As we are driving down the street of Madrid en route to Portugal on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I ask myself over and over — did I make the right decision to go abroad? To go to a completely different country where they speak a different language and have a different culture? Most importantly, to start everything from scratch?
I would always ask myself this when I’m missing my family and friends back home, or when I’m missing the quiet, cozy Ottawa valley. However, now I am more sure than ever to say the answer is YES! A million times yes for deciding to pursue the adventure of a lifetime.
As I am settling into this beautiful, yet strange city (Lyon, France), I’ve seen, felt and heard the unfamiliarity and all the new things it has in store for me to discover and learn. The heartwarming ‘bonjour‘ you get everywhere you go from the strangers made me feel extra welcomed. The sweet, buttery smell of the fresh, delicious pastries from the cute ‘boulangeries‘ at each corner of the street has won my heart. The charming, peaceful atmosphere of the breathtaking Rhône and Saône rivers, where friends and families gather to cherish the special moments made me fall in love with this city that will be my home for the next eight months.
Nevertheless, there are frustrating moments that arose due to the so called ‘culture shock’. In France, there’s a saying called: ‘joie de vivre‘, which translates to ‘joy of living’. Like the saying, the French take time to enjoy each moment of their life. Therefore, you don’t see people walking around with takeaway coffee. When you’re at a restaurant, it is considered rude to rush the server for the bill. It is frustrating, especially when you have somewhere to go right after. Simply, locals in France enjoy a cup of espresso or dessert accompanied by enriched conversations after their meal. Instead of getting frustrated in moments like this, you learn to adjust to it. When I go to the restaurants with friends now, I make sure to plan enough time not only for the tasty meal, but also for some quality conversation. It is moments like this that helped me to continue to grow and develop.
It is important to remember that every day living in a new culture/environment is a constant process of “reflection” and “action”, whether that be going to a grocery store and engaging with the staff, meeting new people from school, or even heading out to a café. I am constantly reminded of the status of newcomer. Nevertheless, the key to adaptation is to acknowledge our perspectives and our own views, and know that people from different cultural backgrounds have their own unique perspectives and ways of doing certain things. Most importantly, be open-minded about it. Only then will we better understand and get the most out of the journey abroad.
Whenever I’m surrounded by new environments, I try to absorb my surroundings and figure things out either from accumulated knowledge and experiences, or simply by asking questions and then acting on achieving my goals. For example, when I go to this café called Patchwork near the school to get some work done, I must make eye contact with the staff and send my greetings once I enter the café so they can acknowledge my presence. Unlike in Canada, where I can just go into a café and take a seat without the staff noticing me until I go to the counter to order a coffee. In France, it is considered rude if you walk into a café, grocery store or shop in general without saying “Hi”, “How are you”, “Bye”, and “Have a nice day”. Little things such as this take constant reflection upon my own actions, and matter so much while adjusting to a new culture.
As we are approaching Porto with our rental car, who would ever know that I am on a 10 day road trip with 5 strangers that now I call friends? Life is full of surprises, and you can make the most out of it. This is just the beginning of a fun, crazy adventure! And I am excited to share all the fulfilling, and challenging moments with you.
In my next blog, I will talk more about embracing the culture and how to make the most out of my journey abroad — whether that be professional career/network development, or utilizing the location advantage of being in Europe to explore nearby countries on a good budget.
Guly Maimati is a third-year Bachelor of International Business student studying abroad in Lyon, France.
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