The Awkwardness of Studying Abroad in a Foreign Country

So, after being here a week, I have discovered that studying abroad in a foreign country, especially one with a different language is incredibly strange. You are shoved into a completely new environment that you’ve been envisioning for years, like taking a sip of lovely Barry’s tea that burns your tongue, without your knowledge that the cup was hot. How’s about that for an analogy?

New country, new city, new people, new language (well, not that new), new [very delicious] food, new way and time to eat that food, I think you get it. It sounds a bit like a normal freshman year at college, no? Not exactly. Everyone around you has the gist of things, and is speaking a language that you only semi-understand very rapidly. Honestly that first night at dinner, if they said anything talking about me I would not have noticed. My mind was racing with confusion, and I believe that my host family was a bit scared off by the petrified look on my face. Not to mention dinner was taking at least two hours, I didn’t know what to do with all this conversation about 70s French film and Chicago! How could a meal go on for so long? And was it obvious I was uncomfortable? I became frustrated; I’ve studied this language for years, why have I become a zombie? I desperately wanted something that made sense: Mad Men, baseball, a Starbucks, anything. But luckily they still have the same terrible, addicting pop music!

Now of course, this is only just a snapshot of awkwardness. There are many, many moments where my host mother asks me a question and I stare at her blankly. But the important thing that has changed is that now I’m finally telling her that I do not understand, or that she’s speaking too quickly and she’ll try and make it easier for me. They can’t read my mind. Also, I have started to be more accepting of new cultural changes coming headway. So, no café in Rennes wants serve my prized turkey sandwich? Ok, time for a spontaneous sandwich! Lunch is hours long? Well at least I have more time to enjoy the food and practice the language. It’s absolutely necessary to optimistic, even at low points. Most importantly, how ridiculous is it that I was comparing my language ability to native French speakers. They most definitely could not have the same extensive conversation about Emile Zola in English. Time to stop worrying and start actually learning something and improving! That’s the reason I’m here.

Things may be weird for a little while, but that’s because I’m an outsider, that’s expected. No one has ever learned how to ski down a black diamond trail in Vermont in one day. Unless they just try it all at once, which is when they break their legs, which is also very stupid. It will all come eventually, and I just have to teach my teenage mind to be patient. On a positive note, now I feel like I understand immigrants from foreign countries in my own country a little more. The confusion of a new language and the frustration of not being able to express oneself, or understand for example how an American dinner table is set up. See mom and dad, I am learning something! I may have burned my tongue on that amazing cup of Barry’s tea, but it’s still one of my favorite things and I will drink it with pleasure, no matter how hot.

Yes I understand this post is a bit vague, but it’s only the beginning of my second week! More specific posts are to come, especially when I have more time to observe French student life, which is its own pandemonium of hormones.


Just a hilarious side note. I told my host father about hipsters in the U.S., and because he’s a huge hippie he finds them fascinating and is telling his friends about them. Too funny.


À bientôt!



Wooohooo first post! Salut! I’m Rachel and I’m a current sophomore at Union College in Schenectady, NY. But as you can see, I’m studying abroad in Rennes, France, living my twelve year old self’s dream. Here is where I will gather all my thoughts and observations about differences in French culture, politics and plain old strange and/ or amusing situations. Enjoy, with caution, and feel free to comment! And in case you’re not a French speaker, Rachel à Rennes means Rachel in Rennes :) .