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I Lived in France for a Semester: Here are 5 Lessons I Learned

Last fall, I was lucky enough to spend the semester living in a small city in France called Angers. I lived with a host family and took classes completely in French. My experience was very immersive and scary at first, but I learned so much and had an incredible time! Here are the top 5 lessons I learned:

You can be more adaptable than you may think

I will admit, the first few days were incredibly overwhelming and scary. I felt completely alone. I quickly learned that the scariest part was the beginning: beginning to speak to people, to make friends, to get to know my host family and more. However, I believe we can form routines in every environment. I was able to adapt and assimilate pretty quickly into this new French way of life, which totally surprised me. I adopted a new routine and life in my host family’s home. Change and new environments can be terrifying; but if you believe in your abilities and put yourself out there, you can handle change with grace.

Four months is not a long time

As the saying goes, “time flies when you’re having fun!” As I was leaving home, I was thinking Wow, 4 months?! How can I do that? Turns out, four months is not a long time. I swear I blinked and it was over! It’s amazing when I think about the amount of things I did and saw in four months. I created a new little life for myself: going to school, traveling, hanging out with new friends, going to a (French) gym, doing homework and being with my host family. I got so used to this new life and all of a sudden it was over—back to reality. When I look back, I realize that while 4 months can seem like a daunting amount of time for something like this, it really is long enough to settle in and get to know people well. But at the same time, it goes by in the blink of an eye.

Travel every chance you get!

I discovered my passion for traveling all over again. I visited cities such as Munich, Florence, London, Nice, Paris, Barcelona, Brussels and Amsterdam, to name just a few. I’ll add that it’s not the easiest to travel to cities like that for just a weekend on a student’s budget, but I was able to do and see some amazing things. The experience helped me realize that travel doesn’t have to be expensive and extravagant, and that it’s important to me that I continue to travel and explore new places throughout my life. There is so much to see in this world—so much culture, so much art, so much food to try, so many views to see and so many people to meet.

Cultural differences and similarities are incredibly fascinating

This goes hand in hand with travel, but I was able to learn about so many cultural differences and similarities during this time. There is something so fascinating about the many differences. There are stereotypes proved true and false. For example, the stereotype about French people and their politics and protests is TRUE. Also, they do eat a lot of baguettes and cheese. There are different manners, different ways of walking down the street, different styles, different ways of spending time and different values. It’s so interesting to contrast these elements with the culture I’ve grown up in. In addition, I found it crazy that I live on the other side of the world, yet still share so many common experiences with the French.

We are capable of more than we believe

This semester, I was pushed in so many ways. I was balancing learning and speaking French, homework, social life and travel. In doing all of this, I realized that I am capable of some pretty unique things—things that I never would’ve imagined myself being capable of. It goes to show that when you throw yourself into something and put your mind to it, you can do it.

I would encourage everyone to take every opportunity they can to study abroad or to travel. To see, experience and be immersed in different cultures and places is eye-opening and enriching in so many ways.

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Sophie Shaw

Notre Dame '21

My name is Sophie and I'm a junior Visual Communications Design major at Notre Dame. I am focusing on digital marketing and have interests in technology, fashion, and travel. I'm excited to share my thoughts, perspectives, and experiences with this community!
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