Making French friends is often cited as one of the most important goals of AUCP students (along with becoming fluent in French). It’s a great goal, but it doesn’t come easy to everyone… To some, it may feel like Freshman year of college all over again: new faces, new people, new places, new culture, and on top of it, new language! It can all be pretty intimidating, so here are a few ideas that could make it a bit easier.
1. Initiate contact.
Yes, the French don’t tend to smile at strangers. Yes, the French are less inclined to engage in small talk at a bus stop. And yes, if you do either of these things, a French person just might look at you funny. But, they just might respond, or smile back. The French are human beings too! The key is to smile or initiate contact with intention. In France, a smile or small talk is a deliberate invitation to initiate contact. So if you want to get to know someone better, go for it! At the AUCP, students have numerous opportunities to meet French people: with friends of their host family, at their clubs or activities, within their community service, and most importantly with their French language partners and their extended network of friends. So, initiate contact ! Say « Bonjour! », and see where it takes you.
2. Don’t make plans, last minute is the norm.
Study abroad is not the time to plan out every minute of every day. Oftentimes, a language partner or new-found French friend will send a text message or call at the very last minute. One AUCP Summer student mentioned that her language partner called at 7pm to ask her over to watch the World Cup at 7:30 pm. Another Fall student was invited tospend the day at the beach with her French language partner and friends, just an hour before the group was planning to leave! But they went, and they had a great time. It’s times like these when you should say yes, yes yes! Even if you’ve planned on staying home, or walking around with another American student, your best and most valuable experiences will be those that are last-minute and unplanned. Who knows, that last-minute date may lead to a really interesting discussion, or an opportunity to meet even more people!
3. Find common ground.
Sure, she’s French, you’re American. She may have been drinking wine since she was 12 and has no idea what you’re talking about when you tell her how much you love mac n’ cheese or pumpkin spice. That aside, you both might be fans of the Black Keys or the latest Wes Anderson movie. You could both be Harry Potter freaks or soccer fans or marathon runners or avid hikers. Certain things do transcend the Atlantic Ocean after all!
4. Find differences.
Although it’s great to find things that you have in common, one of the easiest ways to launch a discussion is to find differences. French high schools don’t have prom. There are no cheerleaders, no sports teams or glee clubs at high school. French young people have grown up watching American TV shows, and sometimes, you’ll have to explain that no, you didn’t grow up in a real-life version of High School Musical. Have fun disproving American stereotypes (No – we don’t eat hamburgers all day long) and discovering the particularities of the French (Surprise! No one wears berets anymore). Debate, discuss, and don’t be afraid to share your opinion. The French love a good debate and enjoy playing the devil’s advocate – just to get the ball rolling! In their French Cultural Patterns class, AUCP students learn about the underlying historical and cultural reasons for the way French society functions. This particular class often provides great conversation starters (ie: I learned this about French class today, is that true? Why/why not?).
5. It’s OK to feel awkward!
Let’s face it, when you first meet your AUCP language partner, it can be awkward. But rest assured, it’s awkward for the both of you. First and foremost, you are both language learners. Your language partner is probably as freaked out speaking English in front of you as you are when you’re speaking French in front of her! No one likes making mistakes, but you’re both in it to learn, practice, and improve. Realize that you’re both in the same boat, and before you know it, you’ll be sitting in a café, talking about how amazing croissants are, and exchanging English and French slang like it’s nobody’s business.
6. Long story short, let go!
Get out of that comfort zone. Let go of your habits, break out of your usual routine. If you see someone with really cool shoes, tell them! « Excusez-moi, bonjour…vos chaussures sont vraiment belles,vous les avez prises où? / Excuse me, hi…your shoes are great, where did you get them? » Worst case, the person simply tells you the name of the store where he bought the shoes and end of story. But, he could also share with you how hard they were to find, or that he saw similar ones in another boutique, or that they are his grandpa’s vintage pair. And maybe you start talking. Maybe it leads to something more. Once you’ve made that first step and you’ve taken the time to make a French friend, you’ll often find you’ll have a friend for life.
AUCP students benefit from several opportunities to meet the French: with an individual homestay placement, a subsidized club or personal interest activity, a community service or work experience placement and their French language exchange partners, AUCP students can truly become part of the community. Visit our website to to learn more about Immersion at the AUCP.