Five days in and I’ve already taken the wrong bus, gotten lost on the way home, and told a man I’m a SIM card. As you might be able to guess, study abroad has already been a learning experience for me.
However, mistakes aside, this first week in Nantes has been incredible. The city is absolutely stunning, and my host family has 6 kids (5 of which are living in the house with me now and 2 of which will be living with me for the entirety of the semester), which makes for some very lively dinner conversations and lots of activity going on in the house. During meals sometimes I feel like I’m watching a tennis match because I’m continuously switching between looking from one person to another as they have a rapid conversation! It can definitely be hard to understand my family sometimes or communicate what I want to say, but they’re very patient and I already feel like my French is improving. Being here definitely makes me miss my own family, but I love that French families make a point of eating meals all together (and taking their time, as well–at home my brother is done eating in 10 minutes, whereas my host brother and I were at the dinner table last night for 2 hours!).
This weekend IES (my study abroad program) took us on a retreat to Vannes and the Gulf of Morbihan, which are a few hours away from Nantes. Both places were so beautiful, with lots of old churches and buildings. The trip made me realize that somehow most people can tell that myself and my classmates are Americans–whether it’s the way that we dress, our accents, or something else. Lots of people have said things in English to me as I’ve passed by them, even if I haven’t spoken a word.
One night at dinner this week, my host family asked me why Americans eat turkey for Thanksgiving. I thought for a second, flattened my lips into an ashamed smile, and responded that I didn’t actually know why. One of my host brothers said to me*, “We don’t think a lot about the meanings behind our own culture and traditions because it’s just something we’re accustomed to doing out of habit. When you study another culture besides your own, that’s when you ask that question of why traditions and behaviors are the way that they are.”
I’ve read before that when you encounter something in a foreign culture that you don’t like or that seems strange to you, you should try to determine the root cause or reason behind that behavior or tradition–because if you understand the “why” behind actions, you can start to accept and see them in a different light.
Hopefully this semester I’ll be able to ask lots of “whys” about both French culture and my own.
(and hopefully also take the right buses)
*in French (so don’t quote me on this)