On Adjusting

In about a week I’ll have officially been living in Besançon for two months. I really can’t fathom that in my brain. I’m caught between feeling like the time has flown by, while also feeling like I’ve been here much longer than two months. But maybe that’s just because I’ve been constantly on the move. Between having class and trying to travel, it’s easy to get tired and I’m actually just getting over being sick. This weekend has been good for me because I’ve finally had a chance to relax after trying to get all I can out of being here. Maybe that’s a sign of adjustment, too.

After the couple of months I’ve lived here, it’s easy to say I feel adjusted. It took me a little while though. I probably have only really ACTUALLY started to feel adjusted sometime within the last few weeks. Speaking French to my host mom and my French housemates and people on the streets and in stores has become something of second nature – whether my French skills are that great or not. In any regard, I’ve adjusted to having to speak a second language.

When I visited one of my friends from home last week in London, we went out to buy a couple of beers to have with dinner. Upon having to actually purchase the beer, I told my friend that I felt inclined to speaking in French. It was one of the best feelings, because that really showed me that my mind had finally started acclimating to my surroundings in France. I’ve spent the last few months asking for things in French, checking out of stores in French, reading, writing, communicating as a whole in French – for the most part at least.

Speaking the language has certainly been the biggest struggle for me, as I’m sure it is for most of, if not everyone studying abroad in a foreign country. It’s hard to exactly communicate the things you want to say if you haven’t grown up in that culture. Either that, or it simply takes years to really get the culture of the slang and the base of the informal language down pat. That is one of the things my English-speaking friends and I have been noticing: the way that we learn French back at home in the United States just seems too formal. Sure, we learn how to formally write sentences, paragraphs, essays and the like. But when it comes to actually having to communicate, we’ve been taught so formally that it’s as if we’re about to read a speech. People don’t talk here the way we learn in class or the way that you would necessarily talk to a professor in a classroom. While I understand this classroom logic, I also think it’s direly important to teach students how to speak a bit casually. Because when it comes to actually talking to people, there isn’t time to think about how to invert a question and stuff to that effect. You just have to speak, otherwise you’ll miss the entire conversation.

Speaking has certainly gotten easier for me. A woman helping my friend and I at a bookstore actually complimented our French speaking skills the other day. This is not to say that my French is suddenly perfect, but if that didn’t make my week, I sure as hell don’t know what did. It feels good to know that I’m able to communicate with people to the point where they understand me, I can speak a little quicker, and I can get around without feeling completely foreign or awkward. Besançon is really starting to feel like a little piece of home.

Other than language and communication, it’s been pretty easy to adjust living here. What’s so hard about learning to adjust to a diet of mainly bread, wines and cheeses? I’ll tell you what: absolutely nothing. And the French do it in a way as to not overindulge as well, which makes it even better.

There is not much else I have to say about the food here other than the fact that it’s just good. There are a lot of potatoes in the salads and there is horseradish salad dressing everywhere I turn. I also live around the block from a little restaurant called La Boîte à Crêpes and my friends and I have gone there consecutively the past few Fridays.

Another way I’ve learned to adjust has been by going for runs. It’s a good way to assimilate myself with my surroundings, so I feel a little less like a stranger and a little less foreign in the city I’m living in.

Adjusting to the time difference back home has also been one of my bigger challenges. It’s been the reason I’ve been losing a decent amount of sleep on school nights. It’s difficult when you have 8:30 a.m. classes four days a week and friends, family and a boyfriend back in New York who are still wide awake and living their day to days when it’s time for you to go to sleep. Most days, I make it work somehow.

I’m also constantly surprised by the amount of people who are shocked and amazed that I’m from New York. Someone asks you where you’re from and you say that and sparks ignite in their eyes. I kid you not. It’s pretty gratifying actually. It usually is followed up by a “so what the heck are you doing in Besançon?” kind of question.

But that’s what I like about being here most. It’s different than the things and the places and the people I’m used to. It’s been nice having to adjust to something completely out of my comfort zone. And it’s a nice, little picturesque city away from most things major. It has the calmness of New Paltz in a European city setting. There’s not much to hate here, if anything at all. If there is anything to hate, I haven’t found it yet. And I don’t think I will.

On Arriving

Arriving in France — to live here rather than just to visit — was a strange sensation for me. We landed at the Charles de Gaulle airport around 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 13. I had lost six hours of my day and was running on less than two. My racing thoughts didn’t allow me to sleep on the plane, so for a solid hour and a half, the characters from “Monsters University” befriended me and eased whatever anxiety I was having. I listened to playlists made for me by my best friend and my boyfriend. The Beatles and Pinegrove were the soundtrack to my flight, and their voices managed to sing me to sleep. But not for long.

