Fall break is generally a time for Albion students to go home, sleep in their own beds, and escape the daily trip to Baldwin for food. It’s a break from classes to relax and catch up with family and friends. My first year seminar and I, however, had a different experience. We went to France.
On Oct. 19, my first-year experience seminar called Culture, Connections, and Communities from Albion to France – and Back, taught by Dr. Dianne Guenin-Lelle, traveled to Albion’s sister cities Noisy-le-Roi and Bailly for one week to experience firsthand the dynamics of French culture.
Before our departure, we learned in class how French culture compares and contrasts to American traditions and how one is able to look past differences and establish relationships across cultures.
While in France, we visited famous icons in Paris such as the Eiffel Tower, Musee d’Orsay and Sacre Cour, in addition to the illustrious palace of Versailles. We explored French cafes and shopping centers but also left time for smaller places around Noisy like middle schools and town halls.
We learned a lot about French history but we were also able to experience the busy modern European city life in each of our activities. This allowed us to see how the French general public differs from Americans.
For example, when Americans accidentally make eye contact with strangers, we may smile to avoid feeling awkward. The French, however, see no reason to smile at anyone they do not personally know.
Personal space also holds different rules across cultures. Americans value their personal bubbles. We take up a lot of room and talk at a large volume. The French, however, do not see any reason to spread out and take up space. They are reserved and compact in both the ways they hold themselves and the level at which they speak.
We were also able to experience essentials of French family life through our varying experiences in separate host families. Some students, myself included, were challenged to interact completely in French with the host family. Others were placed in a house where English was spoken to avoid communication errors. No two host families were the same. As a result each student learned something different about how the French act at home.
This trip to France was one of the best experiences of my life, as I’m sure my classmates would agree. As a result of my week in France, I learned an immense amount about French culture while also establishing new friendships – both with my classmates and my new French friends 4,000 miles away.