Être française aux États-Unis: Interview with Stéfanie Nunes
What’s it really like to be Studying Abroad in America, one French Student tells all.
During my third year of college at the University of California, Irvine, I decided to up and move to Lyon, France for a year to study at Lyon 2 and IEP – Lyon. During my time abroad, I extensively documented my travels, but never really gave names for the people who were in my stories out of respect for the privacy. However, now that it has been a year since my time abroad, I cannot remember the random person we met in the bar who sang the entire bar lullabies, the man who owned my favorite kebab shop, or the name of the most terrifying person in Marseille so I can tell people to never go to his hostel. Because I want to be able to have more concrete facts about being abroad the next time I take a walk down memory lane, and because I think it is important to share cultural experiences, I decided to break my “no names” rule and interview my roommate whom I met in France.
Stéfanie Nunes and I met while I was living in Lyon. She studied at Lyon 2, one of the two universités I studied at while abroad. She was coming to California the year I was returning home to UC Irvine, and because she had listed Irvine as a top choice for her study abroad location, we began talking about California and Irvine in general. We quickly became friends, and when she was accepted into UC Irvine, I asked her to move into our house. It was a win-win situation because we can proof read each others papers and also reminisce about the finer things in life that France has to offer. Since it has been eight months since she arrived in the United States, I began getting curious about how she was handling her own study abroad experience, since I had gone through the experience only a year before. My curiosity led to the interview below about her take on studying abroad as an international student in America:
Quick background information: where do you go to school in France, and what is your major?
I am in my 4th year of university at Université Lumière Lyon 2, and my major (although we do not call it that in France) is Langues & Civilisations étrangères – Monde Anglophone. What that means is that, basically, I study the English language, English literature and Anglo speaking civilizations.
Why did you choose America to study abroad? Why specifically California?
I chose America because I have wanted to come here since I was 13, so being able to come to the United States gave me the opportunity to live out my dream. I chose California because I grew up with American television shows and movies which showed me idealistic versions of California. Because of these childhood fantasies as well as knowing California was known for having a great culture and even better weather, I decided that I should choose California because it seemed like the best place in the United States. Additionally, California is known for its beaches, and where I live in France, there is not a beach for kilometers on kilometers. Although it is still a 15 minute drive to the beach from Irvine, it is much closer than in Lyon. One thing that I did not know that I would love so much about California are the sunsets over the ocean; about half of the photos I have taken while in America have been of a sunset sinking into the Pacific Ocean.
What were your concerns or fears before coming to America? Did you have any preconceived notions about what America was like which made your nervous?
I was worried about the journey because when I flew to America, it was my first time ever on a plane. The actual travel is always the worst part of going anywhere.
Otherwise, I did not have any worries about coming to or living in America because I was pretty confident that I could ask for help if I got lost or something like that. [Editor’s Note: Stéfanie has practical no accent when speaking English – she’s taken English language classes for close to ten years! – so the same fears that I had about not being able to understand what was going on when I went to France do not relate to her at all]
What were your top 5 things you wanted to do while in America?
- Eating everything/anything America has to propose
- Go to Los Angeles/Hollywood
- Go to Las Vegas
- Go to San Francisco
- Make new friends
Luckily, I have been fortunate enough to go to Las Vegas as well as the greater Los Angeles area, but I still have not yet made it to San Francisco. One of my roommates is from that area, so I am planning a trip to go up there with her soon. As for the rest of the list, I would have to say I am doing pretty well! I had a bunch of fun in Las Vegas, as you can see below.
One of the things that I did not know I wanted to do before I actually did it was go to San Diego. The first time that I went was when my cousin and his girlfriend came to visit me in December, and after visiting that first time I was hooked. I have since gone back two times, once with a friend and the other time with my roommate and her boyfriend. Since my first time going, I have seen the UCSD campus, La Jolla Beach, the Sunset Cliffs, Old Town, Balboa Park, Chicano Park, as well as Coronado Island (which is extremely beautiful). I really like San Diego because you can find anything you want there; it is a good place to live and study because of the climate and culture. Also, the public transportation system is much, much better than Irvine’s!
What was the main difference between French universités and American universities?
The major difference is the way that classes and majors are organized. In France, you choose a major but not the classes that go with it. It is predetermined. The relationships with the professors are also different. I like it better in America. Also, the campus is way bigger here, and you have several places you can go to eat on the actual campus, which we do not have in France.
However, Lyon, as a college city, is way better than Irvine. I say that because, Lyon’s public transportation system is great (while not on strike), and can get you all around the city as well as to the suburbs without any trouble. Also, the city of Lyon is big but you can still pretty much walk from point A to point B, and there are shopping centers, restaurants, bars, pubs, chichas, etc all within walking distance. Lastly, another great thing about my university in Lyon is that it is in the city so when you have free time between classes you can go pretty much anywhere in the city. In Irvine, we are confined to the campus, and if you want to go anywhere, you need to have a car or a bunch of free time to wait for the bus.
How is interacting with people on campus in America different than in France?
Since you can choose any classes you want to take here in America, you do not easily make new acquaintances. In France, you have the same people in pretty much every class since the class schedule is determined for you, which make it easier to get to know the other students in your major.
What are the lifestyle changes you had to make when moving to America?
I live with my parents in France, so it is different here because I have roommates rather than my family. Also, I cook/buy my own stuff and get to live pretty much however I want. It is fun, but also less healthy because I eat a lot of junk food!
What do you miss the most about France? What do you miss the least?
I miss the food (although I do love In & Out here in California). And my friends! However, I do not miss French people. Americans are much more polite and agreeable. Also, all of your public bathrooms are clean!
Do you have any advice for students who are coming to America to study abroad?
Be careful not to spend all of your money during the first few months! Remember that you still have a full year or a full semester ahead of you. Also, be sure to organize outings and do not hesitate to talk to people because Americans are pretty nice.
If you do not live on campus or near a bus stop, invest in a bike as soon as possible. Or, if you can find someone with a car, be sure to treat them nicely because they will be a lifesaver. Relatedly, try to visit as many places as you can to make great memories. If you are on the West Coast, I highly recommend Las Vegas – it is a must!
Lastly, be sure to study but also enjoy your time abroad because before you know it, it is time for you to go back home.