As many of you are (I’m sure) aware, I spent the last year in France. It was one of the most wonderful, eye-opening, exhilarating experiences of my life.
I want you to meet some of the people who made my experience so great. I interviewed many of my fellow students about their experiences abroad. (To those I did not interview, my sincerest apologies. I still would really love to hear your answers to these questions if you’re interested.) I know this is a long post, but it is very dear to my heart. I love these raw, beautiful responses that are so specific to each person in our group.
1. Why did you come to France?
Tifani: I wanted to come back, I already had friends here, and it’s a place that I love. I don’t visit many places that I actually wanna go back to.
Christian: It was a last minute decision, honestly. I decided to come because I thought learning to speak French, even at a basic level, would help me in my future work as a surgeon in places where they are needed most.
Zachary: Since I was I kid I have always wanted to learn French and to visit France. Also, I know there are a lot of benefits from learning g a second language and I knew that it would be more easy to find a good job in the US if I had French on my resume.
Franco: When I was in middle school I had planned to study abroad. And when I got to high school my dad wouldn’t let me take Spanish…
Jason: I think it’s a beautiful language. It’s very useful. I’m also fascinated by French culture: the food, the sports, the people.
Sarah: To acquire the language skills necessary to complete my BA in French studies with the goal of working internationally.
Shayla: Legit don’t actually know. There are several different reasons why I found myself in France. I had almost come two years ago, and there was still that part of me that wanted to learn French and use this opportunity to travel abroad.
Kaz: I’ve wanted to learn French since the moment I realized English wasn’t the only existing language. I was about 6 or 8 when that happened. But I had lost sight of that for awhile and then I met Sarah and she told me about the language program at Andrews and I signed up to come the following Monday.
Harrison: I love languages, first of all. Also, I love Europe. So I came up with plan that I would do France this year and Italy next year.
2. What has been your favorite part of studying abroad?
Tifani: The cultures, the people, and the friendships you make. Getting to try new things and experiences.
Christian: Expanding my cultural horizons. I still have a long way to go, but I feel much more understanding now about cultural differences and the problems they can pose to foreigners.
Zachary: Traveling around Europe and meeting new people along with being able to speak French with people
Franco: The traveling. Also, being able to travel for not that much money.
Jason: All the trips. And to be able to meet locals, that’s fun too. Because when you push yourself and push your boundaries to talk to other people, I think that’s when life-changing experiences and memories are made.
Nephta: Traveling is really cool, but I’d say just the people and the memories.
Sarah: Experiencing different cultures as I get to travel and opening my mind to new ways of doing things
Kaz: It’s been exactly like I thought it would be. Europe is like living in a fairytale.
Shayla: Probably the people and traveling.
Harrison: Actually, the trips I take away from here. I think being here is kind of the day-to-day life, which is good, but then you have that contrasted with your experiences wth other people and your experiences with getting to know yourself.
3. What do you think will be the hardest thing about going back?
Tifani: It’s always weird to see how people dress differently. You forget how many people always wear sweats and yoga pants… People just don’t do that here. Men here dress so much nicer. And just realizing that friends and family have moved on while you’ve been here.
Christian: Leaving people that, in such a short time, I grew to love, some as much as old friends.
Zachary: Knowing that it will be a long time before I can return to Europe. And not being able to see my European friends.
Franco: It’s so different here that basically the whole idea of it is going to be super hard. The people, the traveling, just everything. I can do the same thing at home but it won’t be exactly the same.
Jason: Quite frankly, I don’t know if I can say this, but I’m not a big fan of American culture. Just going back to the whole American system will be kind of hard for me.
Sarah: Missing the people I spent the year abroad with and our adventures together
Shayla: Talking to people at home. And they won’t actually listen and a lot of people just won’t understand how things really are here.
Kaz: Michigan is boring and Andrews is quite honestly in the middle of nowhere. Nothing at all like a fairytale. So back to reality and the fact that it seems like in America, the world is ending. Readjusting will be difficult for me.
Harrison: I think just not waking up every day here, in a different place in Europe. Again, getting to travel around. I sort of feel like I’m pretending to study and work hard, but I’m going to miss that kind of fancy life where I’m abroad and being a young person. Going back to America means going back to life and the things we have to do.
Nephta: I think just getting back in the rhythm of American culture. Being here has opened my mind to a different place. I almost feel like I’m snobby now.
