I studied abroad in Caen, Normandy, France with the Sister Cities Exchange in spring semester 2016. My experience there strengthened my French speaking abilities to a whole new level. All my courses were in French and for the most part, it was all I ever spoke (except for conversations with other Anglophones, also known as English language speakers). I grew a lot as an individual and learned how to be comfortable on my own without needing to do something incredibly exciting every day. With my major being French, my main purpose over there was to continue my education for my major. Like many travelers who stay somewhere for an extended period of time, I immersed myself in the culture and language of France and Normandy.
Immersing yourself in any culture can be a difficult task because at the same time, you don’t want to lose who you are because of doing so. I think that was something I struggled with from time to time. When you go abroad, you need to understand that you are a foreigner to this location. However much effort you may exert, you are not from there, but there is nothing wrong with that. I would occasionally beat myself up because a French cashier or whoever discovered that I was American because I said something in a different way than normal. If you are trying to speak the host country’s language, you are on the right path to immersing yourself. If you get corrected by a local, don’t take it personally, and try to apply their aid in your continuation forward.
When immersing yourself, try and explore and do activities that local people like to do. Go to that cool coffee shop, go to that outside market on Sunday, go do those things! If you are nervous to go alone, you could always try and form a group to do something altogether. There might be times where you are feeling home-sick or get a little exhausted from all the immersion happening, and in this case, there are some tips that could help! When this would happen to me, I would hang out with other English speakers (to give myself a break from French), explore the foreign food aisle in grocery stores and buy things I missed (chips and salsa all the time), and lastly, I would communicate with those from home.
It’s definitely normal to get a little tired of being so immersed, so make sure that you do things that would make you happy like if you were at home! Before you are abroad and reach full immersion, mentally prepare yourself for your destination to be like a new home. Regardless of the amount of time you will be there, the place will impact who you are. Step out of your comfort zone some, but make sure you’re still happy in the long run!
Lauren Bix is a 3rd year senior at the University of Kentucky. Her major is in French and francophone studies and her time abroad was in Caen, Normandy, France, spring semester 2016.