It starts off as a slight pang
A post, by a friend, of a food you miss or a person you’ve not seen in a while
Your heart twitches
And your brain sighs, closing the laptop.
Go outside and do something fun, you tell yourself
The group chat is blowing up, people want to see you
People want to travel
Everyone’s making plans and if you don’t, you’ll be lonely, and stuck with your thoughts this weekend
But you? You don’t really want… any of that…
You want, to get snacks at your bodega
One you know is thousands of miles a way
And you want to meet up with your partner, and your best friends,
Even though you know you’re six hours ahead and you can’t even Skype them, because they’re still sleeping…
You want to wake up to the smell of bacon, which people don’t eat here, especially not in the morning.
You look outside and the French “skyline,” with the gorgeous view of the Cathedral you could not stop talking about months ago,
The tiny houses with gorgeous balconies and windows,
Cloud your memories,
The fond ones you have of the foggy, starless New York skyline,
One which blinds you and wakes you up,
It starts to dawn on you,
I really miss home.
Ah, there it goes. The realization.
You should’ve never let that thought in your head because now that it’s there, it will plague you
Over the next few weeks, you try your best to keep enjoying the things
That are no longer novel to you
The cheese, the rich flavor of which, you are now used to
The fancy wine that is beginning to taste the same as Barefoot,
Even though you swear you can tell the difference
Now that it has sunk in,
The sickness has you obsessed with what’s better and so wonderful about your home.
You find yourself discussing what to eat,
Realizing, that Chinese takeout a la New York City is not on the menu
And French people don’t make collard greens
And roti, curry goat, oxtail, bake and sardines, and aloo is nowhere to be found,
And your family is light-years away, so you can’t have it.
You miss the sound of your culture’s accent.
That sing-song Trinidadian accent,
It’s so beautiful
But it’s difficult to find any Caribbean people that you can befriend here
No one who knows the joys of being Caribbean
You flashback, to a night you hosted friends,
One guys asks you,
“Is that the Confederate flag?!”
He’s Austrian, he doesn’t know you
But still, you’re shocked
It’s TRINIDAD. It’s not the Confederate flag! How does he not know that???
You can barely recognize any flags or capital cities or languages,
So you aren’t entitled to your anger
But still, it hurts
You are somewhere where your culture is unknown
Yet you feel it missing in your bones, and it boils in your blood
Thank God I have family across the border in Germany
Seeing them will soothe me, but there’s weeks to go
So thank God I grabbed that hot sauce from my Oma
If I can’t have Caribbean food, or really, good ethnic food,
I’ll make it myself. And I’ll burn my mouth with Trini-style hot sauce
And I’ll act like it’s the spices when tears roll down my face
Because I don’t just miss the cuisine or the cultural smorgasbord that is my group of friends and family back in the States
But, I miss… feeling at home
The adventures can be too much
Too much fun? Maybe
Too much novelty? Maybe
Too many memories? Maybe
But maybe it’s just, not enough similarity
Maybe being homesick is what I get for pushing myself to the edge of my comfort zone
Maybe this is
The small price to pay
For experiencing the wonders of world travel, exploration of culture, and new experiences
And it’s getting worse,
Especially as my course load piles up and the time approaches for me to make homecoming plans
But instead of being depressed
Instead of responding to the pang in my heart
And the emotional breakdown
I will embrace it
I will live with the ache in my heart,
Longing for my friends, my family, and my home
I will continue to enjoy my time here
Until this place makes me feel as comforted as the thoughts of home do.
This homesickness is just another simple ailment
With clear symptoms which are treatable:
A few doses of newfound friendship,
A steaming cup of French culture,
And a teaspoon of fond memories before bed,
And I’ll be cured.
Author Archives: Tammie in France
It starts off as a slight pang
In my last post, I wrote about how food is a major part of French culture, and how exploring food has pushed me to explore the culture and the meaning of French life. One important aspect I thought I should’ve included in that post is wine. While it’s included in the spectrum of food and drink, I realized that wine as an entity deserves a whole separate post to celebrate its meaning, varieties, and traditions in French culture. Then I thought, if the goal of my blogging is to educate, enlighten, and encourage intercultural learning and studying abroad, I thought it might be nice to showcase an important part of my own personal exploration of this aspect of French culture. And for me, this isn’t wine, which is huge all over the world and not always specific to France… this is champagne.
