Like most study abroad students will say, I experienced some of the most incredible and impactful months in my life while living in a foreign country for five months. From January 9, 2017 until May 31st I lived in Lyon, France. I lived with a host family while studying at a French Language school throughout my semester abroad. After five months, I can whole-heartedly say that I fell in love with a new city, culture, and language.
Despite the overall positive experience, I did have challenging moments that I expect most students to go through. Moving to any new place comes with a transition period. For me, the beginning was the most difficult part of my time in France. Adjusting to living with a host family with four children aging from twelve to eighteen was not easy after living on my own for three years prior. I ate dinner with my host family every night as well as lunch on weekends, which meant that I had to adhere to their eating schedule.
However, I was able to experience French meals, an integral part of French culture. I learned to appreciate this quality time, despite the occasional inconvenience.
Another difficulty was the language barrier. I had been studying French since high school yet I had never been very confident in my speaking ability. At first, I was constantly terrified of messing up or sounding like an American- I was even afraid to order a coffee. Slowly, I became more comfortable with making mistakes.
I realized that I will never, or at least not in the next five months, sound French so I might as well try to practice what I can. After I came to this realization, my speaking improved greatly because I was more confident and talkative.
One of the most valuable things I learned from my study abroad experience was discovering my own culture. Living in a new culture allowed me to learn about my own cultural values. Previous to this experience, it was difficult to understand my own values because I did not have many other values to contrast with my own. In France, I learned that my culture strongly values independence. Living in a family where they lived in close proximity with each other, ate most meals together, and did many activities together, I saw that community is a stronger value than it is in the United States. Although you cannot generalize every single French or American, I think there is a general trend that Americans value independence more than the French. Before my semester abroad, I expected to learn only about French culture, but in that process I learned about my own culture.
My semester in Lyon was a transformative experience. I became more confident in my French abilities. I became comfortable traveling all over Europe. I learned to live well with a French family. I learned about my own culture through learning about French culture. I will forever remember my five months living in Lyon, France. I cannot recommend living in a new country enough. It allows you to learn about yourself as much as another country.
-Aleda McMonagle, Spring 2017