Being transformed by studying abroad in Paris

Being transformed by studying abroad in Paris by savedbythesouthernbelle

This article was written by Heather McGuinness, published on 28th April 2012 and has been read 4495 times.

Heather studied French and Drama at Goldsmith University London and spent her year abroad in Paris in 1992. Here she talks about being a student in Paris on your year abroad and what you get out of it.
Living in a country rather than being a tourist helps you pick up the values of your new compatriots. You learn to respect your adopted country and that delicious blend of being infuriated by some things and in awe of others. I learnt that it’s not rude to stare in France, or to ask people how old they are or how much they earn. I loved the architecture and the fact that you could see the same pair of gloves in a shop window in 32 different colours. The vocabulary you learn is because you have to use, buy, borrow or attend something - stepladder, exhaust, housewarming party - rather than a word on a page in class.

You also learn the extent to which you are an ambassador for your own country. Asked your opinion on all things England, you learn to answer questions on (in no particular order) foreign policy, the Royal Family, industrial action, racism, feminism, homosexuality, cricket and the Beatles.

You learn about your own language too; idiomatic expressions that translate and those that don’t. Watching the daily routine where you live, you discover the working rhythm of locals; the morning shopping, children going to school, workmen digging up the road, the public transport network. You experience the same smells, sights, sounds, tastes and sensations of the year unfolding: the seasons, different celebrations, the reason behind different bank holidays.

In countries where significant anniversaries are celebrated you learn about commemoration and history, hearing different voices and opinions in the media. Your own opinions are shaped. You visit new places, and do things on your own, perhaps for the first time - travel to an unfamiliar place, meet new people, have a job interview in another language, spend all day in a museum, go to the cinema, theatre, restaurants and cafes.

You leave messages on voicemails, spell your family name and learn how telephone numbers or credit card numbers are grouped and recited in your adopted country. If you live in a country where waiter service is the norm, you learn to love the dance of arrival and as you ask for newly-adopted national or local favourites, see their facial expressions change. You learn how birthdays are celebrated, you may go to other family events such as weddings, christenings or funerals. You taste new foods, freshly picked fruit, and experience market shopping, local cooking and careful budgeting.

It’s likely that sports reporting is more biased than you’re used to; I missed the neutrality of the reporting back home. I tried to explain cricket, queuing and the London smog of the 1950s. I explained that the Thames is tidal, that children can be named after celebrities, cities or given made-up names, and that British cuisine has come on a lot since the 1970s.

I made trifles for parties, shopped in the Paris Marks & Spencers, told people I was Scottish (half true) and as they couldn’t pronounce my name we compromised with ‘Ava’ or ‘Eva’. I missed Boots the Chemist more than I would have dreamed possible.

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