Well, that’s it.
After a stressful check-in (apparently the carry-on weight limit is 12 kilos, so I had to leave a bag with my host mother to mail back to me), I got on the first plane and sat in front of a screaming toddler and her mother who was hyperventilating into a sick bag. The entire voyage can’t be like this, I thought. As we took off, it hit me— I am officially leaving. I am no longer on French soil. That view from the plane window is the last I’ll see of Marseille for an indefinite amount of time. So, naturally, I start crying.
These French stweardesses, this French air magazine, this is really the last time I’ll be surrounded by the language I love so much. Once I leave, French goes back to being a hobby. This was only confirmed when I got to the Schipol airport in Amsterdam, where all the signs are in English and I had to speak English just to buy a bottle of water. How depressing.
Of course, even though I’m going home and even though I will no longer be speaking French 24/7, everything will be different at home. The experiences I had and the knowledge I have gained will always be with me. I will never look at certain things the same way again. The way I think, the way I communicate, have been enriched by my time abroad. I have become so self-aware and interculturally aware in the past 4 months. Like Lilli (the AUCP director) said to us on the second-to-last day, this experience will shape and direct the rest of our lives. We will forever be drawn to the international, to the adventure.
I wrote all that in the Schipol airport, fighting back tears and sleepiness, absolutely terrified to go back to the real world, yet trying to stay positive and reflective. As I watched the Welcome to the USA video in the passport line at Boston Logan, I felt a warm and familiar connection to the country waiting for me just beyond those doors. I have to say that for the first few days it was so nice to be home with my family. Strangely, I feel closer to them than ever. Maybe it’s because I’m an “adult” now, or because being under the same roof of my parents has become a rarity. Spending most of the past three years away (and the past 4 months even farther) from my family makes me appreciate them that much more.
Nevertheless, that dreaded ” reverse culture shock” has to hit eventually. My first culture shock was at Chipotle. I had begged my family to take me there for dinner since I had missed Mexican food in France, but I was completely in awe at the size of the “small” drinks. Those cups are enormous! Who would want to drink that much soda?! From there, I went grocery shopping with my mom. It was there that the jet lag really set in. I was so overwhelmed. Aisle after aisle, product after product, brand after brand, sale signs and clearance bins… I was actually exhausted after a few minutes. Next came American TV. American commercials are SO annoying! And why does every store need to commercialize Memorial Day? How are there this many reality tv shows? I kind of liked watching my favorite shows dubbed in French, it’s more interesting and challenging.
What about reverse homesickness for France? I definitely miss it, but I’d say I’m nostalgic in a good way. I love sharing photos and stories, I love revisiting the memories. I know I’m not in France anymore, but it’s like my special place that I can go to in my mind. I’m happy and grateful for my experience abroad, not depressed because it’s over. I just want to keep it alive: French films, conversations with my dad and French-speaking friends, my internship, the international community at UMW, who knows?
I’m a mix of nervous and excited to get back to my life in Fredericksburg. I’m impatiently waiting to see my friends again. But I want to share everything with them, and I know they’ll get bored of it. An experience abroad is something you can only relate to if you’ve done it yourself, and even then those experiences can be drastically different. I’m sure I will have a new perspective in my international relations classes in the fall. I’m going to come across as a know-it-all in my French class. Does the Arabic I learned in France sync up with the UMW class I missed?
I’m just so happy that I got to study abroad. I visited places I never thought I’d visit, I made lifelong friends, I used parts of my brain I had never had to use before, I learned to understand and appreciate other cultures. I have gained invaluable knowledge that has expanded the way I think, analyze, and communicate. And I know that one day, I will make it back to France!
|Ma mère d'accueil:||Qui mangera de la salade verte?|
|Les invités:||Non, merci, je n'en peux plus, etc.|
|Ma mère d'accueil:||Qui veut du fromage?|
A handful of my favorite photos from the trip!
Dinner in Lisbon:
Toasting the birthday girl.
Gigi (right) and our British friends.
View down the table.
Un élément crucial du programme d’AUCP, c’est sa perspective interculturelle. Tous les étudiants doivent suivre un cours qui s’appelle Cultural Patterns of France and North Africa. On étudie la politique, la religion, et l’identité dans un environnement international. On essaie de tenir le miroir de nos propres identités. Le but, c’est de créer des liens entre cultures, de devenir un pont entre les Etats-Unis, l’Europe, le Moyen Orient, et l’Afrique.
Pendant mes études et mes interactions ici, j’ai noté que les Américains ne connaissent pas vraiment les Français et vice versa. Par exemple, les Français pensent que les Américains mangent que du fast-food, que chaque Américain est propriétaire d’une arme, et que tout le monde déteste les noirs. Evidemment, ne n’est pas le cas. D’ailleurs, il n’y pas mal de stéréotypes américaines envers les Français que je trouve actuellement ridicule. Et donc, je vous présente une petite liste de mes observations.
