A Travellerspoint blog

The International Experience!


I have time to actually sit down and write a post this morning, but I'm planning on going downtown today to go all super-tourist and take a bunch of pictures so you all can see a bit of Besançon. So I'll post those either tonight or tomorrow.

I've been here almost a week, and have met SO many new people, both French and otherwise. There are 127 international students on campus, and I think four of us are Americans, so it has been quite exciting to meet people and share interesting quirks about our cultures - no one can believe that I'm still a minor in my own country (drinking ages vary from 16-18 pretty much everywhere else), or that I have been driving for four years (the driving age is 18 in most European countries) - very interesting.... So far, I have met people from England, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, Russia, Brazil, El Salvador, Tunisia, South Korea, Taiwan, Tenessee, New York, and various parts of France. There is a very strong International Relations club at the University, and they have all kinds of parties, events, and outings to help us share our own cultures with each other and to experience France together.

Aside from all of the worldwide cultural networking that I have been doing, I have also been able to experience some really fun parts of the French culture. On Thursday night, I went with my university-appointed buddy, Théo, to dinner at one of his friend's apartments. Mind you, this was a dinner consisting of five college students - dinner started at 8:00, and when we arrived, there were hors-d'oeuvres and wine on the table (julienned carrots and toast with green olive tapenade). Then we had a second course of sautéed turkey and cheese (for those of you who don't already know, I have decided to suspend my vegetarianism for this year, in order to be open to the full cultural experience, and to not offend anyone who is kind enough to cook for me!), followed by a third of spaghetti. After about twenty minutes of digestion and conversation, our hostess busted out a big bowl of fruit salad, which served as course number four/dessert, which was then followed by tea. We left at about 10:30. But then all went downtown together (in Besançon, and maybe France in general, Thursday night is when ALL of the students go out), and the group that I was with ran into someone they knew on almost every street, so our group sort of morphed between four of us walking on the sidewalk to a mass of eight blocking the street. (Also, it was more than a little weird to see so many high school students walking all over the neighborhood, nonchalantly carrying and drinking from bottles...) Not only was this night a super fun exposure to more intimate socialization, but I was pretty deeply entrenched in native French for about five hours, which just made my brain hurt. Everyone talked so fast, and a few people had regional accents that made them quite difficult to understand. But it was good for me! And it has been really interesting to observe that people my age greet each other and say good-bye quite formally, even if they are good friends (guys always shake hands, and girls and girls and guys do the kiss on each cheek (a "bisou") - which kind of threw me off the first time!).

I am definitely feeling more comfortable with my identity as a foreign person in this country. It has helped a lot to meet other students who are both more and less advanced than myself with the language. I am much less scared of talking to people, but I find that I am still WAY more comfortable with other non-native speakers (I think it's going to take a long time for that to go away...).

Even though it is pretty far away (about 20 minutes by bus), I think that I have gone downtown every day since I have arrived. I'm very glad that my classes are going to be in that part of town. It is just so fun to walk around such a beautiful space. I also discovered that, just across the river from this original old town area (the "centre-ville"), there is a slightly less chic and crowded, but just as charming neighborhood that has a lot of residences, as well as more cafes and little specialty shops (yes, there is an entire store dedicated to French olives). I also went up to the old citadel the other night, and it was absolutely breathtaking. I was too late to go inside, but just walking around the exterior was incredible. I have seen my fair share of super old stuff in museums, but there is something magical about seeing something so old in its original location. The citadel is *only* about 300 years old, but street at the base of the hill leading up to it is guarded by a Roman arc de triomphe (the Porte Noire, which is more like 1,900 years old), which is just surreal to pass underneath.

Tomorrow, I will spend the day taking tests to determine the level of French courses that I will take this semester! I'm very excited to get back into a formal study of the language, even though I think I have learned about as much in the past week as I could in a semester of classroom instruction.

Pleasant surprises about life in Besançon:
- EVERYONE uses reusable bags for shopping
- The coffee is super strong everywhere
- Biking, walking, and waiting for the bus are just a part of daily life, and the longer travel times are a non-issue as a result
- The bus system ROCKS (at least compared to Omaha)
- Most people are very patient and helpful with non-native speakers
- Amazing bread is incredibly cheap

Less pleasant surprises:
- Some people are not so patient and helpful with non-native speakers
- Almost all of the other international students have been speaking English longer than they have been French, so it sometimes becomes the default language (not necessarily bad, just an interesting surprise)
- There are a lot more cars than I had expected, and traffic is CRAZY, especially near downtown
- It costs more to sit outside on a bar's terrace than inside (but it's only about $.30 USD, so it's totally worth it)
- Some toilets just don't have seats, and it appears that hooks on the doors of bathroom stalls is not a thing here
- If you order water at a restaurant, the waiter will probably ask you if you want tap water (free) or some form of sparkling water (really expensive). Because you often don't learn things like this in a classroom setting (and because my instinct in such situations is to panic and not ask questions), you may just blurt out whichever of the two choices that the waiter gave you is easier to repeat back to him. It just so happens that the easier of the two is the $6 bottle of sparkling water...

Photos to follow soon!

Posted by NKammerer 02:13 Archived in France Tagged dinner international citadel besançon centre-ville

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


Tes écriture et style sont si charmants! Merci pour les entrées franches et détaillées tous les deux. J’aime bien à voir tes expériences par le blog, et j’espere que bien des autres lisent ces entrées merveilleuses. Je sais que je ressembles à ma mère avec les grands compliments, mais personne ne me comprend pas, alors ce n’est pas grave : ) Seulement toi, et je te parle seulement.
Beaucoup d’amour,

by Lisa Kammerer

Another great post! It feels like extremely diverse group of students are attending the University which is an excellent opportunity to network and to get to know about various cultures. I am mesmerized by these exquisite pictures and FYI - your way of writing is captivating.

by Ankit

I am loving every post and looking forward to the next. Thanks for including all the. little details.

by Dad

Hi Honey.
So glad you are getting comfortable in this new setting. I love the way you just dive in and make the most of every situation.

Are you using the camera I gave you for these pictures. If so it seems to work much better in France than I ever got it to work in the USA. Must be the climate or…… the camera(wo)man.

by Opa

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.