Accompanied by my friends Kate and Laura, we got off the plane and immediately tried to find out guide, James, who was an alumni from New Paltz teaching at the school we’d start going to about a week from then. We also met up with two other girls from New Paltz, Suzanne and Tori, and from there we began what would be another long and tiresome journey to finally reach Besançon.

We took a bus from the airport into the heart of Paris and waited at the Gare de Lyon train station for upwards of five hours. The station was an open space with no insulation so it was freezing. We sat there, tried to keep warm and ate some sandwiches from Prêt À Manger (not real French cuisine by any means but it sufficed at the time). At 2:53 p.m. we finally boarded our train to Besançon. We each had to get on separate cars because of our reserved seats, and so I sat alone, listening to music, trying to breathe, trying to calm down, as I anticipated meeting my host mom, Joëlle, along with the other people I would be living with: Laura, a 19-year-old French girl; Ben, a fellow American from North Carolina who had already lived there since September; Ederline, another young, French student; and Alexis, Joelle’s son.

The thought of meeting all of these new people and having to speak French to them made me want to throw up. I didn’t feel like I was ready, although I desperately wanted to be — I was throwing myself into this study abroad experience after all.

When we arrived at the Besançon Gare Viotte, I carried my many bags and happened to recognize Joëlle walking toward me.



We both said each other’s names at the same time. We both smiled and she helped me carry my belongings to her car. I said goodbye to my New Paltz friends for the time being, both nervous and excited to leave them. I would be the only one of us staying with a host family while they all lived in the student dorms.

We arrived at the apartment on Grande Rue, the main street in Besançon, and walked up five flights of stairs. My arms were sore after carrying my 23 pound duffle bag all the way up (I’m weak, okay) and when I walked up the next flight of stairs to my room, I dropped my things to the floor.

Joëlle introduced me to Laura and called us “neighbors,” seeing as we would be living in rooms next door to each other. Laura, with her big green eyes and freckle-covered face intimidated me at first. I hardly understood a word she said. I was embarrassed by merely trying to have a conversation. Being as sweet as she is she smiled anyway and laughed with me. I managed to get the words out in French and told her that I wanted my French to get better. I wanted to understand. “It takes time, it’s just the beginning,” she said.

Then I met Ben, who lugged my 50 pound suitcase up the mighty staircase for me (God bless him). And he spoke to me in French. Being that both our native tongues are English I was a little taken aback by this but we were both here to do the same thing: to learn French — and after a mere six months of being here, his French seemed immaculate to me, although he will say otherwise. I also kind of enjoy the fact that it feels almost natural to talk to another American in French, simply because that’s how we were introduced. It does also help that he’s a fellow English speaker, in case I don’t understand something and he needs to translate or find a different way to explain something to me in French. Oftentimes he’ll play translator for both Laura and I.

That being said, everyone here has been exceptionally patient with me. Though I often still get aggravated with myself at my inability to really say what I want to say in French, I know that the mere trying to and thinking of what I want to say alone helps me, rather than not being able to live with and speak with other French speakers, native or otherwise, at all. Though I was nervous beyond repair before I arrived, I knew I needed to live with a host family. I knew myself and my learning abilities and I knew I’d do better being surrounded by the language throughout the majority of my days.

Like I mentioned in my last post, I am certainly still adjusting. I am adjusting to speaking French more frequently and being away from most of the people I love so much. But everyone here helps — those I live with as well as my friends from New Paltz, who are going through the same transitions as I am.

I’ve been here for about three weeks now and the only way to describe it is as a dream. I feel like I’m living in a daydream most days, in that being here doesn’t really feel real. I feel like if I close my eyes tight enough and open them back up again I’ll wake up at home, whether at my suite in New Paltz or my bed in Bohemia. I walk down the streets just admiring everything around me because like everything else, I am still accustoming myself to my surroundings, the different architecture, the vast amounts of history that lie down every street of Besançon and every inch of France itself. Walking home from school with Kate one day we both agreed that being here is surreal, and it really is one of the best feelings.

Not to mention I’ve certainly accustomed myself to the my legal drinking age and ability to now buy alcohol, along with all the decadent pastries and cuisines that Besançon has to offer (living in the Franche-Comté region of France, I feel that Comté cheese is my life now. It’s truly amazing.).