Les Stéréotypes Françaises que je trouve plus ou moins vraies:
-On adore le vin et en boit tout le temps.
-On adore le fromage et en mange tout le temps. En effet, je dirais que 98% de mes repas chez ma famille terminent avec du fromage.
-“Pardon my French.” Absolument, carrément, vraie. Je pourrais parler pendant 5 minutes en ne disant que de l’argot et des gros mots. Merde alors!
Les Stéréotypes Françaises qui ne sont pas vraies (ou au moins, pas a Marseille!):
-Les Français sont des crâneurs. C’est vrai, mais seulement a Paris! Au Sud, c’est une culture différente. Ici, on est détendu, méditerranéen. Ici, ce n’est pas la capitale. Ici, c’est la vie quotidienne des gens réels. Marseille en particulier est une ville diverse et unique. Parfois j’ai même l’impression qu’elle ne se prend pas au sérieux.
-Les Français sont les plus romantiques du monde. …Pas forcément. Encore une fois, ici on n’est pas Paris. Ici, c’est quoi, la classe? Il serait plus correct de dire simplement que le “PDA” est ordinaire, même encouragé, chez les Français.
-Les Français sont racistes. Possiblement vrai, mais c’est une variété de racisme complètement différente, et a mon avis moins sérieuse, que celle des Etats-Unis. Par exemple, en France on a la tendance a identifier les personnes par leur race. Mais, ce n’est pas parce qu’ils se croient supérieur a cette personne, c’est parce que la notion de “politically correct” est moins renforcée culturellement. Par exemple, si je disais que quelqu’un est noir, il n’y aurait aucune connotation de la haine derrière; ce n’est qu’une observation. Mais si j’avais fait une action inspirée par la haine, je serais indubitablement et gravement punie par la loi. En plus, les origines sont moins importantes que la citoyenneté, car la relation des immigrés avec la France est bien différente. Ici quand je dis que je suis Italienne, on croit que je viens d’Italie. Je suis avant tout Américaine, mes ancêtres n’ont rien a voir avec (selon les Français). Il s’agit de l’universalisme français. Aux Etats-Unis, je crois que le racisme est plus profondément enraciné, mais on n’en parle pas.
Ben alors il est possible que j’avais des autres choses dont j’ai voulu parler, mais je suis fatiguée et je vous laisse avec cette petite analyse.
Something most of us discovered at the beginning of our semester, is that most French people who are not Marseillais, do not like Marseille. It smells bad. It’s full of immigrants. There’s no class. There’s dog sh*t EVERYWHERE (Ok, I have to agree, I hate that too. Is there really nothing we can do about that??). Their accent is weird. They love to exaggerate . It may be the oldest and second-biggest city in the country, but who cares. It doesn’t have the classical power and sophistication of Paris. It’s not as quiet and quaint as the rest of Provence. It’s just, “ugh. Mar-say-yeuh.” *eye roll*
Well, I am not ashamed to admit: I LOVE MARSEILLE. It is MY city. It is my home away from home away from home. I know the streets, the neighborhoods, I know the restaurants and stores, I know the metro lines, I know the bars and clubs, I know the history, I know the languages, I know the Calanques. I have lived this city, and I have grown quite fond of it. I may sound like a foreigner, but I no longer feel like one. I belong here. I am proud to be here.
I love hearing the Marseille accent (like a southern twang), from my host dad to the cashier at Carrefour to random people in the street. I love turning a corner in Noailles and feeling like I’m in North Africa. I love being able to look down from my house on top of the hill and seeing all the red tile rooftops against the blue blue sky (there are never clouds in Marseille, the wind chases them away). I love walking around Vieux Port, seeing the heart, the birthplace, of the city. I love when I am able to give people directions, or when I successfully interact with a cashier or a waiter. I love having established a routine, yet at the same time always experiencing something new. I love the food, pastis, the tiny expressos the fruit and vegetable markets, that random brass band that shows up around town and covers pop songs. I love the noise. I love the diversity. I love how you can walk for a few minutes and suddenly find yourself on the corniche on the cliffs around the sea.
So, judge away. I won’t hear you because I’ll be busy speaking “Frarabic” and making cultural observations and swimming in the Mediterranean.
I’ve been trying to listen to more French music lately. I’m starting to really appreciate French rap, especially artists like Soprano who talk about real issues. This song is about what he would change if he could travel through time.
Somehow two weeks have gone by since I got back from Morocco and I stll haven’t gotten around to writing about it here. I’m sorry everyone!
