Follow Kiley along as she studies in Lille, France!

Bonjour!

Bonjour!

Bonjour tout le monde !

My name is Kiley Simpson, I’m a junior French and Philosophy major at Centenary College of Louisiana, and I just began my study abroad experience with l’Université Catholique de Lille. I plan to study here in Lille, France, for one year; during that time, I look forward to growing not only as a French major but also as a person. I chose to do this experience for a few reasons:

  1. My French will improve drastically
  2. I have the opportunity to take classes that may not be offered by Centenary
  3. I am able to meet thousands of strangers not from the USA (la catho has about 4000 exchange students this semester!)

Studying abroad can be a lot of things: it can be exciting and adventurous, a nice break from normal college life, a good career strategy, or even just a cool way to get better at speaking a foreign language. It can also be terrifying, and that's okay! Going somewhere across the world for an extended period of time, especially alone, is difficult both to think about and to do. So many things you think should be normal won't be - at the same time, you can find familiarity all around you.

I know that this experience will bring challenges and opportunities to improve myself, and I cannot wait for them to come. The point of college is to explore who you can be in the context of a greater world, so when you have the opportunity to travel, why not take it? I’m grateful that Centenary has placed such a heavy emphasis on international experiences because it has led to students like me traveling to countries they never dreamed of visiting.

Still, this will probably be the hardest thing I've ever done. Already, I have faced struggles I never planned to face. In the first few days, I had to face my fear of having negative attention called to me. As an introvert, it’s difficult and sometimes terrifying to draw positive attention to myself, so when I found myself lost or overwhelmed those first days, I was petrified. Yet I realized within the third day that I was no longer afraid of asking for what I needed - even if it meant walking up to some random person in a store or on the street to figure things out. I had conquered my first hurdle, and it will be the biggest key to making sure my stay here is successful.

My number one fear now is doing well in my classes. I have already attended one class, a slightly upper-level literature class, and have eight more classes to attend before I can know if all of them are a good fit for me. The best piece of advice was given to the exchange students attending the orientation for the Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines: “Don’t be upset if your grades aren’t where you want them to be at first. Everyone starts out struggling, yet almost everyone makes the same GPA here that they would at home.”

If you’re considering a study abroad experience, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. In every situation, no matter how hard, someone will be there to help if you just ask.
  2. Traveling alone is not easy, and no one has a great time all the time.
  3. You will probably need to buy your own toilet paper.
  4. Find other exchange students, some that speak your language and some you can only communicate with in a second language, and share your struggles and confusion with each other.
  5. Find students from your host university to help you, either with your residence, food, travel, or classes.
  6. Communicate with other people from Centenary that you know studied at your same host university - they have a lot of wisdom that can save you from many stresses!
  7. Enjoy the experience as often as you can.
     

Every day will bring new lessons, some tougher than others, but all of them go into the piggy bank of a better you. And if there's one thing I can ask for out of this entire experience, it's that: a better me.

 

I hope to speak to you again soon. Bonne journée !

Kiley

Practicality

Bonjour tout le monde!

Let’s talk about Practicality.

First things first: you do not have to do anything that is not required of you. I know that seems really obvious, but I find that people can sometimes feel trapped by invisible strings, ultimately leading them to make choices they don’t want to make. So that you can avoid this in the future, I’ll break it down some.

When it comes to choosing classes in Lille, the only class all international exchange students must take is French for Foreign Students. Otherwise, we are legally obligated to have the minimum number of class hours dictated by our HOME university to be considered a full-time student. At Centenary, this is twelve hours - but be careful. Check with your academic advisor before you go and after you have been given the list of classes you can take to see what they will accept as a transfer credit! After your first day in those classes, you should receive an overview or a syllabus (very rare here) that gives you an idea of the course’s main purpose. Send this information to your advisor as one final confirmation. If something is wrong, they will tell you. Besides, the lovely people in charge of international student class registration usually advise you to sign up for upwards of 16 credit hours, just to be safe, so you may be able to quickly drop any courses your advisor thinks won’t transfer without having to add others you didn’t plan to take.

Do not be afraid to take courses that you feel may be out of your skill level! You could be pleasantly surprised by your ability to keep pace and interact with the material. On the other hand, you may experience difficulties that you know will lead to a course failure. If you want to continue taking that course just to have the challenge, DISCUSS with the professor first. Explain what problems you’re having - is the professor talking too fast, are there some vocabulary words being tossed around that you’ve never seen before? Chances are, the native students may be having the exact same problems as you! You can choose to work with that professor to better pace the course material or explain concepts further, or you can choose to eliminate the course from your schedule. The professor will not take it personally! We all have our own limitations. Stick to what you can handle, whether it’s taking a lighter load, having a healthy mix of easy and more challenging courses, or keeping that one course you know you’ll probably fail just for the experience.

Make sure that you make the choices that you think will be the most fun and beneficial for you. This is what will turn your experience abroad into a worthwhile time. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll end up spending an entire semester or year unhappy, and you could come out of this whole thing regretting it. If something isn’t working out for you during your stay, you need to make sure you talk with your professor, your friends, your advisors back home, and the faculty that staffs your program. Every person is here to make sure that you get the most out of everything you do! When your workload is both interesting and manageable, you can look forward to class while also taking plenty of time to explore the countries around you and make valuable memories.

With that being said, try to make friends with at least a few people in every class, both exchange students and native students. Not only are they a great resource for you on your off days or days you had to miss class, but they also can help you understand things that weren’t clearly stated by the professor. It’s also much more pleasant, especially in collaborative environments, to work with someone that you know a little better. You can share notes, check homework (as approved by the professor - this is mainly common with translation courses), discuss ideas, and generally have someone to relate to about your feelings on that class. These friendships can also easily transcend classroom boundaries, so don’t be afraid to say hi to your seat buddy!

