On October 15th, 2022, I met my exchange student Léa for the first time. After months of emails, messages, and preparation, my friend from France finally arrived. On that same day, twenty-four other lucky students met their international friends. It was awkward at first: a lot of one-armed hugs and futile attempts at communication–eventually leading to the French kids huddling together for comfort.
After being awake for almost twelve hours already, the French kids were exhausted, hungry, and yet had to stay awake. The first day was full of awkward small talk, and an introduction to American culture. I took Léa to the grocery store, and she immediately marveled at the sheer size. Instead of large grocery stores in France, they get their supplies from small markets. Food in America is also much sweeter than in France, causing a lot of disgust from Léa. That night, she went to sleep at 7 PM. Early, by our standards, 4but in France, it was 1 AM.
The biggest obstacle we faced was the language barrier. Léa already had a lot of prior knowledge of English, but there were some other students who spoke little to none. We were able to communicate well through the help of google translate and other students who spoke more English than the others.
The most effective way I bonded with Léa was through another exchange student, Margot. I found that when put into an unfamiliar environment, all Léa wanted was another person who spoke french. With Margot, Léa immediately became more comfortable and open, allowing us to bond more.
At the party with all the French students and their American hosts, I thought that the students would group into French and American, yet I found that everyone was all intertwined. It was a clash of French and American cultures, yet I’ve never had more fun at a party. The French students played football (soccer) against us, and everyone became instant friends.
The school experience for my exchange student was “incredibly boring”. In France, all students are brought home for almost two hours to have lunch in the middle of the day, so our small half-hour lunch period was not enough for Léa. She was constantly teaching me new vocabulary words in French and laughing at my failed attempts at pronunciation. Though our cultures were so different, I found that Léa was just another girl like me.
Throughout the week, we went on every adventure that came our way: shopping, pumpkin carving, apple picking, and even more shopping. American malls were such a fun activity for all students, as they went through each store looking for gifts to bring home to their families.
After all the fun had ended, it was finally time for the students to go home. As we congregated in Bulldog Corner, instead of splitting off into French and American, Every group was different hosts and students reminiscing on the trip. There were many, many tears shed, and as we watched the bus finally drive away. I’ll admit that I teared up a bit.
Overall, this experience has taught me that adjusting to a new culture is incredibly hard. I admire Léa so much for how easily she adjusted to the new environment. I even learned that American food is sweet, chocolate croissants are called “chocolatine” and not “Pain au chocolat”, and most importantly, I learned that I absolutely love showing my culture. When I go to France to meet Léa again in April, I will have a completely different outlook than I would have two weeks ago.