I don’t even know where to begin, it was such an incredible and educational experience! As you may or may not know, my program studies the Middle East and North Africa, and how we can bridge their world with ours through a little more intercultural understanding. So, the week-long trip to Morocco is a huge part of the semester and really ties together everything we’ve been studying.
A few quick facts about Morocco:
It is located in North-West Africa. It is a very agricultural region. (So no, I was not riding camels in the desert, although that would be awesome)
It used to be a French colony. The French influence is everywhere, and the language is spoken among the educated and wealthy. The Moroccan dialect, Darija, is pretty far from standard Arabic, so I didn’t understand much.
Morocco is very diverse. It is a Muslim country, but I saw everything from women dressed in skinny jeans and leggings, to women in niqabs. About half of the girls I met during my stay wore a scarf around their head. There is also a large Jewish population, which remains rather separated but the two live in peace.
There are so many things I want to talk about, and I will probably make several posts about this experience, but to start here are some things that first shocked me:
-No matter where in the world you go, you will hear American pop music.
-Moroccans are incredibly warm and welcoming people. I felt at home with my host family by day 2, whereas it took me a month to feel comfortable with my French host family here. Moroccans treat their guests like family. Also, the mother will feed you delicious food until you explode.
-Not every home has a Western-style toilet or a shower. But the Hammam is one of the greatest experiences I have ever had (more on that later).
—Even though our cultures and traditions are wildly different, you will always have things in common with the other person. Girls in Morocco like to talk about boys and makeup and music and school. The youth like to criticize the government. Everyone loves to watch TV.
—Religion is a public, everyday thing. It forms the basis of their culture and the community. My host family members pray 5 times a day, there are mosques everywhere, and religious expressions are used in everyday conversation. But, as my Islam professor says every class, il n’y a pas un seul Islam (there is not just one Islam). Everyone is Muslim, but how they interpret the religion can vary drastically. Kind of like Christianity.
—You never realize just how wealthy you are as an American until you leave the West. Everything is cheaper in Morocco, and yet it’s still too expensive for so many people living there. Morocco is pretty developed, but it is not super rich.
—Tradition and modernity live side by side in Morocco. You could be outside a store that sells cell phones, and then a merchant with a donkey carrying goods passes you.
Well, there’s a small overview of what I discovered in Morocco. I can’t wait to say more!
While we were on vacation in Lisbon, a friend-of-a-friend put us in contact with a British girl who he had studied with. We messaged her just to ask for restaurant and sight-seeing reccommendations, and she ended up inviting us to her birthday dinner! We ate at a little hole-in-the-wall, family-style restaurant somewhere around the windy, hilly roads of a quiet neighborhood, and it was arguably the best night of my vacation. The girl, whose name is Gigi, is studying abroad through Erasmus, a European-Union exchange program that basically allows you to study anywhere in the EU and to meet other Europeans from the same program through meetings and parties. Gigi is awesome and really friendly, and we found ourselves in the middle of a group of 25-ish students from all over, several of which (like us) she had just met. I met students from Italy, the UK, Poland, Turkey, France, Portugal, Brazil, and Germany. We all sat around a giant table while Gigi and the couple that own the restaurant ran around bringing us wine and big plates of food to share (food, drink, and dessert all for 6.50 euro?! Vive le Portugal!!). It was such a warm, intimate environment and allowed us to have great conversation.
Most of the students were really excited to meet some Americans and pick their brains. We compared politics, school, religion, etc. They were fascinated by the things happening in the US today and wanted to know where we stood. I was asked several times what I thought about the current situation of my country. I found that saying something like “I like Obama and I think we’re at a turning point” was usually a satisfying answer. It was also really funny to me when one girl from Great Britian said that she was surprised that she liked us, seeing as the only Americans she had ever met were obnoxious, inconsiderate, and culturally unaware. I think it really is a shame that so many Americans don’t get the opportunity to travel, or learn foreign languages, or study other parts of the world. Having an open mind and being able to understand differences is so important, especially for us as Americans, who are brought up to think that we’re the best of the best. I am so fortunate to have found a program that is so comprehensive and intercultural. I am an American, living in a French city where 25% of the population is immigrants or of North African/Middle Eastern descent. But beyond that, my classes are focused around discovering these cultures and their languages, making educated comparisons, and bridging the three together for my international relations studies. I’m just getting so much out of this semester and I can really see how it’s going to help me in my future career.
Now back to the dinner. Being surrounded by so many nationalities was truly an amazing and humbling experience. Seeing the United States through the eyes of European youth really made me take a step back and think. Being able to navigate this international experience and make a good impression also made me feel good about my studies and my future. We all came from different places, grew up differently, study different things, yet we were all eager to learn things about each other and, thanks to the pervasiveness of English, to communicate and get along. Honestly, I think a lot of diplomatic relations would be more productive if meetings were held at a Portugese family-style restaurant.