An oldie’s advice

What surprised me most about studying abroad revolves around time: the little amount of class time we have, and how fast time has passed by. As I have briefly touched on the subject in my previous posts, the amount of time we international students have outside of school is pretty astounding—I often joke about how I am in fact a full-time traveler and a part-time student. Though a bit exaggerating, it’s regrettably not far away from the truth.

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Just me admiring my favorite basilica

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Much ahead of its time

If before studying abroad I knew that its academic aspect would be a considerable but not principal part of the comprehensive exchange experience, now I think it is even more insignificant considering the amount of class time we actually have. With classes that commenced in late January or early February, two ten-day breaks and the end of the semester in April, there were no more than even ten lessons for each class. On top of that classes of made up of dreary, perfunctory lectures that have by now vastly increased my appreciation for classes at UGA, which explains why most international students will admit that truthfully they have not learned anything abroad.

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Barcelona, city of amazing architecture and the friendliest people

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So, I wanted to find where they shot Jackie Chan’s movie Wheels on Meals so bad that I went up to a lady at the ticket booth: “Have you ever watched a Jackie Chan movie shot in Barcelona?” I don’t think anyone actually watched it, sigh…

But I have managed to get something out of the classes by treating them as listening or dictation practices. By doing so I have acquired more vocabulary, learned to better distinguish the French sounds and gotten more adapted to hearing French speech and tones in general, so there is definitely an alternative value to attending classes. My advice for new exchange students would be that not being able to understand what is going on or produce notes might be frustrating at first, but if you are willing to pay attention and put in the utmost effort to try to comprehend the teacher, the result will certainly be rewarding.

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Stranger gave me a rose+strangers giving me a map to thank me for taking a photo for them=Strange but funny events in Sevilla

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First time I see religious graffiti haha but it looks so great!

If I could do over my study abroad experience, the one thing I would change about it would be my housing—I would choose to either live with a host family or with French roommates. It’s true that living in a studio gives me the utmost privacy and freedom, but it inevitably reduces the amount of interaction I have with French people. Prior to coming to Lyon I was given three accommodation choices: private residence, public residence and living with a host family. I was drawn to the last option at first, yet the fact that the location could be as far as an one-hour drive from the university and that I would have to stick with the family once assigned discouraged me from opting for it.

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Cordoba Cathedral

I was also aware that though the idea of a loving host family accustoming you to the authentic French lifestyle might be appealing, in reality there are families who just participate for the sake of financial support and interact little with you; thus it all depends on your luck whether you end up with a good one. That being said, in retrospect I still think it’s worth it to bet on getting a good placement because I often wonder how much more my French could be improved if I subjected myself to a 24/7 French-speaking environment.

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Place d’España

I have a friend who is currently living with French roommates whom she found online—which can also be tricky since you can potentially be cheated, end up with unpleasant roommates and worst of all, not be eligible for student’s housing subsidy. Yet like the case with host families, living with the right French roommates can be an invaluable experience, since you are almost guaranteed to be able to become close friends with French people our age, have an opportunity to always practice French and really immerse in their culture.

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Taken at last evening in Sevilla. Reminds me of the movie Days of Being Wild阿飛正傳

Lastly, I am in awe of how fast my days abroad have gone by, as if they slipped through my fingers like sand. However trite this advice may sound, I would suggest exchange students to always have a mental sandglass that reminds them of how valuable their opportunity is as this will very likely be their last chance to drop everything to experience a totally different culture and lifestyle for months before beginning their career and being bounded by professional or familial responsibilities. Be the memories I created here good or bad, I am content to have made them both because it’s better than having made very few of them indeed.

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The young girl and the sea

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Until next time!

“The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments on this blog are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Office of International Education, the University of Georgia or any employee thereof. The University of Georgia makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on this blog and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.” 

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Happy together or alone; either is good

Prior to coming to France, my biggest concerns were about whether I could adapt to the classes and language here, how to open electricity or bank accounts, etc. In retrospect they all seem quite trivial now. I remember being told at the UGA exchange orientation that normally students would experience a W-shaped, roller coaster-like state of emotions during the course of their time abroad, such as excitement and fascination at first followed by homesickness and the rejection of host country’s values; but we didn’t examine the essential reason that causes these ups-and-downs. So I first-handedly learned it.

