Bonjour from the French Riviera!
Living here for the past three months has truly put much in perspective. The world is a lot more diverse than I could ever imagine. I've never been abroad before (other than Canada), so I’ve only seen the variety of people within the United States. Here in France, I’ve met people from Yemen, South America, and Oceania. Not only is meeting people an important skill, but also networks are being created for life.
I grew up as a first-generation American, so I was already aware of cultural differences between the United States and Europe. But, seeing it first-hand undoubtedly makes one very open-minded. Even in the most rudimentary everyday conversations, cultural barriers can cause misunderstandings, and even, conflict. For example, in French culture it is more appropriate to tell a white lie, whereas in the States, we are trained at a very young age that “honesty is the best policy.” French people are very abrasive in conversation and will often speak what it on their mind, which some foreigners can potentially find offensive. Without having an open mind and seeing situations from someone’s view, it can be difficult to interact well with one another.
Though this skill just may seem relevant in the context of study abroad, it is quite applicable to life back in America. Every day, we will need to deal with people from different backgrounds, different experiences, and different ways of life. Rather than falling into the dark abyss of conflict, we can first step back, and look at a situation through someone else’s shoes.
But that’s not all the study abroad experience has to offer. Being abroad has taught me the importance in being completely fluent in at least one other language. Though my knowledge of the French language has the ability to order me a baguette, it is by no means enough to hold a long, meaningful conversation with someone. I have challenged myself to master at least two more languages.
Studying abroad has also infected me with the travel bug. I have seen the importance and joy of travel on a whole new level. When I return to the States, I can take home the skills of navigating through a completely alien city. One learns how to be resourceful, how to deal with challenging situations (missed flights, strange currency, etc), and how to ask for help.
Being abroad has taught me more than I’ve ever learned from sitting in a lecture hall. Not only have I learned a lot academically, I have gained life skills and a new sense of self.
Danielle Zolotnitsky is the CEA MOJO French Riviera
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