Connecting with France, 4,000 miles away

This post comes to us from Grenoble Alumna, and current API Global Leader, Amelia Bowen from American University. Interested in joining API’s Global Leadership Academy? Submit your application here! Questions? Email [email protected] for more information.

In my element eating a tartine (baguette, butter and jam, a classic French breakfast)

It wasn’t going abroad that scared me – it was coming back. My time in Grenoble, France was one of the best periods of my life. I clicked with the French lifestyle; I made incredible friends and I had an amazing host family; and the little city that I had called home for only 4 months felt as if I’d been there for years. So, when it was time to leave, I felt a little pit in my stomach: how would I stay connected with France once I returned to my home university?

Admittedly, it’s pretty much impossible pretend you’re in France when no one around you speaks French and there aren’t boulangeries on every other street corner. But there are so many ways to connect with the culture you studied in back in your home country. I’m fortunate to live where I do –Washington, D.C., where it’s easy to find embassies and cultural events – but it’s possible almost anywhere in the U.S. to find little tastes of where you were abroad.

For me, an easy way to connect was through food. When I can afford it, I eat out at French restaurants; when I can’t, I hit my local grocery store (Trader Joe’s has camembert!). I also started to seek out international students from France, either through my abroad office or in my classes. This way, I could do a language exchange with them to keep myself practicing French and in touch with a little piece of Grenoble. All over the country, there are chapters of Alliances Françaises: French cultural centers specifically intended for Americans seeking to learn more about French culture. And when all else failed, Netflix came through (as it always does) with French television and movies.

As a member of API’s Global Leadership Academy, I have been encouraged to reflect on my time abroad – to work towards applying all that I learned in those four months to my education and the rest of my life. I also have the chance to talk with students who are about to go abroad, who are there studying now, or who have returned and are facing the same “abroad-sickness” that I am now. All of us are seeking to stay in touch with our time abroad, and it is this common sentiment which invigorated me to go into my home city and explore the French culture I knew must be hiding there. Connecting with France from afar is now a key part of my role with the Global Leaders, and the practice I have had fostering this connection is something I am always looking to share with others.

It’s sad, and sometimes a little lonely, to come back from your incredible time abroad with experiences that many of those around you simply can’t connect with. This being said, however, we live in a globalized world that is at your disposal. You don’t need to let your time abroad fade into the past; you can find the culture you miss in your hometown, even if you are a thousand miles away.

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