Reuben: I think it’s going to be interesting how accessible everything will be again.
4. Where’s your favorite place to relax, either on campus or in Geneva?
Tifani: Camille and I go on these hikes, and they’re very relaxing.
Christian: The act of relaxing is one that has evaded my mastery as of yet. I am most relaxed when I take walks through the beautiful forest surrounding the campus.
Zachary: I don’t really have a good answer for this question, other than I usually like to go to Geneva on the weekends and lately I’ve really enjoyed Lausanne. It’s so beautiful there next to the lake and with the view of the Alps.
Jason: Top of the Salève, even though it’s not very relaxing getting up there. Or the little well-house next to the soccer field.
Sarah: The top of the shed overlooking Geneva, or hiking in the woods!
Shayla: My bed is better than most people’s. Also, I did like escaping into the woods.
Kaz: Neither. There is a place near Annemasse, with a beautiful view and a nice river. Filled with life. It’s absolutely peaceful and beautiful. Straight out of a story book. Nice little countryside.
Nephta: My favorite place to relax was in the piano room.
5. How has this experience helped form who you are? Do you have a stronger sense of self?
Christian: It has not helped form me as much as it has contributed to a better understanding of who I am and in what ways I can further guide myself towards becoming the man I want to be.
Zachary: I’ve finally been able to become more comfortable with myself and less afraid about meeting strangers and traveling alone.
Franco: I definitely think I’ve grown a lot as a person. Being in a different country and being without your family helps you grow as a person. It helps you become more independent. You don’t ever have the option of, “Oh, I’m homesick. I’m gonna go home.” You’re far away with different cultures, different rules, different everything.
Jason: Definitely. I think this year has not only been the best year, but the year I’ve learned the most. Not only academically but also with interpersonal relationships. And street smarts. And I have more of a sense of “I can do this.”
Sarah: Going to France was out of my comfort zone. It was something I really wanted to do, but I was scared. I think it helped me push myself to keep trying new things but to balance that with comfortable things too and not stress myself too hard.
Shayla: People here have different lifestyles than me, and it made me feel like the lifestyle I was living wasn’t necessarily right. I came to realize that it’s okay for me to stick to being me and not make changes for anyone. So I’m more confident in being like, “No, this is who I am, and you have to deal with it.”
Kaz: Definitely feel like I have a stronger sense of self. What I need, want out of life, and where I want to end up at the end. How I learn things in comparison to others.
Harrison: Totally. It’s completely changed my perspective about traveling. But coming here really re-focused my whole life in the sense that I’ve really set my goals towards being a polyglot. It’s completely changed my life path in that sense. But also just having all these experiences. I’ve been to more countries now. I feel like I have a much fuller experience.
Reuben: Different experiences just helped me develop as a person and see how I react in certain situations.
6. What are some of your favorite foods you’ve tried throughout your travels?
Tifani: Moroccan food has been delicious. Their drinks are fabulous. (the orange juice and Moroccan tea.) Italy has incredible pizza and pasta and gelato.
Christian: I wish I could say something fancy, like expensive mushrooms or rare cheeses, but in all honesty, home-cooked meals. My girlfriend and I had the privilege of staying and eating with her family in northern France for a weekend. Best food I had during my time here, hands down.
Zachary: Wow, I don’t know except that I think France has definitely has the best cuisine in the world and no one comes close to France when it comes to desserts and pastries.
Franco: Orange juice from Morocco. Best orange juice I’ve ever had in my life.
Jason: Coming from the guy who sticks to baguettes and bananas, actually the hot wine in Strasbourg was nice. And stroopwafels.
Sarah: I am not very adventurous when it comes to food, but I’ve loved the crepes of France and gelato of Italy.
Shayla: The falafel and grilled cheese in Paris. In Prague, we came across this bagel shop. Best bagel I have ever had. Tried the waffle in Brussels; they’re not anything to write how about I don’t think. Same with their french fries… Why are they famous for that?! Also, Subway’s always good.
Kaz: So I’m vegetarian, and it’s not the easiest lifestyle to keep up when you eat out at restaurants. I’ve found that my go to’s are Indian and Italian food. I also really like ratatouille, which I got to try homemade for the first time made by an actual French person.
Nephta: So recently we had this mushroom with bread… BEST CAF FOOD EVER
Reuben: I really liked the Hungarian goulash. It was pretty great. I had some really good pizza in Italy. And all the Dutch food I always eat.
