UMBC junior, Kaitlin Winchester, is currently studying abroad in Grenoble, France. Our Extra Credit team contacted Kaitlin for an interview in order to get an inside look into her experience.
What went into planning your study abroad semester?
It required a lot of searching for the right program –you need to look at what each one has to offer and decide what you would or would not be comfortable with.
I spent a lot of time searching online for what different programs offer but the Study Abroad Fair is great too! It was a little overwhelming because of the massive amount of options, so I really had to decide what I wanted out of my experience. Once I decided I wanted to study in France and improve my language skills, I narrowed it down by city, what the program offered, and the price.
In your experience, has culture shock been a real thing?
Definitely! I had an idea of what I was getting myself into because I've been studying French for a long time and had an idea of the culture. My study abroad program also provided some information about the differences we might encounter. It’s awkward for a while just trying to pick up on what everyone else around you is doing.
What has been the biggest transition for you in France?
I'd say the biggest [transition] is that I'm living with a host family while I'm here. I have not lived with someone I didn't know since my freshman year, so here I am living with new people who don’t speak the same language as I do and whose culture is different. One of the hardest things for me is making the mental transition from thinking and speaking in English to French.
What's different from what you expected?
My classes are different than I expected. I have four hours of French language, five days a week. In America, all of the language classes I took were taught in English and go figure, in France my French language class is solely taught in French. Another difference is that I've traveled less than I expected to, but that's okay. My program is less than three months and I have class five days a week, making weekend trips not as feasible. I've explored France a lot more than I expected which I love. Something I've realized is that it's easy to go to cities that are popular with tourists but I won't necessarily be able to explore the small towns of France again.
What do you miss most from home?
I think I mostly miss things from daily life like driving and just not having to think so hard about everything before I say it.
Any funny stories related to culture adjustment?
Oh so many.
The French do "les bises" which are the kisses on each cheek when greeting someone and they do not hug. Coming here we all knew the basic premise of "les bises,” but it really becomes strange when the French person you are meeting knows you are American. This not only makes the non-French person feel awkward because they do not want to initiate "les bises," but also the French person because they don't know if the American knows what they are or how to do them. The other day my host family had some friends over for dinner and an older lady came up to introduce herself to me and I expected to do "les bises;" but she knew I was American and must not have known how to proceed so she just held my hand in a strange handshake for a long time while talking to me.
Is it weird missing life at UMBC?
Yes! I love my experiences here but getting to see everything great happening on campus makes me a little homesick. But it's important to me to not get too upset because I have experienced those things before and I won't have another opportunity like studying abroad.
Biggest take away so far?
Don't waste the time you have and just take chances. Traveling used to seem scary and difficult even in the States but things often appear to be much more difficult than they are. Now that I've traveled and explored other countries where I don't speak the language, I think traveling in the States will seem less daunting.
Any advice for students considering study abroad?
Don't be afraid. In a new environment some people cling to the things that comfort them like friends that speak your language, but you're not going abroad to be comfortable. You go abroad to have experiences, so don't forget that.
*In order to meet with a study abroad advisor, you must first attend a Study Abroad 101 Information Session*
These take place:
218 Administration Building