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Pose inspired by the Beatles haha

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I be tripping–at the Loire

I absolutely agree that stepping out of one’s comfort zone is rewarding, but when we put it the context of studying abroad, we seldom talk about the inevasible challenge that accompanies it—solitude. When one is completely isolated from the people she is familiar with, it can be really difficult at first to adjust to a new environment and get by without a support system. For me, learning how to be genuinely comfortable on your own is one of the biggest lessons I learned during my exchange semester.

The idea of starting a new life in a foreign country is thrilling, but the process of it is almost guaranteed to be stressful. First, to be living in a studio alone (which is the case for most students in France) when school is not that rigorous means you have a great amount of free time on your hands. If I were back in the States I would probably take advantage of it by going out with my friends; here I would supposedly do the same thing right? That’s when we get to the tricky part.

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Château Royal de Blois

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Love this staircase tower! At Château Royal de Blois

It is natural for people to want to have friends, especially when they arrive in a country knowing nobody; but the social dynamics here pertaining to international students makes friendship more complicated than it is at home. Generally, due to the limited time we have abroad, it is difficult to forge strong friendships with others. Because study abroad friendships will most likely be short-lived, people don’t seem to invest as much time or effort to maintain or deepen them. Thus with this mentality, one makes many acquaintances that she might have a good time with at the events, but whom she never expects to see again. That said, it is hard to make friends that you can truly bond with and count on. While it is certainly possible to make life-long friends during your exchange, it might just be rare.

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Wind blowing my hair like crazy in front of Da Vinci’s remains

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This castle looks great from distance, but not from up close: covered by dust and bird poops from centuries

Given the physical isolation from friends and family, it is not surprising that one can feel desolate at times. As I was gradually expanding my circle and having a more social life, I grew aware of the loneliness I would sometimes feel when I was alone, which made me question myself incessantly: Why did I yearn for other people’s company so much? Why could I not enjoy myself just as much, if not more, alone? I found it really problematic that my mood relied on others, and could find no answer other than insecurity. Previously I prided myself on being rather emotionally independent, but this exchange made me learn a lot more about myself and realize that I was not there yet.

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At Amboise

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At Demeure du Chaos

So how did I overcome this mentality?

I slowly came to the realization that I was facing one of the most important lessons that I could learn in life, which is best expressed by a quote by Oscar Wilde: “I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person.” In a way I bought into the notion that it was socially desirable to have a lot of friends and felt the pressure to measure up to that expectation, but we should never do things other than what makes us happy. After understanding that I have come to enjoy spending time alone. It is definitely quieter to be alone, but at the same time you think and reflect more, instead of babbling on with someone just for the sake of companionship. I grew to like walking along the quay and visiting museums by myself and have found a certain peace with being alone. It’s like getting to know yourself again.

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Just sniffing the Castle Chenonceau!

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Don’t be jealous of my superb posing skills

I by no means encourage anyone to be a loner; in fact I believe it’s very important to go out and meet people, international or French students—which is what contributes to making the exchange experience valuable and fun. Through having conversations with people from various backgrounds and attending the social events, I further re-examined my views about certain cultures and activities based on personal experience and the testimony of real people, and I consider myself a different person than three months ago. That individual growth wouldn’t have occurred if I did not put myself out there. To me, hanging out with people is not bad as long as you go not because you don’t want to be alone, but because you want to be there. Now whether I am alone or spending time with friends, I know I am definitely enjoying my time!

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This, is a profile picture

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Best castle ever! Chambord

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Snapped without me knowing!

“The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments on this blog are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Office of International Education, the University of Georgia or any employee thereof. The University of Georgia makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on this blog and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.” 

Aftermath of culture shock…

When I first arrived in France the biggest culture shocks I faced were the prevalence of young people smoking and their high maintenance about their fashion. While in general the French still dress in a spiffier manner, now I no longer feel shocked by it because besides having gotten used to it, I realize that every culture has a certain invisible dress code, including France. When you pick up on the dress code that every one obeys(here it would be the color black, leather jacket and jeans), the uniformity reduces the impressive factor because it’s not necessarily that the individuals have great taste, it’s just that they follow the staple way of dressing in their society. So to conclude, now I think it’s those who dress against the norm and still dress well that I find particularly fashionable. As for smoking, perhaps due to exposure I can better tolerate it now, though I still don’t join those who do it.

