The chance to study abroad opens cultural doors for Linfield students every year, bringing new opportunities, as well as exciting new experiences. Traveling across the Atlantic Ocean, American and French students prepare for the cultural differences they find waiting when they land in France and America.
Although there are not many customs in France that Americans find difficult to adjust to, there are some changes that the average Linfield student might find hard to make.
Junior Katherine Thomas is studying in Marseille, France, and has noticed little things that she could do in America but has been warned not to do in Marseille.
“Not looking at people when you walk down the street, notably men. If you look a guy in the eyes, even if by accident, it’s an invitation, if you know what I mean,” Thomas said. “Not every guy will try to hit on you if you do, but especially in Marseille, most will.”
Along with the absence of the “Linfield Hello,” other differences include a lack of openness in France.
“The ‘private sphere’ in France is much more private than in the U.S., including the home,” Thomas said. “For example, my host mom has asked me to keep my curtains always closed in my room, so that the neighbors across the street can’t see inside. To me, I don’t care who sees inside my home, especially if it’s my own room. But here, seeing inside the home is the equivalent of seeing inside your private life. For the same reasons, it is not as easy to invite guests over. Of course every family is different, but that’s ‘typical’ for the French.”
While there are many differences between customs in France and America, Thomas has found many things she enjoys in France.
“I think for me it’s the satisfaction and confidence I have knowing I’m creating a little life here. As much as I miss Linfield, after this year is over I know I will have two homes,” Thomas said. “Speaking French every day is awesome. I can never get enough of it. I’ve made some wonderful friends, French and American.
“There’s little aspects of the French and Marseillaise culture that I love, like going to have a coffee at a cafe with friends after school at 4 o’clock, or walking everywhere,” Thomas said. “In the two months I’ve been here I can count the number of times I’ve been in a car on two hands. That’s it! [And] the fashion here and how you greet people [by] kissing each other’s cheeks. It’s really just the simple things.”
Thomas is spending the entire school year in France. There are three other Linfield students attending schools in France for the exchange program this semester and an additional three will travel to spend their Spring Semester there. The students will study in Angers, Aix and Marseille.
This year, there are no exchange students from France at Linfield, but there is one French teaching assistant, Stephanie Ohren.
Ohren describes American food as one of the hardest adjustments she had to make upon arriving.
“There are candies everywhere and some things we do not have in Europe and France, so of course I would like to try them while I’m here,” Ohren said. “The sizes of the packages [are] way bigger, so it implies an adaptation to how to cook and what quantity to buy.”
Another difference Ohren has observed is the living situations and independence of the students.
“There is not as much advice [and] support by the teachers,” Ohren said. “French students are much more independent, especially because you don’t live on the campus. It’s just buildings and students go and leave and have an apartment or live with roommates. Dorm buildings exist but they are managed by public organizations and not by the university.”
While in America, Ohren has come to appreciate what it “means to be an American. The culture of the big cars, the campuses, the landscapes, the food.”
“It’s like watching a movie, but it is reality,” Ohren said.