Between the Welcome Wagon and the Turn around Train

1 Oct

Between the Welcome Wagon and the Turn around Train

Throughout my first two weeks here, I must say that I’ve met a large amount of people, all from various backgrounds, who all have different opinions about foreigners, study abroad students and what part they play in the University of Strasbourg. One must first know that the University itself is pretty new; only recently did the three Universities, Louis Pasteur, Marc Bloch and Robert Schuman, join up to be one.

I’ll first describe one extreme of the scale. During inscription, I was able to meet with the study abroad coordinators and the international relations staff who view study abroad as a great opportunity and definitely described it as “something to learn from”. They are always helpful; even when one needs something as simple as a face to face chat on a really awful day, they help you out and give you information you need to solve whatever difficulties lie ahead. Especially in the beginning, these people help make you feel better about all these new things you’ll be facing.

In a college city like Strasbourg, you won’t go a day without hearing minimum three languages if not more: French, German, and Alsatian (a mixture of the two). You simply can’t avoid it. While the location of Strasbourg definitely makes that normal, that’s not to say that people here are always pro-foreigner. Sadly, there are people who are extremely anti-foreigners and definitely show it, to my dismay. At times, these people can make you feel unwelcome and alienated.

Now, having made friends with other study abroad students here, we enjoy seeing the town and getting to know our new surroundings. You’ll often see groups of students out on Sunday visiting museums (they are free for students on Sunday), and just walking around, taking the city and its wonderful atmosphere in. I myself do this type of thing on Sunday and I find that it helps you discover many new things that you wouldn’t have seen on your own. It also helps you become familiar with the area rather quickly.

One Sunday, we were unfortunate enough to have an incident. While I normally keep my thoughts to myself, this was an incident that actually made me angry. Walking in the street, our group of students was speaking various different languages and attempting to communicate in the best possible with each other. This is easier said than done with people from all different countries who don’t always speak very good French as a common language. Therefore, you’ll often hear German, Romanian, Hungarian, etc… We passed by a couple in the street who immediately gave us dirty looks immediately upon hearing us speak another language besides French. To top it all off, the male was quick to say something along the lines of “those foreigners are welcome, they ruin a town”. Now, I’m sure you’ve all seen Bambi. Remember the part where Thumper quotes” If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”? This would have been very applicable in this case; however it was not.

Another incident was experienced by my Hungarian friend. She went to sit in a class where the professor asked his students where they were from in France. Everyone took their turn, and when it came to her turn, she explained where she was from Hungary. The professor began to ask her questions about how she would survive in France and be able to communicate etc in a very berating tone. At the end, he almost implied that foreigners were unwelcome in his class and that she should find another course. My poor friend was shocked at this show; she couldn’t believe that a professor would say such to her.

I find it very saddening that incidents like this happen. While we may have problems like this at Purdue, the atmosphere is far more open and friendly. Never have I seen a professor imply that he didn’t want foreigners in his class. Never have I seen foreign TA’s show disrespect to native citizens of the US simply because of their country of origin. All in all, this incident definitely makes me realize how different states of mind towards foreigners can be. It also makes me realize that being a foreigner is never easy and that one should be open to new things, even if they are different. Remember this if you’re at Purdue, as there is a very large foreign population.

Overall, this makes me more grateful for the people who show kindness to foreigners. Being in that position, I feel so much better knowing that people want to help me adapt and adjust to a new environment. Just like in the movie Bambi, you have to always remember the good and forget the bad. Remember the compliments and forget the insults. No matter where you go, there will always be BOTH friendly and cold people. Learn to be closer to the friendly ones; they make your experience far richer.


3 Responses to “Between the Welcome Wagon and the Turn around Train”

  1. Idolina in Spain October 4, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    I’m studying in Spain right now, so to an extent I can relate to this. Though I’ve found most people are friendly, there are those who will stare, call us “guiris” (slang for tourist), etc.

    I’m in a program where I have to speak Spanish all the time, even with my American friends, so I’m becoming more accustomed to the language. However, what frustrates me even more than being stared at or being called a tourist, is when I am speaking in Spanish to a native (i.e, at a restaurant), and they insist on speaking English back to me. Clearly they can tell I’m American from my accent, but really, you think they would be grateful I was attempting to communicate in their language, instead of assuming they knew English.

    I have now been here for a month though, and it does get easier. Sometimes I still get frustrated and want to hear English, but that desire isn’t quite as common/strong anymore. I feel like each day the language becomes less and less foreign to me. So trust me, once you give it more time, these things will just begin to feel “normal”. Best of luck in France! 🙂

    • Emeline October 4, 2010 at 5:37 pm #

      I appreciate the comment. I find that I have that difficulty here as well whenever question ” where are you from?” is asked. I honestly think they want to speak English if possible; I find myself telling them to speak french with me. You’re not alone in that.

      It has gotten better and I find that we are made to feel very welcome by certain people. I wish you the best of luck in Spain.

      • Michael October 7, 2010 at 7:36 pm #

        I don’t mean to defend anyone, but keep in mind that tone can be lost in translation and misconstrued. This is especially true in France. When I studied in Paris, I often mistook the meaning based on how something was said, even in English. Sometimes it is all in the delivery.

        To me, this is an experience every study abroad student SHOULD go through. Without stuggle there is no reward. Demand to speak French, they will respect you for it.

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