Learning and Living in Lyon

My name is Mecca and I’m a double major in Psychology and French, with a minor in sociology. I went on the IE3 French Language Institute program in Lyon, France for Fall semester of 2018. When I first started learning French in HS, I never even considered studying abroad as a possibility. But when I continued my studies at UO, I was introduced to the many programs offered by GEO and I was excited to prepare and apply for the chance to acquire learning beyond the traditional classroom setting. I chose to go on a French program to support my major and to practice speaking the language with native French speakers. There were many locations in France to study abroad, but I chose Lyon (rather than Angers or Poitiers) because it’s the 3rd largest city in the country and I really like that city feel.  

My trip to France was my first time ever in Europe. I traveled alone and flew from LA to Paris, then took a train from Paris to Lyon where I met my program director and host mom. Although I had two large luggage bags and a backpack, I was very optimistic about traveling alone and I was ready to conquer any challenges that came. With this, I learned how to troubleshoot and ultimately navigate life in a foreign setting.

The biggest takeaway from my experience was building confidence.

Even within my first month in the country, I learned how to communicate with people to get where I need to be via public transportation (that was very new to me), I opened a bank account, and got a new phone service plan all in French. I developed patience and courage in this journey. Lyon is the perfect study abroad location for international students because there is always something to do. There are many activities to do over the weekends, like going to the farmer’s market in the mornings, attending an opera show, spending time in Place Bellecoeur, which is the city center.  

The highlight of my study abroad journey was my experience living in homestay because:

  • I was able to speak to native speakers about many different every-day topics that wouldn’t be brought up in the classroom
  • I was provided with authentic home-cooked meals throughout the week
  • I always had a family and a home to return to after my long days in the city

 For my first dinner with my host mom in Lyon, she invited a good long-time friend to join us. Although I first thought that it was a little nerve-racking participating in the many discussions that are brought up at the dinner table, they were extremely patient and even lent me the family iPad to look up the words that I didn’t know to fill in my sentences as I shared my thoughts. Towards the end of my program, the same friend that joined us in the beginning was in town again and had joined us again for my last dinner. After I was rambling at the dinner table about my experience, what I really enjoyed and what I’d miss the most in Lyon, I remember him looking at me in shock and jokingly responding “where’d you learn to speak French so well?!” I really appreciated the positive and reaffirming feedback in his response because I too believed that my speaking skills and confidence excelled tremendously during that Fall semester. 

In the French Language Institute program, I went to an international school within a French university where I took classes with other international students from all around the world. Some of the classmates that I engaged with throughout the semester came from Thailand, Egypt, Colombia, Vietnam, Canada, and many more places. As an international student, I took a two-weeks pre-course called a “stage” where I was evaluated on the language proficiency and learning pace. Once the stage was over, I took a placement test and began the school year in the B1 level. I took core classes for my level which included oral production, writing production, and civilization (a class on history and politics). The two electives that I chose were creative writing and fashion. We learned in lectures and activities that engaged everyone, and since we spent more time in the classroom than in the US, we didn’t have as much homework responsibilities outside of school. 

There were a few challenges that I faced at the start of my program. First off, I wasn’t very confident with finding my way around the city via public transportation. I previously had very little experience with traveling on busses and trains in the U.S. and I learned that I actually needed to get familiar with it, living about 30 minutes (1 bus and a couple of tram stops) away from my university. After accepting rides in the first week, I soon understood how easy it is to public transport in this city! Catch the 46 bus at Soeur Janin, get off at Perrache (transfer station), and take the T1 tram to Rue de l’Université. There are two rivers that go through Lyon (la Sâone and le Rhone), and the university of Lyon 2 was on the Rhone. Many young people live in this city and hang out along the river during the day and in the evenings. There’s a skate park, dance clubs, boat bars, and many more places to socialize and meet new people.

Another foreseen obstacle that I faced was culture shock. Coming from Oregon, where it’s normal to make eye-contact, smile, wave, or even say hi to people on the street… the culture shock was real. I had to learn to not take it personally being around people that don’t come off as warm and bubbly one the street. A more positive experience of culture shock was having dinner. French people really value designated time for togetherness at the dinner table. This could go on for 2-4 hours of eating courses, discussing several topics, checking in with each other’s lives, and enjoying beverages. 

Two years later, I’m still in contact with my host mom and she said that I’m welcome to return any time. Upon returning to UO, I moved my French minor up to a major with plans to return to the country as a teaching assistant for English. After putting myself in the position where I was successfully able to continue my everyday life in another country, I developed a greater passion for traveling and making more international connections in my life. If I could live out my study abroad journey differently, I’d write down a bucket list so that I could actually check things off and make sure that I did most of the things I wanted to do. I also wasn’t prepared for how fast time flies, so I’d put in more effort at cherishing each day and making the most out of each week. 

