I had expectations about the time I would spend studying abroad in France for over ten years: ten years of dreaming, planning and working to achieve my goals. I knew where I wanted to go and what I wanted to study; I read books, blog posts and packing lists - anything I could get my hands on that would give me a glimpse of what my life would be like in France. In my first two months at Aix-Marseille Université, I have learned that ultimately, nothing and nobody can really prepare you for what will be your own unique experience abroad. That being said, it’s still nice to have some idea of what you’re getting yourself into. Here are three things that surprised me when I got to France because nobody ever told me.
1. Everyone smokes everywhere
I grew up in modern U.S. - where smoking kills and you saw blackened pig’s lungs in fourth grade to prove it. I knew that more Europeans smoked than Americans, but I didn’t think it would really affect me at all - boy was I wrong. I am so used to smoke free campuses and restaurants, and I find that I become really frustrated in the throngs of France’s smokers. The steam coming out of my ears only joins the clouds of smoke that form over sidewalks and on street corners. People even smoke in our dorms, and thanks to poor ventilation my room can smell like it on any given day. Unfortunately, there’s not really anything you can do about the situation other than to prepare yourself, and maybe buy some scented candles.
2. Traveling on the weekends might be more expensive than you thought
“Trains in Europe are so cheap!” “Inter-European travel=ling is so affordable!” If you’re like me, you’ve been hearing phrases like these for a while. In reality, trains can be even more expensive than flights - I know, it makes zero sense. This also depends on the city where you are studying; you are much more likely to find cheap transportation out of Paris than out of a smaller university town like Aix-en-Provence. I’ve found that traveling by bus is the most cost efficient method of transportation, although the hours spent on the road can quickly add up. Ultimately, you have to decide if a lower cost or a shorter travel time is your priority.
3. You’ll miss things you take for granted at home
It’s probably a given that you’re going to miss your friends and family during your time abroad. In our global world of technology, it’s become very easy to email your parents or Skype your dog. It it not easy, however, to find substitutes for certain day to day things that you would never think of in the United States. I miss making my own coffee every day to drink with my American breakfast. Sorry, France, pastries are great and all, but I really miss fried eggs, biscuits and grits. I miss my laundry machines and Taco Tuesdays with friends. I find myself missing the most random things, but the experiences that I’ve been having abroad far outweigh the things that I miss at home. I know that one day soon, I’ll be back at home cooking breakfast, missing croissants and espressos from France.
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