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Living in an ‘American Bubble’ Abroad

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at San Francisco chapter.

“Would you like to share your Defoe Commentary to the class?”

I’d frozen in my seat, suddenly aware of the dozen pairs of eyes that were cast in my direction. It was the weekly two hour lecture for ‘Great Britain Civilization’, and as far as I was aware, I didn’t have a strong inclination to share my commentary on Daniel Defoe with the class. Despite this being a class at a French university taught in English, I was the only person in the room who was an international student. My fellow students themselves were seated in a row at the middle back of the classroom, far away enough from me to show the differences in our nationality. There might as well be a ribbon of yellow caution tape separating me from the French students with the text ‘AMERICAN’ stamped every six inches. Each student had gone over their fantastic “commentaries”, which I myself had to Google after being assigned, as the term “commentary” in a college assignment setting was foreign to my American mind. I could almost feel their contemptuous judgment in the air, which was either imagined by myself or as real as the late afternoon sunset pouring in from the west window. 

“Did you write it?” My professor, a bird-like woman in her late fifties or sixties, added. 

“Yes but, I would not like to share,” I responded. 

She gave a note of acknowledgement, and resumed the class, where I sat back gratefully in my seat, having been spared of showing a worse written commentary than my French classmates. 

Many instances like this were not uncommon, although I accepted each one as a rite of passage as an international person living in a foreign country. I had the comfort of my fellow American exchange students with me, immersed in the process of unraveling our overcorrected home habits in exchange for temporary foreign counterparts. My social media feeds and music were still very American. I picked foods I recognized from home in my local Intermarche and took to watching Emily in Paris during my meals for background noise in my quiet single dorm. My French fluency staggered at the A2 level, so the majority of my classes were taught in English. 

A way I would explore my thesis would be to observe tourists. As such a multicultural city that rivaled even San Francisco, there were truly people from everywhere. Having settled into my new life once the transition period began to cease, I began to observe them further. Especially the American tourists who would catch my attention. Their overzealous demeanor when demanding English would cause not only the poor recipient, but me as well, to roll their eyes. The disgust Parisians held for Americans was palpable, I myself had received enough snide comments in relation to my home country to make a neat list. I sympathized with the afflicted cashier or assistant at the wrath of the tourist. Also during a time of extreme political conflict, with Macron raising the retirement age, caused much unrest within the people. I had never seen protests of such valor and confidence, especially with fellow students at my university. Firmly planted in front of all the classroom buildings, armed with canvas banners graffitied on with rough black lettering, faces young, even for an issue not relevant to them for another several decades. The disconnect I felt from it surprised me. I felt like being American had encouraged me to “not care” about so much. It was somewhat bizarre to see a community of youth that exceeded the Instagram story reposts for a stand for what they felt passionate about themselves. 

There were many times when something wasn’t as I expected, which would cause quite the disbelief in me that made me realize how America-centric my mindset was. The language barrier was one thing. I had always been under the impression that English was as commonly known as their native tongue, as it was what I always saw on digital media. Having it be quite the opposite, with the French natives very understandably holding a dislike for speaking a tongue not their own. One of the strangest experiences was visiting Disneyland Paris, the oddity of having an entire American theme park plopped right down the middle of a foreign country. Even the theme park workers spoke particularly English there. Had it been the other way around, I am sure there would’ve been some revolts on American soil. My observations lead to the belief that I was living in some ‘American bubble’, my small little world of an American-tainted mindset that caused so much contrast and ambiguity in the new life I had abroad. 

Living abroad was the most life changing and eye opening situation I was ever put in, and I am both grateful and thoughtful when reflecting on it today. I feel like I was never bitter about the challenges I faced, but acknowledged, and even embraced them, just like with the blessings. It felt like such a temporary, but impactful time in my life I wouldn’t be able to replicate. I live in gratitude and positive reflection for my experience of an entire new culture, language and cultural expectations disregarded.

Lindsey Tong

San Francisco '25

Hello! My name is Lindsey Tong and my pronouns are she/her. I am currently a 3rd year at San Francisco State University majoring in Visual Communication Design and minoring in Video Game Studies. I was born and grew up here in the city. I have professional interest in working in game or graphic design and digital media in the future. English has always been one of my strongest subjects at school, and although I don't write much for the public nowadays, I am really big on daily journaling and writing for myself. My personal interests include pop/music culture, gaming and design, makeup, hiking, reading, thrifting, journaling, and hanging out with my boyfriend.