As Americans living in France, we’re used to standing out a bit. Though we’ve settled into life in Reims, we still reckon with the major cultural differences between France and the United States daily. From unique mannerisms, to differing communication styles, to distinct gastronomy, the gap separating customs in our home country and our adopted country can be quite large.
When we’re on campus at the Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne, where we’re both currently pursuing our master’s degrees, our foreignness feels even more obvious. Not only are we the only students from the United States in our respective programs, but we’re also the only anglophones.
How tempting it is to keep to yourself and decide that you’ll simply never fit in with the French! However, instead of throwing in the towel, we’ve endeavored to find a place for ourselves as Americans at our French university. Here’s how we fit in by using our differences to our advantage.
Discussing the USA
In our globalized world, the goings-on in the United States affect the international community in significant ways. Therefore, both in and out of the classroom, America is an important topic on the French psyche. As American students in France, we are perfectly positioned to offer valuable insight to our peers on a variety of topics – academic and otherwise. In this way, we compensate for any knowledge we may lack from growing up in the States and we turn our oddity into a strength.
Teaching students to become proficient in English is one of the French school system’s goals, but learning English is no easy feat! Complicated spelling, irregular pronunciation, and challenging phonemes make the language tough to master. That’s where we come in! Whether it’s helping our classmates translate a particularly obscure phrase or explaining how to pronounce the word “thorough,” we find the opportunity to assist our friends very rewarding. Our peers, of course, are just as supportive in our quest to perfect our French.
One of the best parts about studying in France as a foreigner is the opportunity for cultural exchange. Purposefully seeking out moments to have conversations that overturn stereotypes about both French and American people strengthens our relationships with our friends by creating a win-win situation where all of us walk away more cultured. Being eager to share about our experiences and open to hearing about others’ circumstances helps us integrate into French university.
If you’re an international student in France, there’s no need to hide who you are! On the contrary, while you soak in all of the benefits that studying in France offers, you can carve out a space for yourself by making the most of your foreignness. Life in France brings you so much, but what will you bring to France?