Written by Zoe Manoukian
This school year I had the privilege of studying at Université de Nantes in Nantes, France. I arrived in September and left in March due to the pandemic, though I will continue my studies online through May. Through my study abroad experience, I learned a lot about different cultures as well as about myself. I fell in love with certain aspects of European culture that I hope to retain and realized that some aspects of European life are not for me. Some days in France truly felt like a movie as I strolled past boulangeries and beautiful people, the clip-clop of my feet against cobblestone singing above the distant accordion. Some days looked like long and miserable waits in line at the bank and cursing the unorganized bureaucracy that stubborn France refuses to change. Saturday afternoon looked like riots: smashed bus stops, little fires, no tram. Riots against Macron, against capitalism, against femicide, against police brutality. But Saturday night sometimes sounded like an unsolicited “Oh là là, est-ce que je peux te baiser ?” (Can I f— you?) and racial slurs. I discovered that just as France is beautiful, it too is ugly. I felt the call to democracy, the call to scream from the rooftops when I spy injustice and corruption. But I also began to wonder… Is setting fire to the school once a week really a viable solution? I learned to protest, but more importantly, I learned that not every protest is noble. I learned that some French men and all French police are cochons (pigs), and that French women are more old-fashioned than I ever would have guessed. But I learned joy, youth, and empowerment among my friends who came from America, Bangladesh, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Italy, Morocco, Norway, Turkey… the list goes on. I learned joy and youth and empowerment dancing by the river with them, rolling cigarettes and exchanging stories from our countries. It is very special to be one of many strangers thrown together for such a short period of time.
We were only together for seven short months, but those months were packed with experiences, freedoms, and learning opportunities that cannot be replicated at home. Navigating the bureaucracy of another country in another language has instilled me with confidence in navigating a much more simple and comfortable life at home in America. As a student of literature, studying under the French school system has filled me with excitement as I have gotten to interact with the works of Balzac, Duras, Flaubert, Hugo, Stendhal, Verlaine, and more, as originally written. Having been exposed to people from such different backgrounds has reminded me that there is much to discover in the world, and that learning another language can change everything in the way of how you can enjoy it. I have gained a deep appreciation for the study of language, and I would urge everyone to devote time to learning one or two.
Furthermore, I implore every student to take a semester or two away from Roanoke if able. We are so lucky to go to a school that provides study-abroad opportunities at universities that offer English and non-English programs alike. The immersion in a study-abroad environment is enthralling and beautiful, difficult at times, and incredibly informative. Throughout the visa process, I have realized how lucky I am to have all of the resources necessary to move countries. I implore Roanoke College to continue aiding students financially in the study-abroad process, taking into consideration the expenses that go into acquiring a passport, visa, birth certificate copies, translated documents and so forth. The idea of leaving your life at Roanoke behind for up to a year may seem daunting, but it will be there for you upon your return. As much as I missed my friends and professors at school, I never questioned or regretted my decision to leave. Study-abroad can truly be a once in a lifetime experience and is a wonderful moment to take risks, make connections, and see life from a new perspective.