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More Foreign Countries!

The past couple weeks have been some of the best in my experience abroad so far. This is because I had the opportunity to leave France for a bit and explore more of Europe – something I anticipated greatly upon coming abroad. It was the two weeks of my winter break, so I wanted to choose my destinations wisely.

I knew that I wanted to explore some of northern Europe while here. I would have another vacation from school in the springtime, so it made the most sense to use this period to visit some of the Scandinavian countries, where I could appreciate the cold and icy weather. That way I could check out warmer locations like Spain and Italy in the spring. Ultimately, a couple friends and I decided to make our trip out to Sweden, Poland, and Norway.

Our first stop was Stockholm, Sweden – a city filled with frosty rivers and a nice variety of architectural styles. There was so much of the city to explore, but some of the highlights were the Swedish cafes to start the days, photo sessions with the pretty buildings, and a visit to the Vasa Museum (home of the only preserved ship from the 17th century !).

Gdańsk, Poland exuded a more simple beauty than previously seen in Stockholm. There were a lot of cute gift shops and walking paths. The Polish seemed to appreciate following a theme, as they used many bright and vibrant colors to decorate the city. We ended our last day in Poland with a ride on the Ferris Wheel, to appreciate the beauty of the city from high above. It was a euphoric experience to simply bask in the joy of being in a foreign country, listen to positive music, and enjoy the company of friends while looking over Poland.

The weather in Oslo, Norway ended up being just as I wanted it. The first day, the snow fell as we walked through the city. I really wanted to see snow in action in this notoriously icy country, so I was pleased. The next few days, there was a layer of snow on the ground that we could appreciate as we explored. In Norway, we visited art museums, took a walk through a park of sculptures, and even experienced a Norwegian bar.

Finally, as my friends returned to Bordeaux, I wanted to fulfill one of my initial goals – to take a solo trip in Europe. I decided to do this in London, England, and I was so glad I did so.  There is so much to appreciate when you travel alone, and even better, you can set your own pace. I was able to move quickly throughout the city to visit multiple museums, days markets, and restaurants each day. The tube made traveling so easy, and I loved just to listen to music as I quickly moved about the city.

Each of these short adventures taught me so much. I was able to gain a small appreciation for each of these cultures as I spoke with the locals, admired the sights, and tried new foods like deer pizza, perogies, and authentic fish and chips. They also made me appreciate so much more the benefits of learning a new language. These trips make me want to start a new language challenge once I return to the United States so I can better connect to these places the next time I visit.

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A Short Stay in Marseille

Just had a busy yet productive week of school. This included a French dissertation and a gastronomy presentation, and I got to end the week with a trip to Marseille, France! Here is a photo and short reflection from the experience.

I’m currently 6 weeks into my study abroad program and I think this photo captures the experience up to now pretty well.

The architecture here in France is both historic and striking. Sometimes it’s cold, but that brings the occasion to bundle up and wear a favorite winter coat. As for me, I have found total contentment. Everyday provides opportunity to make new connections, broaden my French vocabulary, and experience more of this (previously foreign) country. For all of this I’m extremely grateful.

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Social Interaction × Foreign Language

Social interaction can be hard. We all sometimes have trouble deciding what we want to say in a given conversation. We want to react genuinely, say the “right” thing, and express our personalities candidly.

Social interaction in a different language can be even harder. Suddenly, not only does one have to read social cues to decide what to say, but he must also be able to find the words to do so in this foreign language.

The previous statements were thoughts that I had this week at dinner with my host parents. Every night, we engage in quick conversation involving the discussion of our days, the weather, or sometimes the food we’re eating. But at times, it seems difficult to do this every night. I almost feel as if we run out of subjects to talk about. Joint with the fact that my vocabulary in French is limited, simple evening dinners can be exhausting.

Well, after having had these recurring thoughts, it was evident that I needed to do research and reflection to resolve them. I started looking through a book that an old study abroad student left in my room about living in a foreign country. I learned that when communicating in a foreign language, the most important part of communication is the pronunciation. The author explains that one can manage knowing only five percent of the entire vocabulary of the language and using only 50 percent of its grammar correctly. Therefore, the most important part of the communication is the oral orthography.

In regard to the occasional silences during dinner, I came to the realization that perhaps I am looking at these dinner conversations pessimistically. I would catch myself thinking about how there seemed to be nothing to talk about. But this is not how I should be thinking! My host parents are in their sixties. They have a wealth of information to share with me if I find the right questions to ask!

Since this research and reflection, I have also noticed that when I do not focus too much on having perfect grammar while speaking French, others still typically understand me, and I am able to express my thoughts faster. In addition, not only has conversation flowed better, but I have gotten to learn much more about my host parents’ backgrounds. I discovered that my host father moved around much of France throughout his life, my host mother lived in Africa during her childhood, and plenty of other interesting details about them.

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Nothing to Lose in Toulouse

This previous week has had two major highlights. I started my first official week of courses, and I was able to spend the weekend in Toulouse, a neighboring (and rival) French city.