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The feels…

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J’adore

I absolutely love Lyon’s environment and am so spoiled by it. It has elevated my standard when it comes to judging a city so much that I can’t truly love a city again unless it has a considerable body of water, like a lake, harbor or quay. That said, I always enjoy taking a stroll next to the two main rivers here, the Rhône and the Saône. People of all ages go there to exercise and hang out leisurely. There is also a bowl park that is a little utopia for skateboarders, bike and scooter riders alike to practice and show off their skills, creating a free spectacle that entertains onlookers like me. The scenes of people walking, jogging and biking on the promenade, kids having fun in the playground and couples lying on the beach reclining chairs blend in harmoniously with the flowing river and European buildings as the backdrop, revealing the Lyonnais’ common knowledge of the secret to living a content life, one characterized by slow living. Walking along the quays on the weekend makes me realize that less is indeed more.

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Along the Saône

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It’s show time!

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Who wouldn’t want to bring their kids to the playground in this setting?

Though France has the notoriety of being painfully bureaucratic, which could be true as I am still waiting for some of my administrative documents to process; its people in general are quite practical and helpful at work. As for the stereotype of French people being unfriendly, it is true that they won’t give you a perfunctory smile on the street, but if you ask them for help with directions, most will gladly offer it.

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La vie for the French!

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Just like this composition

I think I will experience reverse culture shock when I return to UGA because I will be more adept at seeing the subtle differences between the American and French cultures. I will most likely reflect more on the little things that I was once accustomed to in America and find the ways they do things peculiar. For example, when I go to a restaurant, I might wonder and lament the fact that there is no unlimited supply of bread, unlike how it is in France!

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Kids’ paradise!

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“I’m fabulous!” “Oh please, you don’t know what fabulous is until you look at me.”

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Lyon, please stop reminding me how sad I will be when I leave you

“The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments on this blog are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Office of International Education, the University of Georgia or any employee thereof. The University of Georgia makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on this blog and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.” 

Differences!

From the point of view of an international student, the most delightful difference between University of Lyon III and UGA is the relatively short time we actually take to attend class at Lyon III. Whereas at UGA one needs to go to the same class two or three times a week, at Lyon III we only have one lesson per week. Also the workload is low here—with the exception of an intensive language class, none of my classes actually requires me to complete assignments. In my case, I am taking 12 credit hours and have a leisurely lifestyle thanks to the two free days I have in my schedule. With all this free time I can freely make excursions and plan hangouts with friends with little trouble, truly taking advantage of my study abroad experience beyond its academic aspect.

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My favorite activity-chilling along the quay

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Annecy=Absolutely Astounding. Not the trash in front though, totally ruins the ambiance haha!

In terms of teaching style I definitely prefer the small classes at UGA, which promotes an interactive environment that makes active learning and the exchange of opinions possible. Contrarily, whether in big or small classes, the dominant style here is plain lecturing and teachers rarely have personal exchange with their students. As a result, the French students who by now have been trained to be competent note takers often fill the classroom with the sounds of their nimble fingers flitting across the keyboards from the beginning of the class to the end. As an arguably academically oriented student, I regret to say that perhaps due to the insipid lectures and the little time we actually meet, I have the impression that I did not learn much despite the fact that half of the semester is already over. But this discrepancy of class quality between UGA and Lyon III is justifiable—considering that the French government has managed to run public universities in a way that lowers the average tuition fee to an unbelievable 200 euros a year, one can hardly feel entitled to a first-rate university experience.

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“Venice of the Alps” I almost love this one more than the one in Italy!

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Interesting design!

Apart from taking the two mandatory culture and language classes designed for international students, I take the rest of my classes with local French students. That being said, my comprehension of the classes varies: in some classes where the professors speak clearly at a moderate rate, I can understand most of what they say and join the typing crowd; other times I would have to pay 100% of my attention in order to just grasp what’s going on. There is a class where the professor speaks at the speed of light, and I still don’t understand him half of the time. As for students, the ones at UGA and those at Lyon III are not remarkably different, except that French students can get a little chatty in class at times(sometimes the professors call them out, other times they just talk over them).

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Majestic church that reminds me of Hogwarts! At Annecy

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The amazing Joane!

