Culture Shock in France


Culture shock: (adjective) is the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply travel to another type of life.

Before I left for France to teach English, we were warned we might experience a ‘culture shock’ which comes with being homesick. It was described to me as a feeling that will make you feel like an alien amongst the new culture you are experiencing. Basically because you are the one who’s different, you will feel isolated.

I don’t know why I never felt this, but I feel if you aren’t going to smother yourself in a new culture of food, religion, music or way of life, while you’re there, you may as well see the country from an Instagram page. I’m a positive person, and I strongly believe every cloud has a silver lining, perhaps I have experienced this ‘culture shock’, and I’ve just dealt with it differently.

Of course there are little things I’ve noticed, like freaking out when my host dad drives because there’s a car on the wrong side of the road, (then of course realizing it’s actually on the right side, it’s just in Australia we drive on the left) or how they have a bowl of coffee for breakfast (yes, literary a bowl!) or upon leaving the house leaving the door wide open because they live in such a small town, but I feel it’s amazing to be able to experience the culture like a local.


I’ve only ever really done it as a tourist. This feeling is so different, but instead of feeling like an alien, it’s quite the opposite and feels quite normal to embrace these things. The biggest difference I’ve noticed is the eating here in France. At lunch and dinner you have a glass of wine. My host dad loves and knows his wines, and is always trying to order me a wine he’ll think I’ll like. At home, one glass of wine I’m usually tipsy, I like to think I’m now building up a tolerance so I’m not such a light weight!

You also finish every meal off with cheese. I’ve been here two weeks and I already think I’ve eaten more cheese in this short time than I have in my entire life! But to be honest, when I think about it, I think we actually have a lot more in common than not.

My host family is an made up of an amazing bunch of people, I have a host mum who is fantastic at everything and very creative, (just like my mum, but don’t tell her I said that) a dad who cracks jokes every chance he gets and whose daughters get embarrassed and wish he’d stop talking, (however I think he’s funny) which is like my own Dad, (but he’s not funny and I also wish my own Dad would stop talking at times in front of my friends too) and then two daughters who are so very different from each other. My host family are as busy as my own family, that really the only time they get together is at dinner time, just like my own family.

The start of the week was my host Mum’s birthday, which we all went out for. We shopped that day for a present for her, then had a family dinner that night. We celebrated with authentic French food and really good wine. I did try French champagne but I honestly thought it tasted like poison, I’m sorry France! After dinner, we walked though the city which is so beautiful and extremely peaceful at night, not like my own city at home. Cherbourg is so small, everyone knows everyone.


This week my host family has also had a family friend visit them from Paris, it was nice not to be the only tourist for a few days. We had fun exploring the city together, and both of us were seeing the sites for the first time. We visited the local aquarium, which houses a submarine. There is also a titanic exposition, as the titanic stopped in Cherbourg before it sunk a few days later. It was great to see all that history like that, and also very sad to see people’s belongings that were pulled from the wreck of the titanic. Inside the aquarium is a guided tour, which was in French but I was given English headphones. Half way through my headphones stopped working, so it nice to have someone who could translate what was happening for me.

I’m also helping my youngest host sister with her English, we went shopping and had groutè together, and I told her she had to tell me all about her week in English only. I’ve noticed with my host family if they unsure of a word, they will ask me and remember it straight away. It’s amazing, not like me struggling to remember my French.


As my time with my host family comes almost to an end, I’ve been thinking about what I wanted from this program and if I’ve been able to achieve it. Even as adults, you never stop learning, what I wanted was to grow as a person, and learn many new things which I’ve done, but something I’ve also learned is that you keep learning from an experience like this even months later, as you continue to reflect.

I’ve met so many amazing and interesting people, one person I met was a guy from Amsterdam who was fluent in English, Dutch, Spanish and Italian (actually beyond amazing) but as fate would have it, while traveling through France he met a French girl and fell in love with her. He is now teaching himself a fifth language just for her. (If that isn’t the most romantic thing ever, I don’t know what is).

When I told him what a nice thing that was for him to do, he replied that falling for someone whose language he didn’t speak wasn’t something he had planned, but he was open to learning new things. Even though learning a whole new language may have seemed small, there are amazing lessons to be learned all over the world, you just have to be open to them, and only when you step out of your comfort zone will you learn who you really are, and what you really need.

And often what you need for your life, is very different to what you thought you wanted. I’m proud of myself for what I’ve achieved so far, and I would encourage anyone who wanted to do an exchange to take a great leap and just go for it.


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