Checking In: A Q&A with our own Nathalie Pena

This semester, Her Campus Oswego had to wish our beloved Nathalie, “Bon Voyage!” as she prepared to study abroad in France. For this week’s profile, we’re checking in on how her experience is going and anything fun she’d like to share! Though we miss her, she’s having lots of fun and has helpful tips and phrases to share along with many memories to make. We asked her ten questions about how things are going.

1. Why did you choose France as your location for Study Abroad?

French is my minor and since freshman year I knew I wanted to study abroad so France was the obvious choice. I decided to study French because I had this dream of being a fashion writer (doesn't every girl) and one of my uncles said, "France is the fashion capital, study French." So I took his advice, but still to this day I wish I minored in Spanish instead. It's my family's native language and it would have made sense for me to perfect it instead of tackling another one. I chose specifically Tours, France because I was against studying in Paris, a place everyone knows about, where a lot of people speak English and where everything is expensive. So I thought Tours would be perfect.

2. What differences between France and the U.S. surprised you?

Honestly, one of the biggest culture shocks was the word, "bonjour", which I can explain. Apparently, you should only say, "bonjour" once to each person you come in contact with. If you say it more than once to the same person, they get offended and think they're not memorable enough. Being back home in New York we say "hey" multiple times a day to the same person, so I feel like it's a significant difference. Also, most places are closed on Sundays (even the banks on Mondays!), so French people seem to take their rest day pretty seriously. Also the keyboards are different! A few letters are in different places and there are accents in French so it took me a while to figure out how to type a simple sentence. It's the simple differences that surprised me.

3. What similarities surprised you?

I didn't know that Valentines Day is pretty big in France, just like in America!

4. What major tourist spots have you visited? What are some tips you would suggest? Is every major spot worth it?

I visited the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and Le Sacre Coeur when I went to Paris, but also visited lesser known spots. I think it was worth visiting because I might as well take advantage of the fact that I'm in one of the most romantic countries in the world. But, I pride myself in being an awesome adventurer who looks for hidden gems. Going to the cute little markets in France is a good experience and I also went to a mall that had a terrace with a cafe and a view of all of Paris. It's little things like that that people don't think of exploring, but they can miss out on something awesome. I would suggest not tackling so many touristy spots in one day. Sure some people might only be in Paris for a short weekend like I was, but in my future I see myself traveling, so I look at that weekend as the beginning of my travels.5. What are some lesser known, obscure places you've been that you would recommend?

I think some of those places I mentioned in the above question, but the specific cobblestone market street I went to was Rue Mouffetard. And I wasn't able to do this, but if any of you happen to be in Paris, there is a park where you can ride a hot air balloon.

6. Have you felt homesick? How do you deal with it, if you have?

I've definitely felt homesick! I don't think I have been dealing with it in the best way, but calling family or keeping up with friend's group chats make me feel better.

7. What do you wish someone had told you before you left?

I wish someone told me that I would probably forget basic words from languages I already know. I spoke to my grandma over the phone my first month here. She only speaks Spanish, but I was mixing so many French words and I even forgot how to say the number 8 in Spanish. I was freaking out and thought, "Oh my God, I'm gonna forget the little Spanish I know, just because I'm trying to learn another language." But, the next time I spoke to her I was back to my "okay" Spanish speaking so it's all good.

8. What advice do you have for future students looking to study abroad?

Know what you want in your program. Do you want to study in a huge cosmopolitan city? Do you want to study in a place where you can learn a new language? How much money are you willing to spend/borrow for the program you choose? Once you have a general idea of what you want, you have to put in the work and do the research and meet with financial aid as much as it takes for you to get the opportunity to study abroad.

9. Has this experience so far changed any opinions you may have previously had?

This experience so far has made me more gentle and patient with myself while learning French. I knew a little French before coming, but I always thought I sucked at it. But, being here I know that it takes time to get fluent in a language and I'm actually making good progress.

10.  What are some French phrases that are important to know when visiting?

Bonjour (hello/good day); je voudrais...(I would like...); merci, (thank you); je besoin d'aide (I need help); je ne comprends pas (I don't understand); j'aime tes chaussures (I love your shoes, all the women wear amazing shoes).

Amusez-vous, Nathalie! We love you and miss you!