During my time in France, I have had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. Although my program is typically for American students, the classes held at the foreign language center at the university are offered to students from all over the world. As a result, I’ve been able to get to know not only other Americans, but also people from Columbia, Iran, Italy, and many more countries.
At the beginning of the semester, I imagined that it would be difficult to meet local people and other students outside of my program, especially given that classes were all being held on Zoom. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that that was not the case.
So, how did I meet people? If you know me, you know that I am not an extroverted person— at all. I knew that in going abroad, I would have to push myself a little bit to be more open if I wanted to form friendships with people I met here. At the beginning of the semester, I actually met some people through Zoom breakout rooms. Whenever we finished the work we were given, we would chat and sometimes exchange WhatsApps. This is how I initially met several people with whom I’m now friends. Outside of that, I met people through the journalism club I participate in at the university as well as through my French speaking club that I attend on Tuesday evenings.
My program offers many events for students, so there is ample time to get to know each other. On Tuesday, for example, we went canoeing on canals of Saint-Grégoire. At the university, there are typically more opportunities, but because of Covid they are very limited. Instead of attending organized events, I’ve spent some time with people outside of my program having picnics or going to parks. Everyone is getting tired of online classes and being in front of a screen, so they’re typically happy to get outside and do something! It’s also fun, and sometimes funny, to talk about the differences in cultures between our home countries and the stereotypes we might have for one another.
Being a foreigner can often come with feelings of exclusion. Just a few days ago, I was talking with an American friend from my program about our experiences with the people here. I remarked that one thing about the people I’ve met at Cirefe (the center where we take classes) is that they’re very inclusive. People are always willing to invite me and other students to do things, even when they barely know me. This has been especially true of the foreign students. Upon further reflection, I feel that this openness is at least in part a fact of our shared experiences as foreigners. Faced with a certain sense of exclusion, many of the students at Cirefe have banded together to form communities of their own.
Overall, I have been able to make friends and meet people here because I forced myself to be open to it. I’m so grateful that I did, because I’ve met people with whom I hope to be in contact for a long time who I certainly never would have known otherwise.