I began my educational exploration in September of 2011 in the city of Pau located in the southwest of France. It is the capital of Pyrénées-Atlantiques and Béarn, home to King Henry the IV of France, and Jurançon wine. I had never heard of Pau, but once I arrived I fell under its charm and became fond of the size of the city.
I had to come to France because I felt that there was no better way to finalize my French major than by putting the fruits of my labor to practice- speaking with people, sharing jokes, discussing differences and clichés all form part of an education I would not have been able to receive in a classroom environment.
The hardest part about studying abroad was finding myself separated from my comfort zone and having to actively seek out people to create relationships and be able to communicate. Many French people like to remain within their social circle and do not easily allow others to penetrate it so you really have to try and force yourself in gently.
It takes time and patience and definitely makes you become less shy and prepares you for the real world. What I missed most from home was comfort food that is not phenomenal but ties us to our childhood like mac n cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but I was lucky enough to try things here that quickly made me forget about that…like duck and horse, fresh baked bread, the cheeses, the chocolate, and the charcuterie. As for whether or not I was homesick, no I really was not because I was too busy to really think about it. There were times when I was nostalgic but I knew I would go back home at the end, I knew it wasn’t a permanent stay just a period to reflect on life, to learn, to try to see what it’s like to be independent.
I think I have become more aware of the differences bewtween cultures and this allows me to be more understanding of others opinions, ways of doing things, and expressing themselves. I have evolved from a French student who had these notions about France that have totally changed today. I almost feel like I have become a part of the culture and I am definitely taking a piece of what I learned and loved with me home. So now I can say I am American, Guatemalan and French. I have become the image of what the world represents today- a melting pot. I did experience a couple of culture shocks but nothing terrifying. These include: their daily rituals like haivng a cup of coffee every morning at a café and the apéro before lunch or dinner (which is their version of the British ritual for tea) where they have a small appetizer and have a drink, non alcoholic or alcoholic, with family or friends. Lastly, the most shocking was that they get nearly two hour lunch breaks during work and almost all establishments except the restaurants are closed during this time.
Studying abroad is perhaps the only chance we shall ever get to stay in another country for an extended period of time without having to juggle work and studies at the same time. We are allowed to fully immerse ourselves in the culture, become a part of it and slowly evolve from it by taking away the things we have a particular affinity for as well as adding our grain of culture to it. I strongly believe that traveling abroad is one of the best ways in bringing people together, dismantling erroneous preconceived notions, and reminding people of the fundamental similarities that make us all human.