I live in Reims, a small city at the epicenter of the Champagne-Ardenne region. While wine is native to all parts of France, with wine vineyards and wine makers spanning all over the country and even the world, true champagne has a unique history and is a product and luxury based solely in the Champagne-Ardenne region. Now I know what some of you might be thinking. Some of you might want to refute my statement. After all, prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine, is basically the same thing and (obviously) isn’t from France… and what about sec, Germany and Austria’s own sparkling wine product? And again, what about the sparkling wine products in the USA, some of which are marked as “champagne” but made in the US? Well, champagne’s exclusivity to the region has everything to do with its history in France, and the creation of a luxury market solely for marketing purposes that has given France an immense spotlight in culture and celebration. As a matter of fact, in 2006 the champagne industry successfully protected its name by outlawing the use of the word “champagne” on any other product’s marketing or labeling – unless it was grandfathered in (as are certain products in the US). Products like perfume and yogurt have been sued and taken off the market for advertising its products to have the smell or even taste of champagne, so one can imagine how important the image is to those keeping the champagne traditional alive and well today.
Since the 17th century, the Champagne region has been home to producers of fine-quality champagne. Its international status as a fine, high-level celebration drink didn’t take off until the 1950s, so how did champagne managed to thrive in French culture for almost 300 years before that, stemming only from this regional area of France? Well, champagne’s taste, its essence, and its distinction from the tastes of the only once-fermented wine products has allowed it to hold a defined position on the French palette and in its culture. Additionally, the business associations formed by the grandes maisons (the large houses) of champagne and the vignerons (growers) has allowed the mass production of champagne to sustain throughout history, despite battling epidemics including phylloxera of the 1860s (which nearly destroyed France’s grape industry), economic recessions, agriculture depressions, and many more.
What makes champagne unique are the interesting terroirs of the French land (its soil, distinctive flavor, and minerals), and the rich history of the product which lies specifically within the region. My exploration of the culture so far has come from visits to champagne houses (so far Pommery and Taittinger), and a marketing course I’m taking, Luxe Marketing: Champagne & Wine. Through examining its making processes (which includes ancient techniques that to this day requires manual labor and emphasizes traditional methodology) to the way it is marketed (to whom, by whom, how much is allowed by export, what people are targeted to drink champagne and for what purpose) we can see that champagne has made a name for itself that isn’t soon to shift.
A significant part of my experience in Reims has been based around champagne. My friends and I have gathered to sip champagne, and I was introduced to the city by visiting the Pommery champagne house (a few days after my first lovely meal at Le Gaulois). Now my friends and I sip cheap (but still delicious) champagne in the spring air, as we all talk and laugh about our classes and tell stories about home. I bring bottles to friends as a thank you for hosting me, and have already sent some home as presents for friends and family. Before, I had never really drank champagne other than trying it once or twice on New Years. But now, drinking champagne makes me feel like I’m truly experiencing the region I live in, and getting to know an intimate and historical part of this area. While I love Paris and sometimes pine for the big city life I left behind in NYC, my experience in the Champagne region has allowed me to experience the beauty and impact of nature in the things we consume. It has given me a reason to delve deeper into France’s rich culinary history, and for that, I’ll say cheers!
“The meaning of food is an exploration of culture through food. What we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it, who’s at the table, and who eats first is a form of communication that is rich with meaning.” (PBS, The Meaning of Food, 2005)
One of the first blog posts I wrote during this experience shared that I had many preconceptions about France, its people, and its culture. I feared an ability to relate to my host country and wondered whether I’d ever assimilate. Turns out, a major foundation of French culture includes food, one of my favorite topics and parts of exploring different cultures! After all, “the meaning of food is an exploration of culture through food.” While I had heard a lot about popular French foods like escargot (snails), des cuisses de grenouille (frog legs), and foie gras (fattened goose liver), these seemed to repulse me. I was quite excited to come and explore the wide variety of French wine and cheese, two of its most famed cultural staples. Before studying abroad, French food seemed to be just alright – not perfect, but not horrible, so I have to say how surprised I am that I feel much differently now.
