My college career has been full of changes and new adventures, each semester bringing some exciting but nerve-wracking new experience. From being a new college student to transferring schools to becoming a newspaper editor to now being “une étudiante étrangère” as they say here in France, no semester of my time in college has been anything like the one before.
This spring, my new adventure is spending the semester studying French in the town of Clermont-Ferrand, France, at the Université Blaise Pascal. While Clermont-Ferrand might be the “Kansas of France” (situated in the center of France, it has the same weather as Kansas almost day for day), so far, it is nothing like life in Manhattan. Despite the fact that my French is serviceable and quite adequate for me to use for basic communication, being surrounded by a foreign language is a challenging experience.
Doing simple things like setting up a bank account is amazingly different here in France than it is in my hometown of Overland Park, Kan. I walked out of the bank with 39 pieces of paper after I listened to their explanations of services. I also received at least 10 more pages in the mail and a book explaining what I purchased. Why the 39 pages of writing? Because that’s how they do it in France.
Another example of the differences is there is no main campus. Instead, the college buildings pop up sporadically throughout the city. There are also no varsity sports, thus no mascot or university apparel. My dad wanted to buy me a sweatshirt from UBP, but unfortunately, no such sweatshirt exists.
Residence hall life is also quite different here. There are no lobbies, the kitchens consist of a sink and a hot plate and the residence halls don’t have wireless Internet. In my “résidence” there are three recently renovated “bâtiments” that have Internet available via Ethernet cords. There are upsides to my dorm room here: I have my own private bathroom and a huge picture window that opens two different ways, my room is decorated with a cozy yellow color and it comes with a refrigerator. Nonetheless, my experience here is nothing like my two semesters spent living in a K-State residence hall.
One aspect of living in Clermont-Ferrand that is perhaps a bit more impressive than life in Manhattan is that the town is in the heart of a valley between volcanoes. Konza is fun and the Flint Hills are beautiful, especially in springtime, somehow the volcanoes I can see from my window is cooler than my former view of Kramer Dining Center.
I would be remiss in describing the differences between Clermont-Ferrand and Manhattan if I didn’t mention the fact that I, a 19-year-old, can legally buy whatever I want to drink here. Buying alcohol is different in France than in Kansas: There are no liquor stores, only grocery stores with massive wine selections, as well as a wall of other alcohol-imbued beverages. French people also seem to have a serious belief that wine must be affordable for absolutely everyone: yesterday my friend bought a bottle (a plastic one) of wine for one Euro. Even with the conversion, I don’t think there is anywhere in the U.S. where a person could buy a bottle of wine for $1.35.
Despite the differences and adjustments I’ve made since landing in France, I am excited to meet new friends, to learn more about the French language and culture and to share the reality of life in Manhattan, Kan., with people who have never heard of a Wildcat. Most of all, I’m excited to bring the lessons I learn in France back with me as I return to my friends and family at home.
Keep reading throughout the semester; I’ll have more tidbits of life in France, including visits to Paris, the differences between French and American young people and the fact that Skittles don’t exist here. À bientôt!