A Story About A Boy

By Andrea Bouchaud

When I’m not conquering and changing the study abroad world for the better with the Twenty in Paris book, I work for a French company. For the past few months, a French student interned at our company. His name was ***Alain.  As one of the few native Anglophones who has Francophone capabilities in the office, I was asked to assist him on some American legal matters.

I was so excited at the prospect to learn about the process and legal hoops that foreign students go through to come to the United States because this is something I normally don’t have privy to as an American. Unfortunately, what I ended up discovering was not more information on things that foreign students experience when working/studying in the United States but rather how unprepared this particular foreign student was for working and living abroad.

Alain did not research the entire process for obtaining a work visa in the USA before his arrival. To work in the USA on a work visa requires the leg work back in the home country of obtaining the request to work letter from the foreign company, taking that to the American Embassy in your home country, getting the visa in your passport, come to the USA, get another document from the Department of Homeland Security at airport customs and then go to the local American Social Security Office. Doesn’t sound too hard to me, albeit detailed, but this student intern just didn’t know these steps in advance for some unknown reason and got things done really last minute. When I took him to the Social Security Office, he didn’t have the main document! We had to come back a second time and for a moment he thought he didn’t have another required document. Thankfully, he had it in his unorganized and hidden packet of papers stuffed in his backpack. Alain successfully obtained an American social security number which is needed to work and receive compensation in the USA. I still don’t understand why he didn’t have all the papers the first time, especially since I asked him if he had everything- he had said yes!

When I wasn’t helping him sort out American legal issues, I would try to tell him about Dallas and American life. I would always ask him if he visited downtown, saw the museums, did anything fun and the answer was always no. Dallas has an extremely small downtown. You could definitely visit it in 1 day or a weekend if you stretched it out. To help him know what there is to do in Dallas, I would send him emails with links to the Dallas sites. This boy did not research the main things to see before he left. Sight seeing and getting to know the host city is a very important part of living abroad. Don’t be a hermit and not explore! I understand it can be lonely but that is when you invite a friend from work/school or accept a native’s offer to go sight seeing which he always refused.

In addition to legal issues and Dallas life, I helped Alain with work issues. In one of these interactions, I asked him if the company provided him private, American health insurance. He didn’t know. I asked him what his plans were if he were injured and had to go to the hospital- who did he think would be paying that bill? Alain said he did not plan on going to the hospital. Now, no one goes abroad with the intent to get injured enough to have to go to the hospital but accidents do happen and it’s always good to be prepared. It was evident to me that he did not research American culture in advance by following the news as he would’ve known that we are a private health insurance based country where each citizen pays for his/her own health insurance and not the state. After dealing with all of this boy’s lack of preparedness, this comment truly was the top of the line. I was so offended that he came to this country unprepared for an accident when I did not do the same discourteousness to France.

The sole thing I learned was that Alain was unprepared for this experience. Preparation and research is critical anytime you go abroad be it for vacation or work/study. Learn from our friend and be prepared!

***Name changed to protect the innocent


Math is a universal language… or is it?

By: Andrea Bouchaud

(photo by: www.mahalo.com)

Mathematics is typically viewed as a universal language as it does not change from country to country, language to language. What if I were to show that this is not entirely true? Granted,  2 +2 = 4 does not change but the way in which numbers are said, worded, recorded and written do change and can cause for confusion, misunderstanding and delay when dealing with numbers in a foreign language. Let’s take a look at some examples of how numbers differ between the French and English languages.

