What do you mean… they speak English here?

By Kaitlyn Nolan, API Grenoble Peer Mentor

My first day in Paris for API orientation did not get off to a great start. Jet-lagged and ravenous, I went with fellow API students to track down some lunch. I wanted a tuna sandwich and thought, “Je voudrais un sandwich ton” would be simple enough to say. However, the look of confusion I received was enough to convince me that my time in France would not be as easy as I thought.

Thankfully, I chose to live with a host family and all of my classes were in French. While incredibly difficult at first, surrounding myself in the language meant I relied on French. Communicating in English was no longer my default. I realized this during my first break, in which I traveled to Germany, Austria, and Czech Republic with one of my college best friends. We agreed to meet at the baggage claim at Berlin-Tegel Airport. I wasn’t sure where to go and stopped to ask an airport worker for help. He gave me the strangest look and I couldn’t comprehend why he didn’t understand me. I tried posing my question in another way, but I still received a blank stare. It was only then that I realized I was speaking French in Germany. After a moment of panic wondering how I was going to communicate, I remembered I know how to say, “Do you speak English?” in German. I went through this process in every non-French speaking country as I constantly forgot many people speak English.

In tourist-heavy areas, I developed this annoying habit of doing a double take every time I heard native English. It would turn into a triple take when I realized the accent was American. The only Americans I ever interacted with in Grenoble were my fellow study abroad students and we were not a large group. Therefore, my own native language sounded foreign to me. I traveled in Florence, where the number of American study abroad students probably equates to my college population, and I couldn’t stop my double take. Everywhere I turned, I heard an American accent. I found it overwhelming and disconcerting. As much as I enjoyed traveling, I hated having to rely on English. I always breathed a sigh of relief when I disembarked in France and heard the familiar French accents.

When I finally descended in Boston at the end of my semester, I thought that I had dropped my double take habit. Here was a place where English was to be expected, spoken by people I knew. However, old habits die hard. I went to New York City two weeks after I came home and my double take habit came back in full force. Here I was in a major city, and everyone spoke English! My grandma even commented on my constant head-turning and I received quite a look when I exclaimed, “Everyone speaks English here!” I was already in a post-study abroad depression, but it was at that moment that I realized I missed the familiar intonations of the French language and their habit of not pronouncing consonants.

I spent my summer having mental conversations with myself in French in order to keep my language skills fresh. However, this practice led to some awkward situations when I would respond to questions in French. I ached for my adopted language and couldn’t wait to be back at school to at least have one French class. I soon learned I was in another English shock there. My classes were in English! While this had been the norm for the first three years of college, I was genuinely surprised when I realized all of my professors (even the ones I had before) would be teaching in English. Then there was the moment I walked into my French class that I finally felt I was at home.

As my native born French professor greeted us, I felt I was the closest I was to Grenoble since I left in May. I never imagined a foreign language would have such an impact on me. While it certainly was not easy communicating French, it’s an experience I long to return to as I appreciated the challenges and rewards of stepping out of my comfort zone.

Kaitlyn studied with API in Grenoble in the spring of 2011, and is currently studying psychology at Stonehill College.

Enter your name and email to get new posts by email!

“Best of the Blogs” - Abroad101.com
“Top Study Abroad Blogs” - GoOverseas.com
“Blog of the Week” - GoAbroad.com
“Top 10 Study Abroad Blogs You Should Be Reading” - The Study Abroad Blog
"The Best Meaningful Travel Articles of 2016"-GoAbroad.com
  • We use cookies to personalize content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyze our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners who may combine it with other information that you have provided. Please check out our privacy policy.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


  1. […] (Original entry can be found via API’s blog.) […]

Speak Your Mind



[fts_pinterest pinterest_name=apiabroad type=boards_list]


Join API in engaging on issues of equity, access, and inclusion in global education at the @DiversityAbroad Global Inclusion 2021! #InclusionIsGlobal #ispyapi #apiabroad

Learn more: https://t.co/EcdE7nr9Dq https://t.co/Nv8eEpzQAm
APIabroad photo
Deadlines have been extended! There is still time to apply to Winter and Spring 2022 API programs! Check out the link below for a list of open programs for Winter and Spring that are still accepting applications! #ispyapi #apiabroad

https://t.co/Qwy7Z4Veo3 https://t.co/evF1hNsYND
APIabroad photo
More and more students in STEM, business, or other fields are finding great coursework abroad! Check out our ClassFinder tool to find courses abroad within your major!

#apiabroad #ispyapi #studyabroad @apiabroad https://t.co/DMcTFIAUpm
APIabroad photo
Most API programs include credit-bearing coursework, even our internships count towards your degree. Need an internship to graduate? Think about taking one abroad for credit!

#apiabroad #ispyapi #studyabrad @apiabroad https://t.co/9L1xa2h5dW
APIabroad photo
Sept 15 to Oct 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month in the U.S., we would like to not only celebrate the culture but also reflect on Hispanic and Latino identity, belonging, and stereotypes and how we can better support Latinx students in their experiential learning programs. https://t.co/9ogXTw0Pnw APIabroad photo
The API Abroad Blog