For more photos from my trip, feel free to check out this link

Challenges in Lyon

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

The Genius of Study Abroad: Revolutionary Imagination

I sit here, cramped and crowded, on the plane flying at mind-boggling speeds toward familiar oceans. The window is dark, wet with clouds turning surprisingly quickly into beautiful patterns of ice. I lay my head back and consider the time I have been away from my little corner of the world. I have had the incredible opportunity to travel throughout Europe over these last three weeks, and I have learned a great deal from my adventures and experiences during this time. I have examined in great depth and detail the meaning of “travel” and of “place”, and I have considered what each of those terms means in relation to myself. I have departed Portland, Oregon as one person and left Paris, France entirely another. In order to understand the true meaning of “study abroad”, I have followed in the footsteps of symbols and figures of the world in a myriad of disciplines, and attempted to understand why they chose to go abroad in their own time and how that experience affected their work and their own perceptions of the world.cliffs-of-moher

I arrived in Ireland, meeting the nine other students who would become my traveling companions. We excitedly traded stories of our flights and embarked together to University College Dublin, our first home away from home. Dublin is full of landmarks, though none so well known as the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben. Ireland’s capital city instead offered a contrast to such dramatic manmade exhibitions. I found myself appreciating the role nature played within the city (and outside it) far more than any architecture. One of my favorite memories was a day trip I and another student took across the country to see the Cliffs of Moher. It was an unforgettable experience and offered a unique view of Ireland. The trinity-college-dublinshockingly green, stunningly beautiful rolling hills and the cloudy gray skies created a beautiful color palette against which to appreciate the culture. I remember it vividly; recalling these hues also brings forth a memory of euphoric music and laughter, the trademarks of the friendly Irish people.

The stunning city of Oxford was filled with the most elegant buildings I had ever encountered. The entire city appeared almost as a single, sprawling castle. Everywhere we went, throughout tours, walks, and strolls, I found myself gazing upwards in awe at the grace and beauty of the colleges. I especially loved visiting the Bodleian Library. This particular collection was incredibly large and full of treasures, on display in exhibits for the public to appreciate. The original draft of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the Magna Carta – all of these amazing artifacts added to my wonder. It was a massive building, more modern than the rest of the town but open and accessible to any who might wish to enter. The library to me represented Oxford well; a hub of learning for any who might wish to search for it and full of historical treasures waiting to be admired. I fell in love with the tranquility of the city and the way I felt while there, and promised myself I would return someday.

The most surprising city, London, was unlike any other European city big-benI had visited previously. Leaving Oxford behind, London was the next step into the 21st century. Bright, loud, and busy, the city was excited to be alive. Londoners walked by their world-renowned sights and symbols on their morning commutes. I stood in front of Big Ben in awe; it surprised me with its elegance. I had never spent much time examining photos of the gigantic clock, believing it to simply be nothing more than a timepiece. Now I stood irresolute, jostled by the hurrying crowd and saw for the first time the intense detail that had been placed within the monument. London is the home of so much of human culture. We had the astonishing opportunity to visit both West End and the Globe Theatre. Attending those performances of The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, and Macbeth were experiences I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Paris is unique to itself, and I believe that is why so many, myself included, feel their hearts pine for it. It is full of beauty, romance, history, and literature, but it is a living city, and reflects this in its dirty metro stations and streets. The Eiffel Tower is famous, but I was more interested in la Cathedral de Notre Dnotre-dameame – the Church of Our Lady, sitting in the heart of the Left Bank. I sat for a long time in front of the church. The sun was setting, and it was bathed in orange light. The crowds were thinning, and the people were quiet as they began to consider dinner plans and their evening activities. I quietly examined each arch and window of the façade, looking at each carved face and wicked grinning gargoyle. I imagined a small silhouette reaching up to ring the bells, and felt literature come to life. I focused so intently on the architecture, without a camera or distraction of any kind. It evoked in me a sense of peace and a sense of loss, on my final evening in the city. The church was serene, overlooking the Seine with the patience of ages and looking down on tiny me with the same tranquility. I stood, vowed to return as soon as I could, and walked back along the winding streets in the twilight.

The world is both bigger and smaller than it seems to one looking out at it from their own window at home, and this paradoxical state seemed to be in constant flux for me as I traveled. I walked streets that were filled with people just like me. I felt as though the world was not truly as alien and mysterious as it sometimes seems from far away. I felt confident in the knowledge that though this place was new and on the other side of the world, it was really no different than the small quiet streets of my suburban home in Oregon. This illusion was displaced nearly as quickly as it formed, however, as I gazed in awe upon buildings older than I could fathom and landmarks both huge and beautiful. This incredible adventure was meaningful beyond all expression, and I am forever grateful to everyone who made it possible. I have been changed for the better in so many ways by my experiences abroad. I will cherish my love for these places forever, and hope someday to see them again.


-Delane Cunningham, Summer 2016 happy