One is the New Seven

My first semester at the Sorbonne in Paris, I took a French literature class. One of the first texts that we delved into was a Charles Baudelaire poem. Quick aside- Baudelaire was a famous French poet who was great friends with Edgar Allen Poe and translated all of his works into French. Anyhoo, I was sitting there in class confused as anything because I was not prepared linguistically (check out post on 8 Years of Studying French Did Not Prepare Me for Living in Paris for more info) when all of a sudden the professor wrote a few lines from the poem and put marks above each word. She was counting the syllables in each line. What did not make sense to me was why she was using the number ‘7’ to count. I found this to be extremely odd and deduced that what to me was clearly a number 7 must be a 1.  There was no other logical answer. Later that day, I talked to Tatie (my great-aunt) about this discovery. She explained to me that the many French people have trouble finding correct addresses in America because they think that the American seven is their one. This is because the American ‘ 7 ’ has a top line above the angled line. As you can see in the photo example below, the word grillé has 10€ above it whereas the very bottom price is 7€50. We know this is the number 7 because of the line through the middle. Before you go abroad, make sure that do research on how the numbers are written to avoid any confusion.


The Point of Punctuation

Sometimes punctuation can really change meaning. I recently saw an item in Signals Magazine that said “Let’s eat Grandma vs Let’s eat, Grandma” which beautifully showcases how one simple comma made all the difference in the meaning. But what happens when punctuation differs with numbers? Does the meaning of the number change? In a sense, yes! When another culture uses different punctuation marks to denote levels of money or amount, it can cause severe confusion if you don’t know to recognize the new meanings. This can spell misunderstanding and delay in your response to a math/number question. For example, the French use commas were Americans use decimal points. Example: $4.25 would be listed as 4, 25€. For bigger numbers the French use spaces, no commas. Example: $17,500 would be 17 500€. The situation would also help to clue you in but if you did not know to expect the numbers to be punctuated as such, it can take you by surprise and you would be confused with the price.

These new punctuations also follow you when saying a number. For example, if you wanted to recite a statistic of 2, 25% you say << deux virgule vingt-cinq percent>>. Virgule meaning comma. You don’t say “two point twenty-five percent” as there is no decimal point being used.

Number Crunch

French numbers are always tough for English speakers because after 60, there isn’t a single word. For the numbers 70-79, 80-89, and 90-99, there is a little bit of math and a lot of memorization involved. The word 70 is said sixty-ten (soixante-dix) which is literally 60 +10 but you don’t say “plus”. This equation of 60 (+) 10 continues for the entire sequence so that each phrase adds up: soixante (60) [+] onze (11) = 71; soixante (60) [+] douze (12) = 72….. The same goes for eighty (quatre-vingt or 4 [x] 20) and ninety (quatre-vingt-dix or 4 [x] 20 [+] 10).

To this day, when I hear a French friend rattle off a number 70 or over, I have to stop and think about it for a moment in order to truly understand the numerical significance. This long stream of numbers doesn’t stop when it comes to talking about years- in fact it gets worse. Years are not worded the same way in French. For example, the year 1990 cannot be said as nineteen-ninety (like we do in English) but rather one thousand nine hundred and ninety. You can also say in the 90s (dans les années quatre-vingt-dix) but this only helps for generalization and not if you want to reference a specific year.

Math and numbers are a universal language but not the ways in which we write record and express them. Before going abroad, reach out to former students, travel guides and online articles for more information on numbers and how your host country uses them to avoid any confusing situations.


Alexa’s Study Abroad Journal: The Beginning

BY: Alexa Wybraniec

(photo courtesy of the meaningoflife.me)

How not to begin:

The morning my study abroad adviser was expecting to meet me, I slept in. I don’t recommend this method (post-nasal drip was holding me hostage, I tell you).

My bad beginning brings me to my hypocritical first pointer – put yourself out of your comfort zone. I tell you this as I lazily type in a steamy Starbucks in a sleepy suburban town. But it’s true – a head-cold needs to fall somewhere between broken nail and a hole in your pocket on your hierarchy of needs. Especially when you’re abroad.

I rescheduled for the following week.

How to begin:

The morning my study abroad adviser was expecting to meet me, I flew out of bed, ran five miles, showered, dressed. I then trudged through New Brunswick, (NJ) littered with melting snow, and found the place, 102 College Ave. I thereby completed the hardest part of any journey – the beginning.

Lauren, my study abroad adviser, sent me an email a few days prior, which concluded with oodles of exclamation points. I thought, oh no. We’re going to be terribly great friends.

