Monday, May 22, 2017

Kristena in France!


My name’s Kristena and I have been living in France this semester, attending the French business school ESDES School of Business and Management. The time leading up to my departure for France was so stressful that by the time January came around, I really didn’t even want to go, if I’m being completely honest. My family was way more excited and anxious than I was, and I remember the day before leaving I just broke down and started crying. I would have been content with just staying in the U.S. eating cookies in my pajamas, but thankfully I didn’t!

A beautiful morning in the Sahara. Morocco was beautiful!

You make all kinds of friends abroad!

I should first start by saying that my dragon, whose name was Pasha (because he was always in my pocket and I liked Pasha better than Pocky), is somewhere in Barcelona, perhaps at an ice cream shop a few minutes walk from the Sagrada Familia. I told myself I wouldn’t lose him, but alas, such are the consequences of midnight churro runs. Anyways.

There was a small memorial just outside of Big Ben after the attack

In Brussels, I only ate fries and waffles the whole time. No regrets.

France was initially quite underwhelming for me. It seemed very similar to home in a few ways and it wasn’t super pretty. In the city I live in, Lyon, there’s a lot of construction going on. Some parts are very modern, other parts are more traditional and ‘French’, and other parts aren’t that nice looking. This surprised me because I expected everything to be pristine and full of very French architecture, but that’s not entirely true. It is the second largest city in France after all. What I love about Lyon are the two rivers that run through it. It makes it a lot easier to navigate. Lyon is actually a big place, but it doesn’t feel like it. I stay within more of the center of the city, but it’s so much larger than that.

Beautiful, beautiful Amsterdam

The famous Tulip Festival in Keukenhof

I was nervous about a couple of things. One being the public transportation system, which seemed like another language to me, but I’m happy to say I’ve (mostly) mastered it. The map is actually quite small and easy to understand. I was also nervous about the language barrier. Another student who studied here at the opposite experience from me, but I don’t find much English of anywhere. So when I do hear or see it, I soak it up like a sponge. I’ve had encounters where people will say they can’t speak English, but when they realize I’m not joking, they will speak in English to me. I think it’s just that the French are very proud of their language. Sometimes I still forget that I’m as good as illiterate here, and I’ll go to read something before going, “Oh, wait. That’s right. I can’t read.” And, of course, I was nervous about culture shock--scared even. I thought I was going to be crying and depressed for weeks and was not looking forward to it, when in reality, that didn’t happen. I think I learned to get over things quickly because I knew I didn’t have any other options, and that was easier to deal with than becoming overwhelmed by my surroundings. Whenever I felt shocked or frustrated, I would just take a breath, accept it for what it was, and keep moving. The biggest moment of culture shock for me, where I actually felt it was when I was grocery shopping (another thing I was afraid of actually!), and I saw the eggs were sitting on this counter, completely out for you to pick them and there were egg containers under the shelf. I remember I just stared at it like “Are you serious???” and I just left the store as quickly as possible. The next time, I did find eggs in cartons though, so it all worked out. The point to remember is that we all adjust differently. It’s not bad if you have a rough time transitioning, or if you’re like me and yours was more subtle. At first I thought I wasn’t doing something right, but it really depends on the person and the place you’re at I believe.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen. Make sure you rent one of the city bikes if you come here!

I also had my reservations about being a black girl in France. Not just because I was worried about lack of hair products (bring your products, guys), but because of how it plays such a big role back home, I couldn’t fathom it being different. I’d be told before by other black students who had traveled abroad that no one really cares, but I didn’t believe them. And I won’t say that no one cares, because that would be too large a generalization. But I will say that from what I experienced, nobody seemed to care. I don’t want to say that you won’t experience anything because that just depends where you are and who you run into, but I’ve never had any issue with it. Lyon is also more diverse than I realize, but yeah. Even in less racially diverse places like Copenhagen, I didn’t have any issues. Some people aren’t worried, but I know some people are, with good reason. Don’t be afraid to rock your fro!

