Welcome to Valley Overseas. We’ll hear from students exploring new lands full of strange customs, seemingly impenetrable language barriers, and Euro-trash. They’ll dish out the good, bad and the ugly of living in a home-stay, and the tales of discount airlines. From mixed-up vocab to drool-worthy people in fantastic fashions, let us show you the experiences of a lifetime.
Yesterday, I’m blowing my nose in the library’s bathroom when a man walks in. Then another. Weird, I think.
Then a third enters. Oh. I’m in the wrong bathroom.
It’s not like I don’t know the French words for “men” and “women.” But someone had jokingly scribbled “Ladies Room” on the door of the men’s bathroom. And I fell for it.
In fact, graffiti covered the entire bathroom’s walls, as it does the campus hallways and the desks I sit at during class. It’s everywhere. One time I even noticed scribbles in the toilet bowl. I’m never complaining about the bathrooms in Willard again.
But the disappointments stretch further than the toilette. Public French universities, like the one I study at, don’t enjoy the same funding we do at Penn State. That explains the older buildings and 90’s computers.
Academics here feel strange as well. For example, I’m taking a class called “General Literature” that meets twice a week—on Tuesday to discuss the philosophy of the Renaissance and on Thursdays to cover historians of the Romantic era. How do these two subjects relate? Are they even literary?
(I may or may not be typing this column in the Renaissance section right now.)
That isn’t to say French students don’t have advantages. Most importantly, the lower cost of tuition provides greater access to education, and that’s worth applauding. French students even enjoy cheaper dining hall meals, which means I can pick up a steak and heaping plate of fries for only 3 euro.
Still, the rest takes some adjusting to. But I didn’t choose my program in Montpellier because I’d have access to a shiny computer lab. I chose it to experience the French way of life. And that’s exactly what I’m doing—men’s bathrooms and all.