7. What do you want to do when you go back to the States?
Christian: Spend as much time with family and friends as I can before coming back to Europe this coming school year, to study in Germany this time.
Zachary: Work, make money, and finish college as soon as possible.
Sarah: I will be at home for the summer, then finishing up my bachelors and plan on using my French to make some extra money during the school year by teaching or tutoring.
Shayla: Cry. Also I’ll be able to go to Starbucks and order things in English, and they won’t look at me funny when I say things in English… EVEN THOUGH THEIR MENU IS IN ENGLISH.
Kaz: Be a real adult! Basically, do everything in my power to finish school and get back to France as fast as I can!
Nephta: I’m not super satisfied with my French. As a film major, I know that French cinema is a big part of film, and I think it would be really cool to maybe one day come back and work here a couple of years.
8. What is one thing you wish you had brought with you?
Tifani: Welllll.. Um… maybe my kitchen back home? I miss making food so much. (And having my parents buy the ingredients.) Or my cat.
Christian: Nothing. I’d want to bring some of the people I met here back home with me though.
Zachary: I wish I had my car with me!
Franco: Xbox. That would’ve actually be soooo useful on rainy days or in the projector room.
Sarah: A blow dryer that worked! Mine ended up still blowing out from the extra power, and then I considered buying a new one in Europe, but eventually I gave up. Hey, my hair is super healthy because of that !
Shayla: My navy blue Hollister sweater. Also my eyelid primer. That would’ve been nice.
Kaz: Nothing. I actually wish I had brought less. I’m a terrible packer. But if I could have, I would have brought my best friend. I haven’t seen her in 4 years, and she lives in Jamaica.
Reuben: Some hot cheetos.
Emily: At this moment, I wish I had a hair straightener.
9. If you could only have visited one city, where would it have been?
Christian: Prague. I made several unforgettable memories there.
Franco: I think I’d have to say Liverpool.
Jason: Prague or Lisbon. Same with Brussels, but you said one city….. I might just have to go with Venice.
Sarah: I loved Italy… but I think I’d say Barcelona!
Shayla: Probably Vienna. I have fabulous memories from Vienna.
Kaz: Other than the one I’m currently in, Barcelona might have been my next choice.
Harrison: Tromsø, Norway. It’s the northern most city in the world.
Nephta: Florence. *laughs* Just kidding.. Ummmm.. Probably Cannes.
Emily: Honestly, I feel like every town has it’s perks to it. It’s little bits of history. Even the small ones.
10. What’s your favorite French word/expression?
Tifani: Avoir la tête dans les nuages.
Christian: Qu’est-ce que c’est?
Jason: Fais gaffe, mec!
Sarah: Incroyable ou Tenir le chandelier.
Harrison: N’importe quoi ou Evidemment.
Nephta: Stupide ou Coucou.
Reuben: “Tu m’apportes un vrai bonheur.” Because it sounds bad but it’s not. Unlike everything else in French, which sounds normal but is bad.
11. What was some culture shock you experienced coming here?
Christian: How open the professors are with grades, especially among your fellow classmates.
Zachary: The Socialist political ideology and so much cigarette smoke!
Jason: One thing that caught me by surprise was that you’re expected to give kisses as greetings. French people can be very open and direct also. They definitely let you know how they feel.
Sarah: Honestly, just the language barrier was really rough for the first few months. It made me feel more like I didn’t belong, so I would withdraw from the cultural experience when I didn’t understand.
Kaz: The kissing when you meet someone new. And overall how polite and well polished people here are.
Nephta: The amount of water in the toilets. And transportation.
12. Any embarrassing moments you’d like to share?
Christian: Every single time I speak French to a native speaker. Seriously.
Zachary: Yes, I have several but they’re not appropriate for children…so I can’t share them. Although, I did tell my French history professor “je suis excité” to see the Mont Blanc so that was pretty embarrassing.
Sarah: Ummm, I like to keep myself from embarrassment, and I think I avoided that? Or I’ve blocked out the moments.
Kaz: The first week of classes I broke my tooth and I wore my mouth guard and I scarf over my face till I could get the tooth fixed. It was brutal.
Harrison: I have some embarrassment if I’m trying to speak to someone in French and they speak back in English. Or if I completely mess up what I’m saying, and I know and they know and we both know. Like, you tried.