My first night in Reims, I went out for the meal that would set up my obsession with exploring French cuisine. I ate at a café called Le Gaulois, located in the city center. My first meal was a linguine pasta with duck, in a rich creamy peanut sauce. My friend Nick insisted I indulge in a glass of champagne from the region, its dryness perfectly complementing the rich sauce of the duck. For dessert, we shared chocolate mousse and ice cream with traditional cookies, and I made it my goal then and there to try as much French cuisine as I could. Nick and his mother ordered foie gras and chevre, two specialties they had me try then and there. Although foie gras wasn’t a big deal to me, it wasn’t gross like I expected. The chevre (goat cheese, this time prepared warm with honey) was immaculate. I began to understand why UNESCO protects French food under world heritage – it is an experience of sorts that everyone should have if they travel to France.
It’s been exactly two months and 11 days since that first meal, and since then I’ve propelled myself into French food culture. Despite my homesickness for New York City and all the available cuisines there, I’ve found it comforting to adapt to French culture via food. Bakeries are a huge deal here, and the freshness of the bread and pastries makes my mornings and/or lunches. Even the “fast food” options here (which consist of Arab kebabs and European pizza among other things) have special tastes that I feel I will remember when I go back home.
On the nights where I decide to splurge and explore the city as well as some restaurants, I like to eat lavish meals complete with dessert and drinks to try new things. Through this exploration, I’ve developed a serious affinity towards stinky cheeses, weirdly prepared meats like tartare (completely raw meat!), and large salads with French lardon and chevre.
The majority of my new friends here are fellow exchange students, and many of them share similar sentiments as me. Most of us terribly miss our lives back home, and for us, we remember our foods back home as staples of our culture. However, all of us have been rather excited to explore French cuisine and make a steady effort to both cook dishes that mean something to us back home as well as participate in French food culture. In order to do so, some of my close friends and I have formed a dinner group, something I would sincerely recommend to other students studying abroad. In our group of friends, we have a variety of nationalities present. We are American (Northern, Midwest, and Southern), Mexican, German, New Zealanders, and Lebanese, just to name a few. Every week we dine together at someone’s home, and one of us makes a cuisine of their culture to share with the others. Besides this, we’ve held “French” nights where we gather to eat baguettes and cheese, or go out to explore the local food. These meetings have become quintessential.
To give some more insight on the positives and negatives of adapting to a culture through food and drink, I’ve asked some of my friends to describe their experiences with French food and its culture. My friend Anna, like me, loves the bakeries. She says, “their pastries and baguettes are the best. No comparison to what I have had in New York.” Very often, Anna and I go grocery shopping together. She’s discovered that “the groceries (except for meat) are much cheaper.” When asked to comment on specifics, she said that meat here is super expensive but I am content with this because I would much rather have responsibly grown expensive meat than what we have in the United States.” Additionally, “most of the groceries here are also more fresh than the U.S.” Because Anna and I have a Caribbean background, there are some things that we can agree on that the French could do better to adapt to. Maybe this is because we are from NYC, one of the most diverse places in the world, but Anna noted that “the French have no sense of diverse food. What they believe to be diverse are cultural stereotypes,” something that we’ve seen a bit in even our own friends group. We made a joke that on the night our friend from Mexico City was to host dinner, everyone expected tacos for ‘Taco Tuesday,’ even though what she (and our other Mexican friends) made was impressive and delicious, to say the least. Anna went on to discuss seasoning, expressing sincere happiness that her mother remembered to pack her Dominican sázon, which she could not find here. On the overall experience, she writes that it is “difficult being accustomed to having different cultural experiences with food.” Anna and I are very similar as New Yorkers having to adapt to French tastes and culture, but the respect for the food system in France is immense from both of us.
Our friend Rea, unlike Anna, was not too shocked with French food or quality. “French food was not much of a cultural shock for me because I am Lebanese and French food and culture is embedded in Beirut. I learned, ate, and read French which still living in a conventional Lebanese cultural setting. I think the French influence is a big positive add-on to the life of the Lebanese.” Rea recommends to try cultural mixing, by dipping a French baguette in traditional Lebanese hummus.
One student here from Australia, Claudia, is living with a homestay family, something not common in our group of friends. In fact, she is the only one (that I know of) in my program who took the homestay option. Most of us have our own apartments with or without roommates, or live in student housing. Claudia’s experience with French food and culture have thus been a bit more intimate. She says that “from my point of view, the meals I share with my host family are as close as I will ever get to French culture.” She enlightens me on the true meaning of French food in culture by saying that “it’s more than just the classic baguette with cheese and good wine…in fact, it doesn’t really have a lot to do with what you’re eating, as long as you can talk about how good it is.”
