Georgia Santomartino is one of our Arts Global Scholars, a scholarship program available for Bachelor of Global Studies students. Georgia went on Exchange to France, and shared the highlights of her overseas study experience.
Exchange has truly been one of the best experiences of my life and I’m so glad I took the plunge and did it. It teaches you so much, from the small nuances of the language you are trying to learn, to how cultures compare and contrast in their values and beliefs.
Of course, there were times when exchange was challenging, but these experiences are the ones in which you grow the most. Before leaving Melbourne, someone who had been on exchange described to me what he called the ‘exchange bubble’; a community overseas comprised entirely of exchange students who tend to spend most of their time together. I had thought it would be relatively simple to integrate into the French student community, have French friends and speak French all the time, but the reality was much different. Very quickly after arriving, students who have the same first language tend to stick together. To break free from this ‘bubble’, I had to make a considerable effort to talk to French students and leave my comfort zone of the English-speaking world. François-Rabelais University offers you the chance to have a French buddy and also to speak French with a French student every week. I took advantage of these initiatives and they really helped my French while allowing me to feel more integrated into the French society around me. I formed close friendships with French students and I am so thankful I took these opportunities to meet some locals.
In addition, as any language learner would know, confidence is the key to learning languages. In the beginning, I tried my best to speak French but I wasn’t feeling very confident because I wasn’t sure if I would make sense or if people would understand my accent. This made it difficult at times to speak as much French as I could. Over time though my confidence really built as I learnt how to pronounce words correctly and I got to know how people speak in everyday conversation. Persistence is key, so even if you think you’re getting nowhere, just keep speaking and eventually you will see the improvement first-hand!
A cultural aspect that was different from Australia was the level of politeness that is expected in French society. Of course, we expect a high level of politeness in Australia too but it’s the everyday politeness in France that differs. You absolutely must say ‘bonjour’ to people when you walk into a room, to the shopkeeper when you walk into a store, and to the bus driver when you get on the bus. The same goes for ‘au revoir’ when you leave a room or a shop. This didn’t take too much time to adjust to because you soon realise it’s very rude not to say so. I came to really enjoy this higher level of politeness and it’s something I will definitely miss about France.
Exchange can be challenging, but when you overcome the challenges that you face, you realise you are capable of things you didn’t think you were capable of. I encourage everyone to consider going overseas to study because it is one of the most enriching experiences you will have at university.