I made a couple French friends by participating in the buddy program and talking to my classmates. I always consider myself fortunate to have met a really nice buddy who invites me to hang out with her friends, which in turn makes me meet and become friends with more French people. The key to making friends with French people is to be active—because most of them won’t randomly approach you, you would have to muster up the courage to start the conversation. Once you have talked to them, you would realize that in general they are a friendly bunch. Interestingly, my buddy Joane’s friends are very open-minded as they are all eager to learn about other cultures and are all learning foreign languages. I share my culture with them by teaching them American slangs or by simply having fun discussions about the miscellaneous differences between the American culture, people and universities and those of France. In my experience, French people strike me as open-minded, passionate about other cultures and well travelled.

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Good times!

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Another good time!

À la prochaine!

À la prochaine!

“The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments on this blog are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Office of International Education, the University of Georgia or any employee thereof. The University of Georgia makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on this blog and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.” 

My neighborhood

My neighborhood is situated in the 8th quarter of Lyon, in an area that is neither too quiet nor noisy with an interesting landscape made up of a residential community and a bustling university. That being said, the daily migration of hordes of students towards the university is a sight that defines my neighborhood. The chattering and giggling of friends and the rushed footsteps of people hurrying to their classes add to the dynamic atmosphere that permeates the area. The various cafés, McDonalds’ and Subway nearby reveal the younger French generation’s simple formula to a pleasant hangout, which is composed of casual conversations and fast food.

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University of Lyon III Jean Moulin

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The design, I’m lovin’ it!

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I love the name of our metro station “Sans Souci”–meaning worry-free! 😀

A long commercial street lies conveniently behind the university, with all kinds of stores and supermarkets accommodating the locals’ needs. Flower shops, copy center, post office, bars, clothes stores…you name it, they have it. Like any other French neighborhood, traces of youthful spirit and creativity can be found here in the expressive form of graffiti gracing random alleys and walls. There is also a museum here called the Lumière Institute that is dedicated to the first filmmakers in history, the Lumière brothers, who happened to revolutionize cinematography in my neighborhood.

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Commemorating the Lumière brothers

 

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I think this is a hotel…?

It is noteworthy that the neighborhood puts on a completely different appearance on Sundays, when most businesses are closed and people stay indoors. It turns out that this phenomenon is common throughout France—as a legacy of its catholic tradition, Sunday is regarded as a day of rest and thus the French law prohibits shops to open that day with the exception of those in tourist areas. Needless to say I was astounded to find the empty streets the first Sunday I was here, and with no food ingredients that I could fix up a diner with, I had to resort to whatever few snacks I had left in order to not starve. But I didn’t learn my lesson, for the next weekend my careless self forgot and suffered the whole ordeal again!

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Unexpected dragon ride in the middle of a plaza

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“The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments on this blog are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Office of International Education, the University of Georgia or any employee thereof. The University of Georgia makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on this blog and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.” 

So now it begins…

My decision to study abroad in France was swiftly made without vacillation. So why France? Or maybe the better question is, why not France? While I enjoyed taking French classes at UGA, I felt that my French would improve exponentially if I could actually study in a francophone country where learning French would be an unlimited, 24/7 experience instead of periodic one-hour lessons in a classroom.

I wanted to be immersed in an environment where everything I see or hear is French, so that my mind would automatically be programmed to become accustomed to it. And this proves to be true—because any ordinary activity such as grocery shopping or dining out requires some level of communication with the French, and thus French becomes a survival tool that I am driven to master in order to get by in daily circumstances. More importantly, I want to able to completely understand my teachers and converse with my French classmates, so now I have gotten used to always jotting down new little phrases I see and eavesdropping on others to test my listening skills. (A habit that I may need to get rid of when I come back!)

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Why? Oh why not! (At the flea market Puces du Canal)

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Looking at the beautiful French Alps in Grenoble

Other francophone countries such as Belgium and Switzerland were also possible destinations, but given that the perks of studying in France include being able to travel casually to any beautiful French city on a weekend, I had no hesitation in choosing France. I also inclined towards going to France due to my impression that southern France would be warm and cozy during the winter. Apparently that just applies to its neighbors Italy and Greece.