“I want to go to Paris!” was how I introduced myself, beyond ready to assault poor Lauren with rounds of questions.

Unfortunately, she didn’t immediately book my private jet destined for Paris.

She did, however, patiently placate my excitement and answer every single thing I asked her. I mean, I guess that’s her job, but there’s something really nice and warm about feeling 100% informed. I definitely recommend showing up for any meeting with a list of unique, prepared questions (there’s a journalist in me yet!), but you can steal some of mine.

After I exhausted all my fun questions (all work and no play makes Jack…), I asked my serious ones:

“Will I meet the group before we leave?”

“Do you think I’ll graduate on time if I do this?”

“Am I crazy for wanting to move to Paris for an entire year?”

“Is the program federally recognized (so I can use my student loans and scholarships)?”

“Are certain schools or countries better for someone like me, majoring in Journalism?”

“Speaking of, should I double-major in French?”

Honestly, I knew the answers to some of these questions already – in my spare time, I scour Rutgers’ study abroad sites (and yes, in true RU fashion, there are multiple), I set my phone’s and Facebook account’s language to French, and I spend many a weeknight with a glass of wine and DuoLingo.com.

I proceeded to regale Lauren with my limited, tourist-y knowledge of Rabat, Morocco and Montreal, Canada, the only two francophone cities I have under my belt. I also informed her that I pursued not only the required two, but four professors to write my letters of recommendation. Plus, I’d finished my personal statement and accompanying questionnaire. In fact, I completed my application entirely! I’m not sure who I was trying to impress, but what I’m saying is – don’t do this.

Your study abroad adviser doesn’t care how prepared you think you are. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to get a dialogue started about your interests and past experiences. In fact, I’d recommend meeting your adviser with the intention of being great friends. When I walked in, I knew that Lauren was about to be my number one resource for everything Rutgers/study abroad related.

But one thing should be understood – in reality, no one’s prepared to step off an airplane in a foreign country and feel comfortable right away. That takes time, effort, and immersion. Lauren humbled me upfront, unleashing her rounds of questions.

“Have you made an appointment with an SAS dean?”

“How about a French adviser?”

“How about a Journalism adviser?”

“Have you looked into the Journalism Program that SciencesPo-Paris offers in the spring?”

“How about the available study abroad scholarships?”

“How about the housing situation (hint: you’re on your own – no dorms available)?”


I seem to have some phone calls to make. Stay tuned, mes amis!


About the author:

Alexa Wybraniec is a journalism major at Rutgers University. She is going to be studying abroad in Paris at Sciences- Po for a year starting in the fall semester of 2014. Check back every Monday for a new post from Alexa. You can connect with her via her Facebook Page.


Picture Perfect: Study Abroad Mementos

By: Andrea Bouchaud

(photo of Andrea with her camera)

Photos are an important part of every trip.  They help us to remember our experience and all the great things we did and places we saw. They also help to capture our spirit, our candidness, our subtleties, and our distinctiveness.  Pictures are the one memento that everyone can easily admire and identify with. Pictures will touch hearts and make people want to connect and share their travel stories. No other study abroad memento will have that effect. Now that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t save all the acceptance letters, metro passes, immigration letters and the sort from your time abroad. You absolutely should! I’m just saying they’re not the same. When I was in Paris, I did not take many pictures. At that time in my life, I wasn’t really into photography and having a really small camera probably didn’t help my disinterest.  I wanted to experience Paris- not take pictures of it. Although this is a good attitude to have, it is also a limiting one. Looking back seven years later, I wish that I had taken more pictures of Paris in all sorts of interesting and beautiful compositions. Have fun with your photos. Take what I call “the normal photos” meaning the image is recognizable, you are a good distance from it and it is presented in a fashion that would be deemed standard. After that “normal” photo is taken, go crazy. Get unique angles; play with the focus; don’t be afraid to lie on the ground, stand on a bench or do whatever you have to do to get that special shot. This is the time to capture your experience and make a memory. Trust me, you will regret it if you don’t have many awesome pictures of your time studying abroad.