I absolutely agree with Claudia in the fact that the French take immense pride in the small pleasures of life, including food. A well-prepared shared meal is an excuse to hang out and have good experiences. This is something I notice especially when I go out to eat, and unlike in NYC, staff do not seem to rush your dining experience at all. You are asked whether you want more time in between courses, and waitstaff do not come to your table repeatedly to ask if you need anything, are finished, or need the check. This is something to note – it is not rude to not be hyper-attentive to a table… rather, it is seen as a sign of respect that the people dining want to take their time and enjoy their experience.
Coming back to Claudia’s family, she tells me that “they are a very traditional Catholic family, who eat a big Sunday lunch every week. It’s often roasts with veggies, or something similar, and last for hours… it always involves more than one course.” Although Claudia says she doesn’t go out to eat much, I feel her experience with a traditional French family perfectly showcases the importance of intimate meals with those you care about.
Coming back to the quote that inspired this blog post: “what we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it, who’s at the table, and who eats first is a form of communication that is rich with meaning.” Everything that I’ve learned about French cuisine and its preparation – a focus on sustainability, the international protection of its culinary customs through UNESCO, the different means of preparation for the thousands of varieties of cheese, wines, breads, and meats they have – has proven to me that the French have a deep connection with what they consume, and only enjoy the finest things. Even simple foods, like bread and cheese, have such rich flavors and come in a variety of options, that you can’t help but think the French are very deliberate with what and how they eat. In this culture, especially with the affordability of good cuisine and its wide availability with pastries and specialty food shops on nearly every corner, it is reasonable to say that everyone deserves to eat well. And any culture that has food so deeply embedded, and considers the pleasure of eating a necessity to life, is a culture that I would consider myself enamored with.
One thing that’s amazing about coming from the U.S. to Europe to study is the immense difference in spatial recognition you recognize almost immediately after entering Europe. You’ll notice that the little map on the screen in front of your seat on the plane flies from one country to the next in what seems like 30-60 minutes (yes, that short) and the lines that you see on that map don’t recognize state or provincial borders but rather whole nations. It blows me away that nations can be so tightly packed together and yet so vastly different.
Regions of the U.S. certainly have their own gross differences – the busy pace of the coasts versus the slow lifestyles of the Midwest and South, the drastic differences of English accents across regions (Southern drawl, New England accent, Cali slang, Midwestern accent, etc.), and even the hospitality of the states bathed in sunshine (the South and the West) versus the more distant demeanor of those of us in the North/East. (New Yorkers aren’t mean! We’re just cold and busy!) But ultimately, traveling the U.S. is still exploring American turf. You’re under the same federal jurisdictions, you share the language, and most likely you’ll be at least somewhat familiar with the culture.
Not in Europe. It’s fascinating to live on a continent where driving an hour and a half to the Northeast, I’d be met with Belgian German. An hour after, we encounter Germany. Driving east would lead you to the romantic world of Italy, and even further east and you’re in Eastern Europe, a very different place pretty separated from Western Europe in terms of culture and inclusion in the international realm.
Recently I spent spring break traveling with a bunch of people including my friend from New York, friends from my study abroad program, and some of their friends. We went to Cologne, made a little stop in my hometown in Germany, and then flew to Rome.
It’s fair to say one of the things all of us international students studying abroad in Europe look forward to is traveling. I mean, why wouldn’t we? We were all bold enough to leave our homes, probably for a place with a new language, and a very different culture… so why not take it further? This blog post is based solely on my personal travel experiences, and I hope the advice in it is helpful to those of you who are already travelers or look forward to studying abroad. Of all the traveling I’ve done, traveling as a student abroad has been some of the most enlightening and interesting experiences I’ve had, and along the way I’ve picked up many tips and tricks that I hope will make traveling a breeze.
10 Do’s and Don’ts of Studying Abroad:
- Do plan ahead. See what your cheapest travel options are, and compare prices between companies. Goeuro.com is great for comparisons, but make sure to also look into local car-sharing services (like BlaBlaCar here in France) as well as cheap bus options (like Flixbus, a personal favorite) and airlines (Ryanair is amazing in Europe).
