Coming from a Western country, I guess the ‘cultural shock’ I experienced when I first came to Willamette was not as strong and interesting as for someone coming from a very different environment. Let’s face it, we French people are not that different from Americans, are we?
When I think back to August when I arrived, I think the newest and most intriguing thing to me was this whole campus life thing. I knew I would have to spend most of my time here but I was not aware of its impact. I had the impression that everything occurs on campus and no one goes away from it as it provides with everything one can need. Campuses don’t exist in France and there is no life at university, but academic life. The good thing is that students get to manage everything by themselves and learn about real life, which can mean having to work in order to cover all the expenses that a student’s life is famous for.
Students eventually have to cope with very limited budget and that helps one grow up. We also have to learn how to cook, deal with French administration (everyone who was in France once knows what that does mean), pay the bills and so on. On the other hand, it’s far more difficult to get to know people at French universities. Unlike here, they are not the place for socialization and you really need to make an effort if you want to enlarge your circle of friends. At Willamette, I was positively amazed by the kindness, openness and generosity I encountered.
Besides, the class atmosphere is also very different. I was only used to big lectures where everyone goes and sits downs, pen in hand, ready to write down whatever they feel like writing. Professors rarely pay attention to attendance and classes are most of the time monologues. They often don’t even know your name and what really matters is the final exams, which is barely passed by let’s say more than 60% of the students at the 1st session. That’s why it’s an effort for me when I am to talk in the classes I am auditing. The close relations that exist between professors and students here are a good thing to me, though I sometimes find the endless discussion a bit pointless. To get a good grade in France is also not that common (at least in literary studies) while here the generosity in grading of the Professors was also something new to me.
Well, we might be a bit different then, for there are many things that could be compared. I always find it interesting to compare different cultures on a certain aspect as long as it is done with total respect and mutual understanding. I am not saying that one is better than another, just trying to tell you what my cultural shock was like and why. I really love going abroad and finding out about those little things. Let’s conclude with this French saying ‘les voyages forment la jeunesse’ (travels broaden the mind) which has really been meaningful for me.