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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Studying abroad proves there’s no place like home

    After spending six weeks in Paris on a UA study abroad program, I’d like to debunk a well-known French stereotype: Most Americans think the French are inherently rude people. Though I disagree, I understand why Americans may perceive the French as cold.

    The French seem rude simply because they don’t believe in filler conversation or small acts of kindness between strangers, at least in Paris. There is no small talk on the Metro, and a smile is perceived as flirtatious and sexual. I’m not making this up. The Arizona in Paris study abroad program director, who is French, warned the group of students about smiling and making eye contact with strangers. These gestures actually mean something to the French, so unless you want to be visually molested, you can’t stare or smile at someone.

    I hated that I couldn’t smile whenever I wanted, and I missed being able to have light conversation with grocery store employees and restaurant servers. Waiters don’t get tipped, so there’s no customer-server interaction. You can call this a superficial relationship to begin with, but it can make the day of a lonely, single customer who only socializes when he leaves his house.

    During my altogether seven-week stint in France, one person insulted my French speaking abilities, and he happened to be a rowdy adolescent on the Metro during the Fete de la Musique celebration. Approaching him in French, I asked why everyone was screaming and dancing, and he rudely responded in English, “”I don’t know, I don’t speak English!””

    I reminded him that I spoke French, and then he ranted about moronic Americans. I was livid, and I told the young man that he was pathetic for making fun of a foreigner who attempts a new language. He immediately apologized and applauded me for being a Californian.

    Besides this rotten teenager, everyone else was friendly and helpful, even when I’d speak indistinguishable French. I was never denied help, and quite a few French citizens complimented my honest attempts at speaking.

    According to the brave who go abroad for at least a semester, I made a huge mistake to spend less than two months in a foreign country, but I’ve learned that there is no universal study abroad experience. For one thing, students go to drastically different places. One of my friends spent a semester in London, and another went to China for three months. Those two experiences alone are incomparable. The only similarity is that both men studied in other countries for a good chunk of time.

    Some students study abroad for a semester, others go for a year, and type-A’s like myself only study abroad for the summer. There’s no way I could have handled a semester away from Tucson heat and friendliness, my college friends, and everything UA-related.

    In my opinion, it’s best for Americans to study abroad in a country where English is not the spoken language. If you go through the trouble and financial burden of studying abroad, you should try to completely step out of your comfort zone.

    My awesome host family was always kind to me, but I always felt slightly inferior to them simply because I couldn’t communicate my feelings and thoughts as well as I would have liked. I shamelessly asked their eight-year-old daughter questions about speaking the French language, and she got to the point where she was telling her six-year-old sister to speak slowly so I could understand every word of each sentence. When you’re learning a new language, you turn to so many unexpected sources for help.

    What did I miss most while in France? Besides Tucsonan and Californian friendliness, I missed eating excellent Mexican food and I missed wireless Internet. If any of the Arizona in Paris host families even had email addresses, most of them didn’t have wireless Internet. My large host family of six people only had one computer in the apartment, and it had a dialup Internet connection. My roommate and I ventured to the classy European style McDonalds for free wireless Internet, but the connection was down on rainy days.

    For a physically fit country, the French are experts at eating and making desserts. I’m the first to admit that I drowned myself in Nutella during my first week in France, and I ate way too many chocolate éclairs, Nutella crepes, Toblerone candy bars and Berthillon ice cream cones. How do the French stay thin with so many treats everywhere? They eat sensible portions and walk or bike to work.

    I learned a few important lessons while studying abroad. I’m in no way embarrassed to ask for help of any kind, and I have a whole new respect for any foreigner who comes to a new country.

    I tip my hat off to legal immigrants who move to the United States and receive no help learning the English language. Most of all, I’ve learned how lucky I am to have been born in the United States, and I have no intention of ever permanently leaving.

    Thank you, France, for reminding me that I’m an all-American girl.

    Laura Donovan is a creative writing senior. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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