Problems arise in French study abroad trip

Even though I am in France, it does not mean I did not celebrate Thanksgiving. My American roommate prepared a Thanksgiving feast for her French friends and me in order to introduce them to a great American tradition.

This holiday weekend, I am thinking a lot about what I am thankful for. Of course, I am thankful for my family who loves me and is there for me. I am thankful my dad first introduced me to Eastern Michigan University during high school.

As a participant on the Mediterranean Cultural History Tour and an exchange student at UCO, I can say the many academic abroad programs at EMU are incredible and unique to our country. I will always be grateful for my euro trip family with whom I shared the best five weeks of my life so far and learned so much about the world, myself and life.

Although there is much to praise about study abroad, my experience in France so far has not been completely wonderful.
My host family situation is not the greatest. The two grandparents spend much of their time in the family room watching TV and are not the friendliest. Madame has complained about us giving her her laundry too late, going to bed too late and making too much noise getting ready for our 8 a.m. class.

I cannot use the kitchen, except the microwave and the refrigerator for storing lunchmeat. As I do not want to go out to eat every night and most restaurants are a 30-minute walk into the centre ville (center city), I eat a lot of sandwiches, canned vegetables, fruit and package soup. I wish I had the opportunity to cook a fresh meal. This is when I miss and am thankful for the community kitchen in EMU’s dorms and the many food choices on campus, which are open on Sundays unlike places in France.

The lodging office at UCO told me there was no other family to place me with, because all the available homes are going to incoming students, and thus I am not a “priority.” This deeply aggravated me because I really wanted to experience the life of a family with children so I can share my experiences with future students.

They did give me information on foyers and apartments in the area.

Fortunately, I heard about a foyer run by nuns from a friend. I will move in Dec. 15th and there will be three other international girls living in the house with me. Certainly, I am looking forward to having a living room to relax in and a kitchen of my own. I get restless spending hours in my room alone at night.

When I told my host family I was leaving (my roommate had already told them a few weeks prior), she began saying how we were “not honest” several times in a harsh tone. I am under the impression they were counting on the money.

This past week, a traumatic event happened in my life. I took the bus home at night in order to not be walking home in mostly empty streets. On the bus, a group of two girls and a guy were throwing pieces of paper (and later I found out, gum) at me. They followed me and pushed me on the short walk to my apartment building, cornered me, would not allow me to open the door, harassed me with many questions, wanted to go up to my room, searched my coat pockets for my keys (thankfully I had them in my hand in my purse behind me) slapped me in the face repeatedly, threw grass at me and blew smoke in my face.

I am not going to go into all of the details, but I will tell you I resisted, did not answer any of their questions, told them several times I did not want to talk with them, and would not open the door after they said I could “trust” them to let them go in. The best advice I can give you is to not walk alone at night, and if something similar does unfortunately happen to you, to follow some of the strategies I used because after about 20 minutes they finally left.

I was very terrified and feared the worst, but I tried my best to not let them see that. Am I still frightened? Definitely.

However, I think I will feel less nervous once I change my address. Will that stop me from continuing my studies in France? No, but I do really wish I was not so far away from those important to me. I am trying my best to be positive about the upcoming months and what an incredible learning opportunity I have.

As can be imagined, the past few weeks have been tense and awkward. However, my host family and I are on better terms now; they invited my roommate and I to make crêpes with them tonight and we had a long, pleasant evening.

My advice to students studying abroad is if you are unsatisfied with your housing situation, visit the lodging office to see if they can find you a replacement, and if not talk with friends and see if they have any suggestions. This is your opportunity of a lifetime so take action to change what is necessary in order to make the most out of it.

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