French dorms: an oddly rewarding experience

charmar/ Flickr

charmar/ Flickr

Joseph Graham

I was not supposed to live in Mermoz.

During the summer, I insisted on telling the head of housing in the International Relations Office to place me in a “CROUS” residence for international students. Of the over 15 different residences to choose from, I chose to live in the least expensive dormitory and that has certainly made all the difference.

The residence is filled with students in their early to mid-twenties. I’d say 30 percent of them were born and raised in France, 50 percent are African students pursuing their masters and doctoral degrees who have lived in Mermoz for several years, and the other 20 percent are people like my Canadian friends and me who are only here for a semester and, frankly, couldn’t imagine staying here for more than four months.

As a UNCG student, I can certainly appreciate Mermoz’s diversity when it comes to the cultural backgrounds of its inhabitants. However, its diversity is certainly not derived by coincidence, but by a clear lack of financial resources.

While heating up one of my (many) frozen spaghetti and meatballs dinners, I was approached by three guys who lived on my hall. One was Russian, and the other two were Algerian.

The conversation began the way it normally does. They began speaking to me in French, I respond with an “American accent”, and then they stop speaking to me in French and continue with broken English.

“It has been three years since we met an American in Mermoz.”

Even though I knew why it had been so long since they had seen one of us, I figured I’d ask them anyway.

After telling me that it isn’t common to see an American in this type of residence, because they figured we didn’t come from the same, less fortunate background, they went on to tell me about where they came from and what life was like for them in France. The Algerians couldn’t speak English as well as the Russian so they used him as a translator.

They complained about how hard it is to be Arab and Muslim in Lyon. When they aren’t around areas that are predominately Arab, they said they’re constantly given bad looks, and treated as if they aren’t humans. One of the guys talked about how important it is for him to be here, pursuing a higher degree.

“We have to work harder than the white people for the same thing.”

It was at this moment I realized that we weren’t so different after all. The only difference between minorities all over the world is the place in which we live.

While I can’t seem to get used to the toilets without toilet seats, or the inconvenience of living almost outside of Lyon’s city limits, after being here for a little over a month now, Mermoz is finally starting to grow on me.

Categories: Features, Study Abroad Blog

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