Nephta: I’d probably say french class because everyone just dogged on me because I sucked. Actually just like speaking to people in general.
Reuben: I always tripped in front of Sarah, which was the worst. I wouldn’t trip very often, but when I would trip, it would be in front of Sarah. Every time. It was kind of annoying.
13. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?
Tifani: Worry less about what other people think of you. Don’t be afraid to be yourself.
Christian: If something feels wrong, don’t do it.
Sarah: Study to learn – to expand your mind and to better yourself. Don’t be selfish, it’s probably more fun to give away what you’re holding on to. Give your time to people and express love – you’ll never regret it – but know when to walk away from people/friends who aren’t investing in you.
Shayla: Don’t ever get Tinder. That’s stressful.
Kaz: Nothing is that serious. Stop worrying so much. Things always work out the way they should. Don’t stress yourself just take a deep breath, and thank God for eventually getting you through to the end to see what he was doing.
Nephta: Experience more. Go out more. Stop watching YouTube so much because that’s not going to help you in the future. Unless it’s helpful YouTube videos.
14. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone wanting to study abroad?
Tifani: Really throw yourself into it. Don’t hold anything back. You don’t want to leave at the end of the year wishing that you had done more.
Christian: Do it. Just do it.
Sarah: DO IT! Know that the travels will be amazing, and the sights will be glorious and learn from everyone you meet! Open your mind to new things! Never forget that it’s the people you’re with who make the experiences incredible and unforgettable.
Shayla: Do it.
Kaz: Take advantage of every opportunity. Travel as much as you can. Eat as much as you can. In terms of learning the language, be conscious of your learning style.
Harrison: I think it’s just a matter of deciding it’s something you can do something and getting outside of your comfort zone.
Nephta: I’d suggest that you take a class before you come here. Also, learn how to adapt quickly because you don’t want to be running around looking like a tourist. And talk to French people. It feels like home because you all speak English, but honestly the French people are really cool.
15. What’s one overarching lesson you’ve learned while studying abroad?
Tifani: To be open-minded. You can’t assume that you’re always right and that you always know best. Just because someone does something different doesn’t make it less worthy.
Christian: Don’t waste your precious and fleeting time with people you don’t like.
Zachary: Because a lot of people in Europe speak English, you have to really learn to push yourself to practice French.
Sarah: Be open to new people, new experiences. It’s hard to let go, but sometimes things/experiences/people only stay for a little while to move you along in life and then they let you go with the current and you move onto a new chapter without those things. But never forget what they’ve taught you.
And finally, I asked people to give some anonymous comments dedicated to individuals, as well as the group in general. Here are some of the things that were said:
“What I really like about this group is that we’re a very diverse group. I think most of our group have dual citizenships. It’s great just because there is a lot of diversity and a lot of room for experiences with different people.”
“Learn how to use your brain and learn how to listen.”
“Christian, you’re an emotionally strong guy, in touch with yourself, loving, and you give to others, even when you’re not feeling your best. Keep plugging away at life because it has beautiful things to offer to beautiful souls like you.”
“Franco, let your love/kindness come to the surface a bit more. It makes people feel really special when you show them your affection.”
“Some people I feel like I’ve had great experiences with. I would definitely like to say an overall thank you. I really did like the group, by and large. The group spirit was pretty good.”
“I think that it was definitely kind of clique-ish.”
“Delia, you shouldn’t have left I miss you.”
“Franco, you turned out to be a really cool person. I wasn’t always sure.”
“Nephta, I didn’t really get him at first. I was like, what are you doing. But I grew to find him really funny.”
“Lily, I just love you. I love her so much. She’s literally like one of my favorite people I’ve ever met.”
“I believe I’ve said everything I have wanted to say. I’d like the think I’m honest and straightforward with people.”
“I love most of the people here, and we’ve definitely become a weird type of family. But I think it would also be nice if people would still be just as friendly but mind their own business.”
“Stop complaining so much about everything and just suck it up.”
“You all need to relax a bit more. You guys worry too much and worry leads to stress and disease and wrinkles.”
“To the whole group, I love you guys. Honestly. I feel like we were blessed with amazing people. Keep on learning languages and working on French. I’d like to thank everyone for making this one of the best years of my life.”
Alors, c’est tout. Merci d’être vulnérable et réel avec moi. Merci de m’avoir permis de faire l’expérience de l’Europe avec vous. Je vous aime tous.