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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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