WHOA – Emilie Lenoir

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Hey there! My name is Emilie and I am a current third-year environmental sciences major. I studied abroad in France during the summer and fall of 2022. When I left for France in June it was my very first time ever leaving the United States. I am also a current Renaissance scholar and EOP student. Financially I wasn’t sure how studying abroad would play out for me, but working closely with the Financial Aid office, my UC advisors, and earning a Gilman Scholarship and UCEAP scholarship, it was made possible. 

I have dreamt of studying abroad in France since my first French class in 7th grade. I continued to study French through high school and took a couple of classes at UCSC as well. Picking my program was difficult because I didn’t know where exactly in France I wanted to go. After some advising appointments with my on-campus Global Learning advisors, I ended up spending the summer in Paris taking language classes to prepare me for the University in Bordeaux, France that fall semester. When I first arrived, I struggled immensely with the language. After all those years of classes, I felt that I was pretty prepared with my language skills. However, I soon realized that textbook French is nothing like the spoken, conversational French that surrounded me. I had to relearn how to speak and listen to native French speakers. I remember the fear that rushed through me as I entered a boulangerie or supermarché for those first few weeks. Eventually, I felt much more comfortable and was really grateful to have spent the summer in Paris practicing before I headed straight for the university. 

Although Paris was great for my language practice and getting used to the new culture, it was much too big of a city for me. I was so excited to leave the stressful metros and tourists and head to Bordeaux, which I found to be a calmer and more enriching experience. I took all my classes in French and soon learned the struggles of being the “outsider” during my time at the university. In many of my classes I was the only foreign exchange student, and feeling so out of place was difficult for me. Isolation was something that struck me hard while abroad as well. I often felt like an outsider as soon as I began speaking French with natives or trying to keep up with notes during class. The adjustment to the university itself was also difficult. I’m used to the quarter system at UCSC and the University of Bordeaux was a semester schedule. Switching from 3 classes at a time to 5 or 6 with the additional language barrier and not knowing the campus or students very well was tough. When I would feel this way I would often lean on other UCEAP students who lived near my apartment and would also frequent my UCEAP advisors on campus in Bordeaux who were super helpful and made everything feel a little more comfortable. Although it was demanding, being in a new country where I was still learning the language and culture was such an eye-opening experience and provided me with skills that I’ve taken back to the United States.

Besides the university, I absolutely adored Bordeaux. The architecture was beautiful, it was near the ocean so I would often take trains to the beach when the weather was warm, and the people were much friendlier than in Paris. The transportation was also ideal, with above-ground trams that run throughout the city. At the beginning of the semester, I also got a job as a nanny for two little girls that lived near me. I would often pick them up from school and do homework with them. This experience was especially great because I was able to get a real French family experience and improve my language, which was important since I was living in an apartment with another UCEAP student.

A lot of the time that I was abroad I felt a longing for California and UCSC, especially during the more difficult times of my program. That weirdly changed just about a month before I was scheduled to leave to come back home. Suddenly, I was feeling extremely anxious to return to a place I had been absent from for several months and to come back to friends and a university that had felt so far away. I had to tap into my advising and counseling resources as a study abroad student for the first time in order to process the fact that this chapter was soon over. It was hard to leave Europe and to end something I had dreamt about since 7th grade. Something especially alarming was the reverse culture shock that happened when I finally came back to the United States. I knew the adjustment was gonna be a challenge, but spending six months abroad made for a surprisingly difficult return. I had a simultaneous deeper appreciation for my home university and a longing for the memories and encounters in Europe.