- Don’t go crazy trying to plan all the details ahead of time. Give yourself extra wiggle room while traveling. You’ll never know when you (and maybe your friends) want to stop for something to eat. You also don’t want to try to buy tickets for everything you’d like to see in advance because it could be that you all decide to wander around instead of sticking to a schedule, and you don’t want to be anyone’s mom pressing them for time.
- Do spend some time alone. I know you’ll be excited to travel with old or new friends, and you might feel safer in a group or with friends, but trust me – this will be necessary to balance your moods and process all the new things you’ll be encountering. I find that most people who travel together (especially new friends) sometimes squabble over small details with people they really like, even over really small things! Most people can get over that, but I find that spending time alone like having breakfast by yourself at the hostel or taking a safe walk in the middle of a large public park in the afternoon can clear your mind tremendously and take the edge off being surrounded by people with their own ideas and agendas the entire time you’re abroad. Make sure to remember to prioritize some self-love and self-care.
- DON’T PACK EXCESSIVELY. I cannot stress this point enough, and it really should be the first point. For cheap flights in Europe, you pay for everything, including checked luggage. That means as a financially-strained student, your best bet is a carry-on full of re-wearable (and comfortable) clothing, one pair of shoes, only the essential toiletries, and 100 mL bottles of any liquids you may need. Save room in your luggage for souvenirs and things to bring back. You’ll definitely thank yourself later! Over-packing isn’t just impractical and annoying, but can actually hurt your experience. For example, in Rome, we found ourselves walking for hours every day because there happened to be a taxi strike! Now, please don’t let this happen to you. Me and my good friend were miserable walking around Rome, trying to find a cab, holding our huge carry-ons. Just remember, anything you might find yourself needing you can buy when you get there. Anything you can’t is probably not a part of this society and you won’t need it to survive. Take the leap of faith and enjoy the raw experience for what it is.
- Do try and befriend locals! The best way to get to a know a place is through its people. Not only will they be able to help you with the practicalities of their home but they will have the best insight on what to see, do, and eat. Plus, you may end up with a new life-long friend.
- Don’t eat at super touristy places, at least not all the time. I get it, you’re hungry. You’ve been walking all day and you see a gimmick food place really near to the last tourist destination you went to. If you can, try to look up places with good ratings or get recommendations ahead of time. I know this is a little bit more work, but it’s always worth it. Those of us coming from big cities know very well that tourist areas are over-priced, and often offer the worst quality of foods that the city has to offer. At first, I thought Rome’s food was waaaay overrated. I was disappointed with the Italian culinary experience I had been fantasizing about for years. It wasn’t until my Roman friends reached out to me on Facebook and gave me recommendations, or when I started looking up popular restaurants on Google, that I found myself in food wonderland. However, keep in mind that if you need something quick and small to keep you going, you don’t have to avoid all the tourist spots forever. Just try not to eat there for all three meals, all the days you’re there!
- Do something every day. There’s no point in wasting time, money, and energy traveling to a new spot just to hang out in the Airbnb, hostel, or hotel. If your friends are feeling lazy, suggest finding a new eatery or a park where you all can lounge. If no one wants to leave, go do something yourself. Being somewhere new is exciting, but if you haven’t been anywhere, what is exciting except for the actual transit?
- Don’t carry tons of cash at once. You might think that cash is practical, in case of an emergency and when you’re going out. You’re not wrong. In this case, I support carrying some cash on you at all times (I myself like to keep 30 euros on hand at all times – enough for a taxi ride home in an emergency). But some folks carry too much, and there are a couple of reasons I advise you all not to do this. The first is that if something happens (which I doubt it will!), you don’t want to lose all the money you have. The second is that carrying cash encourages you to spend more (at least according to most people), and if you’re traveling on a student’s budget you might not necessarily want to do that. As a bonus, most places will accept international bank cards. Stay safe, stay practical, stay financially responsible.
- Do try to supplement your education with some outside learning. I know, I know. I can practically hear the nerd jokes now. But think about it. Schools and classrooms prepare you practically all of your life to learn about the world in practical ways. For me, my high school Greek, Roman, and world history lessons flooded back as I explored ancient sites in Rome we used to discuss. Seeing these places brought real perspective to some of these lessons, and let me imagine history in a deeper context. Learning about different peoples’ culture allows you to critique the world of politics, pop culture, and social norms from broad viewpoints. Understanding what is happening in places you visit and what they’ve overcome as a state or a city or province is critical to your experience there, and the world we live in that is constantly changing around us. Hearing the German perspective on American politics, after beginning to understand the French perspective, helps me understand our own impact around the world as well as how to embrace the differences in our cultures. Some folks in the world never get to experience the intensity of formal education that we as college students get to, and learning practically is how they become informed adults. Even when we finish our education, we never stop learning, so start learning practically now. You will become a better, well-rounded person, and no one can ever fault you for your openness to learn and your expanding depth of knowledge.