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Looks like a Chinese ink painting. On the train from Grenoble to Lyon

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At Grenoble

Studying abroad in France allows me to experience a lifestyle that is wholly foreign to me. As I had never been to Europe before, I figured France would be a good starting point for me to get a taste of a very different way of living, thinking and eating. And so far, I can say I had opened my eyes a lot in this past month and a half. (I insist the price tags here did a good bit of the trick!) For instance, hanging out with French students, partying and deliberately setting out to another city for a one-day trip in the weekend are all things I did for the first time that I surely would never have done if I stayed at UGA. The rarity of the opportunity to live abroad for half a year is a main motivation that drove a not-at-all social person like me to completely step out of my comfort zone. For instance, whereas before I would never randomly strike up a conversation with my classmates, now I have adopted the “nothing to lose” mentality to actively seek to get to know them (by all means in a safe and appropriate manner). If I get the cold shoulder then never mind, but if otherwise, I might possibly make some French friends. And I am happy to say that I did because I tried!

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Every time I ride the cable car I imagine it falling…

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My grin explains my love for free museums

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I think my friend Daniel has been hiding the secret that he was a painter during the Victorian period!

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Ancien Thai calendar lady says Rock ‘N’ Roll never dies!

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“The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments on this blog are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Office of International Education, the University of Georgia or any employee thereof. The University of Georgia makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on this blog and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.” 

Bonjour Lyon!

As a freshie in France who is getting accustomed to life in the charming southern city of Lyon, I have to say the most distinctive differences between American and French cultures lie in their youths’ smoking tendency and sense of fashion. These two aspects hit me both mentally and physically on the first day when I arrived on my campus: as I struggled through the school’s courtyard with my heavy luggage to find the international relations’ office, I navigated through a seemingly runway ready crowd of students who filled the whole place with fumes. My eyes even felt irritated at one point, perhaps as a result of both my sleeplessness after taking two long flights and the smoke. Needless to say, the outdoor walkway on the second floor of MLC before the smoking ban is simply not comparable!

Fashionable smoker

Fashionable smoker

As days passed by, my notion of French students loving cigarettes and fashion was only confirmed; that is, at least for the majority of them. Interestingly, smoking does not appear to be as popular among older adults as it is among people my age. It is likely that due to its commonness among the younger generation,  smoking has become a way that French youths gain their peers’ acceptance and socialize with others, as evident in how friends always form smoke circles to chat and hang out on campus.

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Yep, I am finally in France!

Even a café looks cooler!

Even a café looks cooler!

Since France has always been known for its great sense of fashion, perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised by French students’ fastidious attitude towards dressing for school. Often times you see people who refuse to sacrifice fashion for warmth by not layering enough. To me the effect on guys stands out even more because in America, girls tend to dress fashionably too while guys just don’t pay as much attention to their appearance; but here, guys are just as fashionably aware as girls. I was in awe one time when I saw a guy wearing an “infinity scarf” in the street (I even had to google it to know its name!). Despite their popularity in American universities, book bags are a rare sight in France: girls bring handbags and guys carry gym bags or satchels. You can literally tell an international student by looking at his book bag. I think this phenomenon reflects how the French regard one’s sense of fashion as an important expression of identity, and as a result they pay more attention to maintaining their image. Whereas in America you can always spot relaxing hoodies and even pajama pants occasionally, dressing too casually or comfortably in public is a fashion faux-pas in France.

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The majestic pipe organ in Église St. Nizier de Lyon! My favorite so far

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Freshie alert: I had no idea of the Charlie Hebdo march and walked right into it when I exited the metro station!

Breathing in secondhand smoke is never a pleasant thing, but I realize that it is an inevitable part of the French cultural experience so I will just learn to accept it. That being said, I have definitely come to appreciate UGA’s no-smoking policy more! As for fashion, at first I felt a bit uneasy thinking that others might judge my not-so-French fashion; but now I am no longer bothered by it because in my experience, French people are generally quite nice(as opposed to the stereotype!). But I too have come to carry a handbag—not out of the desire to fit in, but more so because I almost got my wallet stolen in the metro had my friend not realized in time and called the thief out! At the end of the day, I learned to become more careful and I am certainly thankful for being able to wake up in Lyon every morning(or afternoon) to my great adventure!

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You see what they did there…? Haha

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May I be as cheery as this creepy-looking mannequin every day!

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I can take a walk anywhere and it will be just as exciting for me!

“The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments on this blog are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Office of International Education, the University of Georgia or any employee thereof. The University of Georgia makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on this blog and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.”