July 30, 2013

Looking Back: The First Year of My Masters

The first day of school, where we were made to act silly and then sit through orientation presentations all day long, feels like ages ago. The buildings were unfamiliar, and despite being oriented all day long I left feeling like I didn’t know how to do anything any better than I did when I woke up that morning.

A week after taking spring semester finals, I returned to campus in order to drop off my registration packet for next year. The school seemed so small. I knew all its nooks and crannies. And while I had to figure out much of it all on my own (or with help from my fellow students), I now knew how to print documents, use the wifi, and recharge my student card.

La fac (school).
Source: l'aubeserveur

School in France wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. I was disappointed, pleasantly surprised, mega stressed, had a lot of fun with good people, and learned some stuff. Overall a good year.

I think a major factor in my disappointment stems from the differences between high context and low context cultures.

Low context cultures are cultures where communication is in explicit codes like words, and rules and expectations are explicitly explained such as in America and New Zealand.

High context cultures are when communication is in physical gestures instead of words, and relies heavily on context such as in Japan and Saudi Arabia (thanks intercultural communication class!).

France is somewhat in between high and low. While they do use words, they leave enough unsaid to where I felt under-communicated with by my professors. My first shock came when nobody handed out a syllabus, and that sort of indirect communication continued on all year.

I had a really hard time being graded and judged negatively on things the professors never told us about. For example, not telling us it’s required to have page numbers on our presentation, or that we’re not allowed to use animations, and then marking us down for it.

This wouldn’t be so bad if there were some underlying rules for all of the school, but a lot of it came down to the personal preferences of the professors, and it was difficult for me to accept losing points for something nobody told me about in the first place.

But even with this cultural difference, I was able to learn new things, meet new people, improve my French, and pass all my classes with flying colors.

I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, and despite it being a challenge, super stressful, and at times exceedingly frustrating, I’m really glad I decided to go back to school and go back to France.

I'd like to say that next semester I'll be better prepared for the lack of direct communication coming my way, but I'm not sure I was more accepting of it Spring semester as opposed to Fall.

Sometimes a girl just needs page margins and font size defined before writing a paper.

July 11, 2013

How to Find an Apartment in France (Or At least How I Did)

I have now successfully found housing all on my own three times in France, and am currently working on getting apartment number 4!

I completely understand that this is an area of stress for many people moving abroad, whether as an assistant, on study abroad, or just because. While I am far from an expert, here’s what I’ve learned:

Finding roommates is really difficult in France.

Both years I spent as an assistant in Lille I tried to find roommates, and was unsuccessful. I originally wanted roommates because the thought of living by myself for the first time ever in a country where I barely spoke the language and knew nobody wasn’t very appealing.

However, some other assistants that I know were able to find roommates. They used the website appartager.fr, which is like a roommate searching site. It's not the best because you have to pay to be able to access a lot of the contact info.

I gave up trying to find roommates after about a month and a half of searching. I got myself a nice little studio, and I loved it!


The website that I’ve used the most often and had success with is leboncoin.fr. It is similar to craigslist back home. Every single apartment I have rented in France has been from this website.

In order to use the website, click the area of the map that corresponds with where you are in France. Then in the first drop down menu, select “location” for apartments, or “collocation” for roommates. Then it’s possible to make the search more precise, with options like highest rent/lowest rent, number of rooms, furnished, etc.

Rental Agencies

There are numerous rental agencies all over France. Some even place ads on the leboncoin (it says professionel). With them, just be prepared to pay them the equivalent of the 1st month's rent (if not more) after they find an apartment you like.

CROUS and Foyers

Another possibility would be to live in a dorm like situation. CROUS is France's version of student housing. I tried to get housing with them when I came over here to do my masters, but the registration for student housing is in April, and I didn’t even know I was accepted until June. I was unable to get student housing, but am quite glad actually! I love living in the city center and having my own apartment.

There are also foyers, which are like really tiny studios, but usually come with a shower, toilet, and kitchenette - meaning stove tops and a mini fridge. Some foyers have rules (one assistant wasn't allowed to have over night visitors, or boys in the foyer after 10 - it was an all girl foyer), but some are chill.

Play It Safe

On a quick safety note, I wouldn't accept living somewhere until you actually see it. I've seen some pretty scary apartments that seemed good on leboncoin. Also be aware of fake ads trying to take your money, etc.

If I Can Do It, You Can Too!

I've lived in France for three and a half years in three different apartments in two cities, and it's all been an adventure. Good luck on finding housing in France!

July 6, 2013

Les Couverts

Meeting the parents of a significant other is always stressful, but I was adding in cultural differences, language barriers, a weeklong stay, and being a vegetarian in a very meat-based culture.

Trying to make a good impression during one of the first dinners with the parents, monsieur pommettes brought up a culture factoid I had previously shared with him.

“In America, they hold their forks and knives differently, and use their knives a lot less!” my French boyfriend told his parents.

I immediately panicked.

While true that in America we switch the fork holding hand before eating and in France they tend not to, and the French certainly use their knives much more like a tool than in the good ol’ States, I was fearful of what sort of image that statement would evoke.

Would they think all Americans are knife-less barbarians that only eat with their hands?

His mother’s instant reply was, “Well, she certainly uses her knife better than you do.”

I secretly preened. Having spent 3 years observing and mimicking French table manors in a never-ending effort to be more French, I couldn’t be happier my efforts were paying off. Nevertheless, M.P. did have it right – table manors are not the same on our two continents.

Merci, but I learned how to do this while living in France,” I explained. I then told them about the differences between American and Continental dining etiquette I’ve observed over the years, all the way down to using bread to soak up sauces, or using a spoon to eat cake.

An illustration of American vs. Continental fork use.
Source: Châine des Rotisseurs

While for the most part I now use continental style (i.e. I don’t switch my fork hand after cutting), every now and then I notice that I’ve made the switch without meaning to. My American dining etiquette remains a part of me, especially since I still prefer to eat my dessert with a fork.
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