Writers Abroad Spotlight: Clare Link-Oberstar in Lyon, France

Where are you studying abroad and with what program? 

I am studying French in Lyon, France at L’université Catholique de Lyon (UCLy) with University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC). 

When did your program begin, and what are your top three moments so far? 

My program required us to arrive on September 1. My top four moments so far, since I can’t pick just three, have been exploring Lyon, specifically going up to Notre Dame de Fourvière Basilica and looking out over the city; our program’s trip to a Anncey, which is a small old town at the base of the French Alps; my friend and I went to Oktoberfest in Munich, which was wild, but so amazing; and finally, I took a trip to Marseille and Aix-en-Provence with some of my friends, which was amazing. We climbed up to Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica which had a wonderful view of Marseille and the Islands off the Coast, and we did a 13-mile hike to the Calanques d’En Vau, which was absolutely gorgeous. While in Aix-en-Provence I also went to see an exhibit composed of moving projected versions of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings paired with music. It was an immersive, trippy experience like none other. 

The Calanque d’En Vau, Marseille, France by Clare Link-Oberstar

Are you enjoying the program? Any hard likes or dislikes? 

I am definitely enjoying my program! Lyon is a gorgeous city with so many monuments to visit and a fun night life. I love going to the open air markets, cafes and coffee shops, hanging out in old town, going to the rivers, and the huge park with a lake, a zoo, and botanical gardens. I have definitely struggled with the disorganization of my program. We are a group of American students who are a part of a larger program for international students at our university (UCLy).  The communication with us from our program (USAC) and their communication with the university have seemed to be non-existent. It has made information about classes, credits, and language levels incredibly confusing and a bit frustrating.

Being in Lyon, France, what is the hardest cultural adjustment? 

Being in Lyon, I think the hardest cultural adjustment has been living with a host family. My host mom is single and lives alone but she is hosting three students right now, so I have two housemates; we all have our own rooms. We get breakfast provided everyday and 5 dinners a week which are Monday through Friday. We eat breakfast together sometimes and we generally all eat dinner together. Some of the hardest things to get used to have been some of the ways certain foods are eaten, what food combinations are supposed to go together and even some of the ways things are done around the house. Having been here for a month a half, I am definitely getting the hang of it now. Speaking in French has also been a big cultural adjustment. I speak French with my host mom almost exclusively and I try to speak it when I’m out as much as possible. Some people accept it and respond in French, but others just respond in English.

Any favorite classes, professors, people or locations in Lyon, France? 

I would say in terms of classes, my two electives are probably my favorites. My class on French Art and Architecture, which is taught in English, is completed exclusively outside the classroom aside from our midterm and final. We walk around the city and take field trips to different locations following art and architecture as it progressed over centuries. I have visited so many places I would never have known of or thought to go to with this class. My professor is also working on getting his architecture license in France and is teaching classes at the Architecture school here. He really loves art and architecture which makes the class super fun and interesting.  My other elective class is taught in French on the subject of WWII in Lyon. Lyon was an extremely important city and a big part of the resistance during the war. My professor is a visiting professor from Mount Union University in Ohio but is originally from Dijon, France. He is energetic and fun and really loves talking about WWII. We are doing a literary analysis with four different books that all focus on a different aspect of the war. Both classes have been really interesting and both professors have been really great. 

Clare on the hill at Notre Dame de la Garde looking out over Marseille, France

Would you recommend this program and why? 

I would definitely recommend this city, Lyon, as a place to study abroad. Particularly with this language intensive program run by USAC myself, and many others, have had issues. We were not told that the first month would be a month long extremely intensive language course, with midterms and finals.  We were also not told how our classes would function or how credits will transfer back for the language classes. Our program did switch campuses right before we arrived this year, so I attribute many of the issues to that, though it has been pretty frustrating. Overall, it has been a positive experience thus far and my French is definitely improving everyday. 

Any advice to someone else going to this program in the future?

I would definitely say try to not have any sort of expectations when you arrive. Things have been, to a certain extent, what I expected but also, in some ways, not at all. I really didn’t have that many expectations, but I knew people who did and it can make it very challenging if things don't go the way you expected. There will be a lot of that, especially in the beginning while you are still adjusting. Also give yourself time to adjust. It's a big deal and things will be hard and potentially stressful. I spend a lot of time in language class, so really make sure what you want to do is study language if you attend this program, because it is quite intensive in that regard. 

Amazing sunsets from my room at my host mom’s apartment

*Bonus questions*

Favorite staple food: Bread and cheese are huge staple foods here and I am definitely here for it. There is bread at every meal and cheese for dessert after dinner. 

What do you miss from the US? I miss good Mexican food. Everything in the grocery stores here in the “Tex-Mex” section are Old El Paso brand. There is nothing remotely authentic about anything that tries to be Mexican food. 

What do you enjoy there that isn’t in the US? I have become a huge fan of Orangina. It is a fizzy orange flavored beverage, which is specifically a product made in France. I can’t tell you why I love it so much, I just do.