Explore. Take a few minutes to an hour every day - I mean it! - to walk the streets of your neighborhood, to check out the halls of your main academic building, and to find cute grocery shops or restaurants nearby that have the kinds of things you need. Take the time to walk that seven minute walk to Jardin Vauban or the zoo, or take the leap and make a thirty minute walk to the city center. Try out the public transportation system because you’ll need it sooner or later. When you take the time to leisurely figure out your surroundings, you feel more at home and have a better chance of knowing where to go in tight situations, and you are much safer overall. If you don’t feel like going out or the weather doesn’t permit it, try exploring through Google Maps. It isn’t exactly the same, but it gives you a great idea of what’s around.

Maybe the most important thing of all: immerse yourself. Don’t go around only speaking English to people in a non-English country. Not only is it rude, but it also takes away part of the point of an exchange program. You go to learn in a culture different from your own; why waste that? Make a point to figure out how to be polite to passersby (did you know the French constantly say “bonjour” to people they pass in hallways?), how to ask nicely for food from a menu (“je veux” or “I want,” while technically correct in America, is not used - try “Je voudrais”), how to say goodbye to someone that has done a service for you (“Merci beaucoup, bonne journée, au revoir” will suffice), how to greet a friend (with one or two bises/bisous), or how to properly address a professor (Monsieur or Madame). It takes effort to truly understand a foreign culture, so if you ignore the rules and go with what you’re used to, you’ll end up having a less pleasant and less fruitful time overall.

In summary, if you want to have a great time during your exchange program, do what you know you can handle and learn from your surroundings. Don’t be afraid to try things out, even if you think they won’t work, and also be willing to stop doing those things if you find they cause you more harm than good. Your experience will ultimately be what you make it, so make it a good one!

À bientôt, et bonne journée,

Kiley

The Little Things

Bonjour tout le monde,

October is here, and so many little things have happened. It’s so easy to get into the habit of going to class, going straight home, back to class, back home - eventually, you kind of stop noticing how much you’re ignoring everything around you until one day, you look out the open window of your dorm room and it hits you. I mean, really; a leaf just blew into my room and smacked me one early October day.

At that point, I realised what had happened to my time. And while it isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’s not what I came here to do. So, I decided to be brash and do something I had been terrified of doing: I booked a table at a restaurant. It wasn’t anything fancy. Really, I just wanted somewhere a little further away than I was used to that I could go, eat some food, and just enjoy myself out in the real world for a little bit. To add to the commitment, I booked two more tables at different restaurants right after that! Just call me Madame Worldwide (hah!).

I enjoyed that first restaurant a lot, but I didn’t change much after that one outing. The second, however, is a different story. Sure, the food was fine and the restaurant itself was adorable, but those things have nothing to do with what happened. It was as I was walking there. I passed my academic building on the boulevard Vauban, heading straight for the rue de Solferino that would supposedly take me to my destination. On my approach, I noticed

  1. A banner proclaiming “Plantes pour tous” on the side of
  2. A beautiful, tall, castle-esque building with
  3. A picturesque cabin-in-the-countryside built directly next to it,
  4. A massive line of people trying to get in and
  5. A steady stream of plant-wielding, smiling faces.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I love plants. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but I KNEW that I had to get one of those plants no matter what it took. With this in mind, I did keep walking down the rue de Solferino and have a lovely lunch, and I didn’t let myself rush through my food just because I wanted some plants. Somehow I knew in my soul that there would be plants left for me when I got there.

And I was right! I patiently stood in line, sometimes wondering if I was really allowed to take part in this Plants for All event (I mean, All is in the name but.. Can we ever be too sure?), and when I finally made it inside, I was immediately greeted by the sight of shelves full of beautiful plants. People were cradling baby trees, dogs were eyeing the low-placed herbs, and massive cacti sat opposite the free, quail egg-sized succulents. Everything was marked based on size, and after careful scrutiny, I snagged a 5€ ivy and a particularly prickly, free succulent.

All of that really got me thinking - what have I been missing? How many plant sales have come and passed in the time I’ve been confining myself to my room? And just like that, something changed. I don’t think I could tell you exactly what, but what I can say is that it’s changed me for the better. The more I allow myself to just go, the more free I feel, and the more familiar I become with Lille. Now, I can just start walking in one direction, and I’ll always eventually hit a street that I know like the back of my hand. Even today, after walking to the post office to drop off a few letters, I started wandering through parts of Vieux Lille that I had not yet explored and eventually found myself staring directly at that restaurant whose booking brought me to the plant sale. I decided to have another nice lunch there. They had a dessert buffet.

If there’s anything I can say about my experience so far, it’s that the little things mean so much more than they seem like they should. I open my windows more, walk through the park when I can, keep track of the birds that frequent the tree by my room, and travel freely, wherever looks like fun. I’ve found a farmer’s market, amazing grocery stores, parks I hadn’t seen on any maps, protests, traveling musicians, historic landmarks, and so many tasty restaurants it’s not even funny. All in all, I’m pretty glad I opened my window that day and decided to book a few lunches and dinners. My plants now sit happily on my windowsill (though I have to bring my succulent inside when the wind blows too hard). And whenever I feel a little bored or restless, I get up and just start going. So far, it’s worked out pretty well.

À bientôt,
Kiley

 

P.S. I use lafourchette.fr when booking restaurants online here. It’s a European site/app, and they have an English version called thefork.com. Try it out if you ever want to plan some meals in Europe! They have a rewards system, so every time you honor your booking by showing up when you said you would, you get some points that you can put towards a discount on a future meal at any participating restaurant. They also constantly have discounts of all sorts rotating through the list of restaurants (sometimes up to 50% à la carte).