I’ll admit, my first month in France was hard. I could speak as much French as the average 3-year-old, and for me, reading French takes the brain power just short of calculus. I knew no one and I was all alone for the very first time, with more than an ocean separating me from all I knew and loved.

On my first day, I was very anxious about meeting new people and making friends. Luckily for me, KEDGE did a very good job with their orientation and they even had a group of students whose main task was to welcome international students. Through meeting other international students, I found to my relief that the majority of them were like me in that we could not speak much French. However, I was surprised to see a lack of Americans.

I think it is natural to find yourself drawn to people you have the most in common with, which is probably why I was so eager to befriend the only other American girl in my exchange program. Luckily, we actually meshed really well and were quick friends. She is super funny and outrageous and still someone I talk to a lot. However, I knew that if I was going to make more lasting relationships, I’d have to adventure out of my comfort zone and befriend people who did not speak English as a first language. Together, we explored Bordeaux and all it had to offer.

For me, French people were not very easy to get along with. Not very many were particularly friendly towards English speakers, supporting the stereotype. I have a background in French, having studied it for six years in high school but that no way prepared me for my stay in France. I never realized how hard the language actually is and how little sense their rules make. It did not help that many French people did not like to speak English with me. By the time I slowly translated in my head what they said to me and tried to formulate a response, they would just switch to English, irritated. Even in my English-speaking classes, French students would refuse to speak to you in English, which was a bit hard for me. However, the few French people that I was able to make friends with were super sweet. I even found someone who was considering doing their exchange at Alabama!

In some ways, the classes were harder, but in others easier. At KEDGE, they had three-hour long classes, which were very different that anything I had experience. I thought it would be hard for me to focus; however, we had a break in between which was then followed by group work. This was something that was also hard for me at first. While I have definitely had group projects at UA, it was harder in some ways to work with international and French students. There was little to no homework, but the group work was not easy. I will say that I had a more free time than I do at UA, which was nice but also got a bit boring at times.

I am not proud to say that I used a good bit of this free time on Netflix, but it is true. The other part of my free time was used to explore Bordeaux, hang out with new friends that I was able to get so close to so quickly, and travel. In my short time there, I went to Bilbao with a big group of European girls, Scotland to visit my cousin, and Amsterdam with my new American pal. These were really great bonding experiences and such a great way to get closer to my new friends. It was also such a cool way to explore new cities that I had never been. I am usually a person who likes to plan things out, but on these trips, we just went with the flow, which was a new way of traveling for me.

In Bordeaux, I experienced fantastically mild weather while enjoying the architecture and location. It was situated by a river, which my friends and I picnicked at often. There were a plethora of beautiful churches and outside seating at almost every restaurant. I haven’t even mentioned that the wine there was fantastic, as it is the city of wine. The one strange thing about Bordeaux, and probably a lot of other places in France, was figuring out when restaurants were open. Almost every restaurant had strict times when they were open for food and when they were not. There were countless times where my friends and I would walk into a restaurant ready to eat, and they would not serve us food. Instead, we’d have to get a glass of wine. I never ended up figuring that out.

My time there was so amazing. I’d even go as far as to call February 2020 the best month of my life. It was when the anxiety, the homesickness, and the loneliness faded, and I finally started making friends and doing things after class and on the weekends. I was exploring new places and making new connections and learning so much about the world in some ways. It was so interesting to me to learn about the experiences of others and the way they viewed the world. I never wanted to leave.

Unfortunately for me, my exchange was short lived, and COVID was the next thing that I and the world thought about for the remainder of my semester.

Bordeaux Cathedral, Hotel de Ville, Bordeaux.