- Don’t forget to LIVE YOUR LIFE. Breathe, and take it all in. Try new things, especially things you wouldn’t back home. Eat something your friends stare at you slack-jawed for trying. Attempt to speak the languages in the first words or sentences you might’ve picked up. Learn the culture by embracing it. Prepare yourself to be changed by your experiences. Try to leave all your preconceptions at the door. If you open up to the world, it’ll open up for you and you might just find many new things that shape who you’ll become.
I refuse to let the pressure get to me. Walking around the hallways of this elite French school, I refuse to be intimidated. I refuse to let everyone’s ease and comfort, (their only worries the readings they didn’t complete last night or the impending presentation they haven’t started), make me feel like I’m a burden. I refuse to feel that I deserve this less, or even, that I deserve this more, which is a thought that bubbles up to the surface when I am overly-confident, partially bitter at how little everyone else has had to do to succeed as I scaled my very anxieties to get here. I refuse to bow.
I have a few friends who go to my host school (or are alumni). A good friend of mine, who for the sake of this blog we can call “Nick,” attended this school and graduated, with high honors of course, and told me everything I’d need to know before attending. I know it’s wrong to come to a new place with worries and assumptions but, I’m human, and I cannot keep myself calm in almost any situation so why should this be different? Before I came here Nick told me that this school was built as a place where the French elite could educate their children; politicians and diplomats sent their kids here to follow in their footsteps, and it’s become world-renowned as a place to get your foot in the door to a successful life as a part of high-brow academic society. Many of the previous French presidents have attended this school. Almost all of the people who go here are part of the wealthy elite in whatever nation they come from; all of their family is usually college-educated. Well, crap.
Knowing that I have quite the snappy attitude towards those who think they’re better than anyone else because of their academic or economic privilege, I prepared myself for the worst. I pictured myself living in an academic battlefield, constantly having to prove that the self-sufficient girl from New York (the Bronx, to be specific) was good enough, smart enough, and could handle what this school brought for me. Every time I thought about it, I got sick. What if I couldn’t afford to take all the same fancy trips everyone had planned? How would they feel about me going to a state school, one of the most affordable educations in the nation, coming from a CUNY rather than Columbia University, or NYU?
Fast forward some months, and voila! Here I am. Refusing. Refusing to let my own mental insecurities about my abilities affect how I present myself and how I perform at this elite institution that I absolutely deserve to attend. Refusing to disappoint my parents, who I don’t see as inferior for not having attended college, but as visionaries and angels, who sacrificed everything they’ve ever had to make my life better and more privileged than theirs ever will be. I refuse to view myself in competition with others with whom I might not relate; but rather I will let myself get to know others, and see the similarities we share in the world of academia, global travel, and professional experience.
To be honest, I think all first-generation college students share some of the same trials and tribulations. There is a girl here with me from my school who has become one of my closest friends in the time we’ve been here together. Let’s call her… Amara. Along with her, I’ve made good friends with an Afro-Brazilian woman (let’s call her Dascha) studying abroad in Paris, and she has struggled just like me to make it to this great university. They both understand, as fellow first-generation college students and low-income women of color, how nerve-wracking it is to be here among all of this wealth, prestige, and honor. We’ve had days, hours, and moments, when we’ve needed to confide in each other about comments made in our classes, observations we’ve seen among social groups, and implications of this institute which were shocking to us. (For example, everyone here can afford textbooks. At our home university, many professors omit them, or give much more time for students to purchase them, because working class colleges contain multitudes of people who can’t afford hundreds of dollars at once for reading material.) I am extremely grateful to you, Amara, for being a friend I confide in about these issues, who understands my anxieties, and gives me hope that we can for sure fulfill this experience without losing our self-esteem, or feeling any type of inadequate.