Though I miss home more some days rather than others, if one thing is for sure it is that I am still relishing every moment I’m here. It’s hard not to. And like I said, it’s practically like living in a daydream.

Below are some pictures of my life here. I hope you enjoy them virtually as much as I do in real life:

citadel vie

The view from the top of the citadel.

My bed - where I've added lights to make myself feel more at home.

My bed – where I’ve added lights to make myself feel more at home.


The walk down my staircase.

The walk down my staircase.

Pastries from a patisserie at the end of my block - (left) un mogador, (right) un pain au chocolat.

Pastries from a patisserie at the end of my block – (left) un mogador, (right) un pain au chocolat.

The view out of our kitchen window.

The view out of our kitchen window.


On Leaving

I boarded AirFrance flight 0007 at approximately 6:50 p.m. on the night of Jan. 12. That day came way faster than I had expected. Or maybe it didn’t. I guess somewhere lingering in the back of my mind I had told myself that the day wouldn’t come so soon, I still had time to be at home with friends and family in my own bed, in a place that I was familiar with.

And then months passed in a time period that felt like mere days. And then I was hugging my friends goodbye and waving goodbye to my parents at the security check at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens with tears swelled up in my eyes.

The funny thing about leaving is you never really understand how fast the day comes when you’re scheduled to leave. It comes around the corner like a bullet and kind of just sweeps you off your feet. It’s a bit unsettling, but also a bit good for you, in my humble opinion.

The entire week or so before I left my home in Bohemia, New York to fly on a jet plane to Paris I felt like I had constant ants in my pants. I found time to spend time with my parents yet I was hardly home. I was trying to see every close friend I could before I knew the day would come where I would have to pack up my belongings and say goodbye for the next few months. I didn’t want to stop moving. I didn’t want to be alone. I knew that as soon as I got on that plane I’d be entering into a culture I barely knew, something unfamiliar to me. And it made me uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, I was always excited to leave for France. I started taking French classes my freshman year and immediately loved the language in a way I never experienced when studying Spanish. I loved the culture and the history and the music and the language on its own. Its complexity astounded me and intimidated me and I decided I wanted to continue studying. What I expected to merely count for a GE became my minor. And now that culture is my temporary home.

I knew that studying abroad would be the best experience for me. Getting to live in a different country in a completely alternate culture is the chance of a lifetime. To get to learn a foreign language firsthand is a dream. Or at least it had been my dream. Learning a different language always appealed to me. I was excited to dive right into a new experience, one few people take often. I kept telling myself that studying abroad would be good for me: a different environment, a different language, different food, different people. Everything different.

But I was scared. So absolutely petrified. I cried more times than I’d like to admit at the thought of leaving my best friends and my boyfriend and my family. The thought of having to speak a foreign language I’d only taken for two and a half years taunted me for the last month I was home. Going into the city to get my visa alone gave me anxiety. The thought of being without my entire support system made me sick to my stomach. And for all of those reasons, I had to push myself to leave. As scared as I was and as nervous as I knew I’d be, I had to leave. I had to get over the fear I had of the unknown, the uncomfortable, the things outside of my comfortable little bubble in New York.

That’s what I believe study abroad is for. It’s for students like me and you, reader, who feel a necessity to explore and try new things despite any sort of reluctance. Because although you feel that your human nature will defy you, it actually helps you. Your mind and your body learn to adjust. It just takes time. It’s still taking time. And while that might not have felt okay a few weeks ago, it feels okay now. You adjust to the unknown and befriend it. Suddenly the new world you’re living in isn’t so scary – and you learn new things every single day.

One final note before I leave you for now: if you are thinking about studying abroad but are doubtful for any reason, I push you and advise you to just do it and to just say yes. In my final column of the semester for The New Paltz Oracle, I cited a study from the Institute for the International Education of Students (IIES Abroad) that found that studying abroad served as a catalyst for increased maturity (97 percent), increased self-confidence (96 percent) and had a lasting impact on the students’ world view (95 percent).

Another study I cited from the University of California, Merced, reported that 97 percent of students who studied abroad found employment within 12 months of graduation while only 49 percent of college graduates found employment within the same time period. The same study found that 90 percent of study abroad alumni were accepted to their first and second choice grad schools and 80 percent of these alumni said their abroad experiences allowed them to better adapt to diverse work environments.

So don’t worry about the unknown or what’s going to come next, or maybe even about how you feel you might miss out back home. I felt the same exact way – I still do sometimes – but I know that being in Besançon will only help me now and in the future. And everything at home is waiting for me when I go back.