Overseas Briefing

By Guest Contributor

As I sat at the local café, sipping a glass of wine and staring up at the cathedral, I couldn’t help shake that despite the fact that I was doing all the same things as the French people around me, I still felt like I stood out as an American tourist. I have always considered myself partly European; I have a British passport and my friends mock me for my British sayings. Secretly (or not so secretly) I loved it. It made me a bit different back in Middlebury, but coming to France I needed no help feeling different and in fact feeling completely un-European.

While at first my American accent gave me away, that’s by far not the only reason why I found it hard to become a French student here. For a start, everyone here eats huge amounts for every meal of the day. Not many girls my age still play sports, and sometimes I feel like swimmer shoulders are a huge disability. With often two bags and my shoulders (which my host sister comments on at least once a day), it is hard to fit myself into the jam packed tram and I often dream of the days when my morning commute was from Hepburn to Proctor.

With professors, friends and family constantly telling me to become immersed in the culture, for the first month here I was really easily discouraged by the fact that I constantly felt just a little bit out of place. I have made great friends here, however not all of them are actually French, which only added to the fact that when out at a bar I feel like all eyes were on us (and not in a good way).

However, I have come to realize that it might just be me. I wasn’t expecting the culture shock when I got here. It is France after all. I’m not in a country completely unfamiliar like friends who are studying in Egypt or in Kenya. I think that because of this fact, I never even thought about the fact that France is not like the U.S. and that while I’m more at ease than people studying in non-European countries, it doesn’t mean that I can expect to be treated the exact same way I am in the U.S.

So slowly I have begun to look at my daily insecurities in a new light. Maybe I feel squished on the tram because there are 100 people in a space made for 60, and maybe people are looking at us because they are just interested in why there are foreign-sounding people in a local bar, rather than looking down on us. I have come to accept and appreciate the fact that I’m American. My French is better now so people don’t necessarily notice right away that I’m American. Instead, I tell them that I am, and after the obligatory quick political talk about the last election, we go on to talk not about our nationalities but about ourselves. Through this, I’ve accepted that yes, it was a bit of a culture shock at first, but that it is possible to immerse oneself and still be foreign at the same time.

In fact, I think that I am even more proud and thankful to be an American now that I have lived abroad. I know that everyone talks about how much time they have to reflect on who they are as a person and really discover themselves while they are abroad. As many who know me can tell you, I’m not really big into self-reflection or self-discovery, but without thinking, I have realized that I am much prouder and appreciate much more my American heritage. While I haven’t had one singular moment of complete self-awareness and discovery, I am thankful that I have had this experience to reflect and discover my real patriotic nature.

Written by ALEX EDEL ’14 from Bordeaux, France