For all the first-gen students who are reading this, feeling some type of way, looking for inspiration or courage to study abroad or head off to college: look inside yourself. It will be difficult to get rid of the assumptions that society has put on us, and we will always feel slightly resentful at how much harder we’ve had to work to get here but please understand that it’s worth it. You deserve the opportunities you’ve fought for, and there’s no sense in worrying so much that you lose the ability to soak in all of the wonderful experiences, moments, and friends you will make here. Refuse to let yourself be a statistic, but make yourself a living example. Refuse to feel self-conscious, but let your different background propel you. Refuse to let the pressure get to you, use it to succeed.
My name is Tammie, and since as far back as I can remember, I’ve been an adventurous spirit. In every aspect, I enjoy the new, the foreign, and the unrelatable. I’m always down to try something novel, whether it’s food, places, or ideas. I enjoy people, because they allow me to experience things I might not always have access to like different cultures, ways of thinking, and lifestyles. This year I decided to study abroad so that I could experience an intense immersion into a different culture as an adult with responsibilities, expanding my horizon and my worldview.
I was accepted into a world renowned school for the social sciences, SciencesPo, located in seven cities across France, locations as diverse as the program content and its academic community. Before leaving the U.S., I don’t think I had a very good perception of France or its people. To be honest with you all, I admit that I had extremely limited knowledge of France and weighed heavily the opinion of others regarding French culture and attitude.
When I got to France, my fears melted into the void like a popsicle in the summer sun. I felt enchanted driving through the Northern French countryside, mesmerized at the number of vineyards and villages whose charming and old-fashioned aesthetic transported me into what felt like a romance novel. The city of Reims in particular dazzled me with its French classic architecture and symmetrical set-up.
Any fear, any assumption, and any bias I may have had completed rescinded, and I fell in love with France. There has been really no culture shock, because I’ve lived in Europe before and sort of understand the dynamic of life on this continent, even within the different European nations. I believe coming to France with a biased perspective helped to ease my culture shock (usually the opposite happens), because I was so pleasantly surprised with what I’ve gotten to know, and how I’ve been received in this small, fairytale town. The grand cathedral in the center of town, visible from all around the city center and even beyond, is a source of comfort in my new home, and I am happy that my homesickness is minimal.
So far, I’ve been here (in Reims) for 22 days. Twenty-two days of gorging on French food, 22 days of struggling to speak French with my American accent, and 22 days of discussing my role as an American in global politics. 22 days of learning new things, 22 days of missing New York, and 22 days of self-improvement. In this era of new presidential leadership, we (as Americans) are trying to make sense of political change. I came here looking to get politically involved, understand more about my role in global politics, and expand my education to be a better advocate for the underrepresented and oppressed. Since I’ve been here, I’ve noticed many stark cultural differences between France and New York. I feel uncomfortable comparing my experiences here to that of the entire U.S. because many of these differences apply only to New York City as I know it and many regions of the U.S. are so starkly different from the Northeast. Some of the biggest differences I’ve seen are an emphasis on politeness in the French language (even if you don’t want to be!), a difference in embracing the “melting pot” culture (the French can’t stand to be separated by race or religion; even if this isn’t apparent – the oppressed groups will tell you that the French can be very racist, even if it isn’t bluntly so), and finally, a globalized understanding of the world and its politics.
The last point I mentioned is the difference that I came to embrace, something that can be argued for really most European countries, but particularly France because of its history. The French are incredibly aware of their imperialist history, and my school in particular celebrates the scholarly pursuit of understanding many global cultures and nations as they play a role in international politics. Although it has always been my dream to work in international politics, it wasn’t until leaving the U.S. for my education 22 days ago that I realized that this was feasible, though a long way away. The U.S. tends to be selfish in its political studies; though we embrace world studies and different cultures, the focus on American culture particularly is important and our geography allows us to be relatively ignorant to what’s happening in other countries, continents, and cultures. France is a hotbed of ideology from all around the world, with African, Middle Eastern, European, American (North and Latin) people milling around, interacting in the French sphere. The French just seem to pay attention to what’s going on, while Americans seem to have to go out of their way to be involved in global politics. In my opinion, this difference in the French attitude regarding global politics is critical to both my studies, and my experience here; globalization has never seemed more vital to my personal and professional life as it is here. This semester in France, I hope to delve into the French language and political culture, soaking up knowledge about global politics that will allow me to become a better advocate when I return to the States, and as I continue my education.