The courses that I have decided to take are entitled:

  • Methodologie Française (French)
  • L’Histoire de l’art Contemporaine (French)
  • System de gestion de bases de données (French)
  • Introduction to Image Processing (English)
  • French Gastronomy (English)

Due to the varied classes sizes, the uniqueness of the subjects, and the two different languages of instruction, I can already tell that each of these courses will have its own learning curve.

My favorite class so far has been SGBD. Its objective is to understand and analyze the utilization of SQL databases in connection to business management. At first, I had some worries about the course, but they were quickly resolved by the end of the first lecture. It is taught completely in French, which I thought might be a hinderance, but thanks to the considerable amount technical vocabulary, the instruction has been rather easy to follow. I also came to the realization that a completely different keyboard is used in France than in the United States. I might have to type with my index fingers for now, but the professor gives us adequate time to follow, and I even made a new French buddy, Adrian, to help me when I fall behind.

After a busy week of instruction, some of the California students and I were able to finish the week with a spontaneous excursion to Toulouse. It’s Bordeaux neighbor city, but the two are still very different! The buildings in Toulouse are less historic and detailed, but very colorful and vibrant.

After the fast pace of this past week, I have realized how grateful I am to live a dynamic life. Between community college, University of California, and now University of Bordeaux, I have had the privilege to expose myself to new environments frequently throughout the years. Even while at these schools, I have been able to rearrange by class schedules, take obscure classes, and discover new interests each quarter. To live so freely is an amazing, and sometimes forgotten, benefit of pursuing higher education that I am so fortunate to have had. And after I return to the United States, a new chapter in my life will begin – the life of a college graduate!

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Friends in France

In the weeks leading up to my trip to Bordeaux, I pondered what I wanted in terms of social connections while abroad. I knew that it was necessary to make friends in my California program – in order to travel and share experiences about school – but I knew that I wanted to make local French friends as well to help me with the language and getting to know the city. Now I just had my second week in Bordeaux, and I had the great experience to be able to make some valuable connections of both types.

On our UCEAP orientation day, I was introduced to everyone in the California program for the spring semester. It was obvious that the students were eager to meet one another and excited about forging friendships. I had the opportunity to meet people from a variety of universities all over California and it was refreshing to encounter new individuals after having been at UCSB for the last few years. I was quick to find out that I shared many of the same goals and interests with many of the students. Many of us had a great desire to improve our French (of course) and just an innate fascination for traveling and foreign countries.

The group of people I felt most comfortable being around consisted of students from UCSB, UCB, UCR, and UCI. The day after orientation, we got together to get our monthly bus passes, sim cards, and other items that we needed that could not be brought from California. Although we were just running errands with one another, it was a great bonding experience for all of us. We seemed to be going through very similar experiences in terms of cultures shock and becoming assimilated, and although these may have been difficult at first, having new friends with the exact same ordeals made these moments even more valuable.

As for making French friends, I had the opportunity to meet Yonah and Quentin, who are also students at the University of Bordeaux. They voluntarily picked me up to take me to the orientation on the first day of the program. They were eager to meet American students and their enthusiasm for the American culture made it easy for us to find common ground. It was an natural exchange of culture and interests, and through them, I have been able to practice speaking French outside of the classroom and meet other French students as well.

The task of meeting others while abroad made me a little anxious about the start of my program, but just by being here a couple weeks, I learned how easy it can be when you find those who have similar motivations. Now moving forward, I’m even more eager to branch out, knowing that I have a solid group with whom to take on this great adventure.

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A City Rich in History

It has now been over a week since I have arrived in Bordeaux, France. There is much that I must grow accustomed to – a great change in scenery, a different way of life, colder weather, and orienting myself in a foreign city with a foreign language.

I am living with a host family consisting of Agnès and Pierre, a Bordelais couple who have spent most of their lives in France. They are very kind and welcoming, but it took a bit of time to learn about their lifestyle and how I can do my best to integrate myself (m’intégrer) into it. They live very eco-friendly lives: biking and walking to most of their destinations, minimizing plastic usage, and making sure to finish every bit of food on their plates. All of this at once came as a bit of a shock to me, and I can tell already that I am going to both slightly struggle and learn a lot.

The buildings here are rich in history. On my first day, I was able to bike through the city with Agnès and Pierre, trying to soak in all the details of the architecture along the way. As they explained to me in French, most of the buildings that are here today were built during the 18th century, making them hundreds of years old. This is dramatically different from everything in my home city. Just the fact that I get to appreciate this new type of beauty and art, basically everywhere I look, makes this trip even more exciting to begin.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet the other students from California who are studying abroad. Many are very likeable, and there is a diverse mix of personalities. For the next week I look forward to getting to know them better and learning how I can best assimilate into this Bordelais culture.

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From California to France

Hello, my name is Matthew and I am a computer science student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In exactly eight days, I will be flying from San Francisco to France in order to spend a semester abroad at the University of Bordeaux.

Some of my motivations for this excursion:

  • To authentically experience daily life in a foreign country
  • To strengthen my French language abilities and cultural appreciation
  • To learn about the approach to computer science and its applications in France
  • To rely on introspection and growth when faced with challenges of studying abroad

Can’t wait to get started!

Watch my pre-departure video here: https://vimeo.com/382144622