didn’t really notice it as it was happening, but after listening to constant French for six weeks, I learned more French during this trip than I had in my past six years of French combined. I was suddenly able to answer questions in French without even thinking about it, and I even started dreaming in French! I am guilty of relying on my English for much of the time spent with other American students, but even still I am so much more confident in my French than I was before. Now, I can rant along with the French about Donald Trump as much as I want with minor language barrier problems!
2. The Culture – Uptight, rude, no sense of humor. These are some of the stereotypes about the French that I was well aware of going into this program. And, after the first week, I felt licensed to fully back these stereotypes with first-account evidence. They don’t smile, they don’t laugh, and they wear pants, boots and scarves when it’s eighty degrees outside (and give you dirty looks if you’re wearing shorts). Right when I was beginning to accept this as the true Parisian experience when it came to the people, a Parisian helped me with my shopping bags on the metro station stairs. Later that evening, my host mother and I joked about if I were to throw a party in her apartment while she was away on vacation and she was cracking herself up with laughter! That week in class, we learned that the French dress modestly even in the heat because it is a traditional Parisian practice in order to be a respectful resident of the capital city. These miscellaneous experiences and teachings slowly molded my first impression of the French into a much more appreciative understanding. Just because the French don’t smile at everyone they see on the streets (the way we happy-go-lucky Midwesterners do) doesn’t mean they aren’t nice people. Just because they don’t have the same sense of humor as Americans does not make them lifeless sacks with frowns painted on. The American way of life is much different than the French way of life, and neither is necessarily right or wrong. When I was struggling to get my power converter to work on my first night in Paris, I caught myself thinking “Why can’t they just have the same outlets as America?” Thinking back on that moment now, I truly understand how important it is to leave one’s culture and experience another. It is the most eye-opening and humbling experience of my life thus far, and it really put into perspective how differently other people around the world live, and that they aren’t all jumping to be just like America.
3. Dealing with Homesickness – Leaving my hometown for college was a very difficult thing for me two years ago. I am extremely family-oriented, and I take a lot of comfort in my familiar surroundings. Even though my university is only four hours south of my hometown, that was reason enough for me to cry every night for the first week. Looking back on that now, I still recognize that as being a huge, scary step towards independence. However, after traveling across the world and living with a complete stranger who couldn’t speak more than five words of English, my perspective really broadened and I got a better peek at just how immense the world is. I was very homesick on my third night in Paris, and then again during the halfway point of the trip. I felt so far away from familiarity that I didn’t know how to orient myself. But again, just as in college, all you have to do is find your place and anywhere you go will start to feel like home. Freshman year, I thought that since I could move four hours away from my family and live happily, I could do anything. Now, I feel even more confident that a person can be happy anywhere they choose. Once you realize that your family isn’t going anywhere and that your house is still where you left it, you can start to understand that even though you’re in a different country across an ocean, all countries share the same planet and call Earth home. I wasn’t observing aliens in France – just visiting some neighbors!
I am so thankful to have gotten the opportunity to go on this trip. I will appreciate the things I’ve learned forever, and I know the skills I picked up abroad will help me in so many ways throughout my life. I highly encourage any prospective study-abroad students to take the leap and go! It may seem scary, but remember to focus on having fun, being open to new things, and never forgetting that you’ll always be home.
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<p>Hi, there! My name is Sophia Raymond and I'm studying Public Relations and Marketing and Indiana University. Curiosity may be what killed the cat, but it's what fuels me! I'm a writer, designer, and visual arts creator, and I'm an absolute nerd for 20th century history (currently binge-watching CNN's Decade series). Usually, you can find me rock climbing, painting, or snuggling with my adorable Irish-doodle Sookie, but this summer I'll be studying abroad in Paris to further my French fluency and explore Europe! Life is a beautiful thing, and I plan on making the most of it.</p>