Tag Archives: cultural differences

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Eleanor’s Paris Adventures: The Differences Between Peaches and Coconuts

I have now been in Paris for three weeks. It’s a crazy statement – wasn’t I just home packing and waiting for the moment the plane would touch down at Charles de Gaulle? Now I am in Paris, walking past Notre Dame each day on the way to class and taking photos of the Eiffel Tower every time I see it. I’ve figured out the cheapest place to buy crepes with Nutella and I’ve been to the movies (in French!) twice. It’s like a dream.

One of the most interesting parts of my time so far in Paris would have to be the metro. Oh, the Parisian metro. I love the metro because I can take it to basically anywhere in the city. It’s a bit confusing to figure it out, but once you do, you’re set to go anywhere. And what a cool feeling once you’ve mastered it! I feel so official when I swipe my Navigo card (monthly pass) and board the train with the rest of the Parisians.

What I don’t like about the metro is that there are a lot of homeless people in the stations, and it makes me sad. There are many homeless people all over Paris, really. I am from Boston and there are homeless people there, too, but nowhere near as many as I’ve seen here. Seeing people sleeping in the metro stations makes me realize that Paris is not just the rosy picture in the movies. The other issue with the metro is that it is often packed to the brim. Paris is a city of 2.2 million people, and many of them use the metro every day. At peak times, you can be squished in the car there with a hundred people you don’t know. For someone not used to it, it can be kind of uncomfortable!

Not everything about Paris is perfect, but it’s all about the attitude. At orientation, our professor told us that Americans are like peaches and French people are like coconuts. As Americans, we are friendly and smiley toward everyone. We let people get to know us quite easily. However, our hard inner center is not open to a lot of people. We let people in, but only to a point. French people are the opposite. They are like coconuts: hard to penetrate, but once you’re friends with a French person you’re always friends with them. French people are far more reserved than Americans. At home, I usually smile at people on the street, but here, that is considered strange. It’s not a bad change, it’s just an important cultural difference.

Paris is exactly as I expected in some ways, but in other ways there are aspects I just never thought about. I pictured the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and the churches and the beautiful architecture, because I’ve seen those images for years. But I never thought that the food would be so good and the beautiful architecture would be on literally every street. I had some expectations, but other than the ones I mentioned I didn’t really think about what my daily life would be like. I hadn’t anticipated that I would simultaneously remember more French than I expected to and that it is very difficult to converse with your host mother when you don’t speak her language that well. I hadn’t anticipated that I would make really great American friends in my program but also easily become friends with people of other nationalities just by going to a few events.

Paris thus far has been a study in contrast, but I am really loving my time here. All this to say, it is even better than I expected it to be in almost every single way!

(Beautiful photos taken by Eleanor)

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Eleanor Harte

Eleanor is currently studying abroad in Paris at the Sorbonne where she is taking Political Science and French classes through CEA for her junior year. Back in the USA, she goes to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she's studying Journalism and Political Science. Follow her on twitter @eleanormharte and Instagram www.instagram.com/eleanormharte.

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Know Before You Go: Debunk Cultural Stereotypes Before Studying Abroad

(photo by: fearfuladventurer.com)

In a recent language exchange (LE), my LE partner and I were talking about his trip to NYC just a few weeks ago. This was his first time visiting the USA. He told me that he was very excited to visit Manhattan (pronounced “mahn – ah- ton” in a French accent) but that as it got closer to his departure date, he started to worry. My LE partner follows US news and heard about the recent mass shootings as well as the 2nd amendment gun debate. Because of these news feeds, he thought that America must be a very violent place where everyone is carrying guns. I told him that I feel pretty safe in the US and that the majority of Americans are not carrying guns on them, especially in NYC. I also followed up by telling him which neighborhoods in NYC to avoid because there are gangs and high levels of crime which attract gun violence. My LE buddy then went on his trip and had a good time. He said that after a few hours in NYC he felt safe and didn’t think about the possibility of New Yorkers carrying weapons on them for the rest of the week long trip.

This conversation got me thinking about my own experience studying abroad as well as an article I recently came across about study abroad preparation (sorry, I couldn’t find the link). A university in Florida which has a study abroad program invited both its American and Spanish exchange students to have a forum on cultural stereotypes and how these expectations can affect the study abroad experience. The American students expressed concern over bull fighting and the Spanish students expressed fear of gun violence in USA. The conversation showed both groups of students that their “expectations” of the opposite culture were not founded in complete truth. For example, many Spaniards despise bull fighting shown by its decline in popularity and most Americans are not carrying guns. This forum allowed students to dispel their assumptions by speaking with a native.

Speaking with a native to find out what the host culture is really like is a critical part of the study abroad preparations. When I was preparing to study abroad, I only went on the cultural stereotypes of Paris being a pretty city with good food and French culture not as dominant as American culture. In addition to that, I also had stereotypes that studying abroad will be a constantly exciting experience. This was where I went wrong. Stereotypes, whether positive or negative, can foster unrealistic expectations. Don’t just go by things you’ve learned about the host country in class or talking to tourists. Read the host country’s news at least 6 months in advance to start giving you a realistic picture of daily life abroad. Although reading the news of the host country is important, the only way to debunk this is through talking to a native. The best ways to find a native are through a local cultural center (i.e. Alliance Française) or meet up group and/or language exchange sessions via mylanguageexchange.com. Debunking stereotypes and having accurate information /realistic expectations will help you transition smoothly into life abroad. Don’t go abroad with unfounded expectations. It will only hinder your immersion and acceptance of the host country and the study abroad experience. They say that knowledge is power so make sure you know before you go.