Study Abroad Blog

Joseph Graham
  Lyon, France

One of the most triumphant moments I’ve ever had was the moment I walked out of the study abroad offices at UNCG this past spring. It was at this moment that I realized I had just signed up to embark on the craziest, scariest adventure of my life.

Now, I’m not a spontaneous person. I never have been. If I go somewhere that isn’t on my agenda for the day, something is probably wrong. The thing is, I’ve actually always wanted to be a “go with the flow” type of person. So, choosing to go abroad for the first time in my life was probably the best way to break out of my very comfortable, schedule-oriented shell.

Adjusting to a very relaxed daily life in Lyon, France has taken some getting used to. You see, last year I bit off more of UNCG than I could chew. I was vice president of the Student Government Association (SGA) in the fall, then moved up to president in the spring. On top of that, I was vice president of the Club Tennis team, on the Chancellor’s Search Committee and a part of other organizations I probably had no business signing my name to with my completely full schedule. Oh, and I think I was a student, too.

Nevertheless, it was time for something different and time for me to take on the challenges that come with removing oneself from familiar territories.

To be honest, things started out rough. As a pessimistic first-time flyer, the last thing I would want to happen is for my first flight from Raleigh to New York to be delayed by four hours, or to miss my connecting flight from New York to Madrid by 15 minutes, or to miss my last flight from Madrid to Lyon because the attendants in New York cancelled it for me. But it did. Oh, and it was just perfect that I had my luggage lost in New York after I had finally arrived in France.

The best part about that day was getting into a taxi, leaving the airport and hearing a very familiar song on the radio. What was playing? Coincidentally, Daniel Powter’s, “Bad Day”.As it turns out, things started to look up. Over the next two days after my arrival, I got the chance to stay in one of the nicest hostels in France, where I met the international students I would end up spending my birthday with. Together we legally drank wine by the riverside and talked about what we hoped the next 18 weeks would have in store for all of us.

Life was easy.

It wasn’t until the day I moved into “Mermoz,” the cheapest (for a reason, I promise you) student residence in the city. It was at this point that life started getting difficult again.

I may not have mentioned that I don’t speak French fluently. Let it be known that one should never decide to come to France for longer than a week without actually knowing how to speak French.

After seven semesters of it, you’d think I’d be okay, but if I hadn’t panicked and asked the Canadian girls — who I didn’t know were Canadian at the time — I met in the residence’s front office if they spoke English and then again if they spoke French, I probably wouldn’t have the key to my extremely modest “dorm” room.

Culture shock is a real thing, my friends. I didn’t think it was until I rode the Metro and I saw a group of straight guys greeting each other with kisses. One kiss on the right cheek, another on the left. Maybe I thought it was real once I counted how many pairs of white Stan Smith Adidas shoes I saw on the way to school one day. Maybe I thought about it when I walked into my school’s courtyard during the 20-minute break between 4-hour classes and saw everyone smoking.

No, it was actually when I went to the grocery store and saw that one baguette was cheaper than a bottle of water when it clicked that I was finally out of that familiar territory called “America,” and that maybe I should have dieted before I flew here.

I hope that you’ll continue to join me as I observe life beyond the U.S., literally taking a bite into French culture, and enjoying life as an “international student” while experiencing all of the adventures that only Europe could offer.

Categories: Features, Study Abroad Blog

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