 Pasha in Barcelona. Miss you, buddy!

Before this semester, I’d never been to Europe, and I didn’t know when I would be coming back, so I wanted to travel as much as possible. What I didn’t expect, though, was that everyone was like me. For some people, this was their second time studying abroad. For others, like the Europeans, they weren’t in any rush to get anywhere for obvious reasons. And a lot of people seemed only interested in partying every weekend, which isn’t really my thing. Luckily, I met some nice people and was able to go on some amazing trips!

The Parliament in Budapest was breathtaking

I’ve had to learn, and am still learning, not to wait on people. This is your experience and you have to do what will make you happy. Of course, don’t be stupid about it. For instance, one of my limitations was not wanting to solo travel. The point of that matter is that I’m just not comfortable with it yet, so I kind of have had to wait on people a little bit. But if you’re not like me, then push yourself to go to that city. Start small by doing day trips. And sometimes waiting actually is beneficial. I was planning my trips weeks in advance, preparing to have to bite the bullet and go alone, but because I procrastinate, I never booked them and ended up finding people to go with. The people at my school, while they did have their groups based on nationality and/or language, they were always so open and friendly. Just ask someone what they’re doing and see if you can go or if they want to join you!

Obligatory schnitzel in Vienna. It was below freezing and rained pretty much the entire time, so this was definitely a treat.

Speaking about traveling, I thought traveling through Europe would be dirt cheap: it’s , not. At least not in Lyon. It’s no where near as expensive as the U.S., and there are some cheap snags, but I was expecting it be a lot cheaper. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop me. I was able to go to 12 countries while I was here and somehow, I’m still not satisfied, but I’m teaching myself that sometimes it’s okay to sit still for a moment. Don’t feel pressured to have to be doing something every waking minute. You’re not going to sabotage your study abroad if you sit inside and just watch Netflix for the weekend. I promise.

Enjoying Trdlo in Prague

Studying in a different country, and traveling to different ones, has taught me a lot about adaptability. With adaptability also comes prioritizing. I used to stress out about the smallest things (and I still do sometimes, it’s just in my nature), but for my own sanity, I couldn’t do that here, and I had to learn that very quickly. I think that’s what helped with my transition. I can either prioritize the fact that I hate how early things close here or I can just get over it and make sure I get my shopping done before five in the afternoon. If you are focused on everything being perfect, you will sabotage yourself and you will miss opportunities. I wanted to see everything and I wanted to go places for at least three days, but that wasn’t always possible. I could either mope and groan about it and wait until the next best opportunity (of which it isn’t guaranteed), or I could soak in as much of the experience as I possible could. Doing so makes you appreciate everything as much as possible. You’re taking pictures of arbitrary things but that’s because you can’t get over the fact that you’re actually in this new and really cool place! I’ve noticed how easily I get over things now, things that while they do frustrate me, I just shrug it off and try thinking of what I can do to change it, and if nothing, then I have to accept it. My happiness is more important than my ability to be angry at something out of my control.


Study abroad is daunting. And if you’re going to come to France, the process to get here is very daunting, and I’m not going to sugar coat because I cried more times before getting in than I did while in France. Let study abroad be daunting. Don’t force things. Accept the negativity for what it is so that you can overcome it. You can overcome something that you refuse to believe exists. Be honest with yourself and with your experience. If your study abroad is as beautiful and as romantic as you expected it to be, well that’s really awesome and I’m kind of jealous of you! But if not, it’s okay. It’s normal. There is a beauty in normalcy and in being let down; it means you have to find extraordinary in seemingly ordinary things. I dare you to do so.

Crepe Day in Hotel de Ville!

If you have any questions, because that was just the surface, please feel free to email me! If you’re thinking about France or even if you’re not. If you want to talk more on anything I’ve touched on here or just random things (like where do I buy lined paper in France? Because they used graph paper, y’all.), then hit me up!

Kristena Armwood
ESDES School of Business & Management
Lyon, France
Spring 2017

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