Looking back on my semester in France, I can’t believe how quickly it has gone and how many things I got used to that I know I thought were unusual when I arrived. One of the main things was the transportation system, and everything that goes along with it. Before coming to Grenoble, I had never used public transportation. I used the tram to get to class everyday. It took me a while to figure out which lines went where and what the best route was to get somewhere quickly. I was lucky in that my host family was only a few stops away from campus and I didn’t have to switch tram lines to get there. When I wanted to get to the center of town where my program director’s office was as well as many wonderful cafés that I would go to for lunch, I had two options: take line C a few stops in one direction and then switch at a very busy stop where I normally missed the connecting tram because it always arrives at exactly the same time as the tram I’m on, or if I want a connecting stop that is not as busy, I have take line C in the opposite direction first before connecting to a tram that will get me the way I need to go.
Another thing about the transportation system that took some getting used to was getting stared at by other people on the tram. I was expecting to be looked at because I’m obviously not French, but it’s different in France. If you catch someone looking at you in the U.S., they normally look away. On the trams, it was very unusual if the person looked away after realizing that I saw them looking at me. Most of the time it was men that stared, but sometimes other female university students did too. I like to think that I ignored it most of the time, but as the semester was nearing an end, I found myself getting less patient with these people. A lot of times I would glare back at them and refuse to look away until they did. I don’t know why exactly. Sometimes I would think to myself that they should be used to seeing foreign students since they live in a city with a large university, but then I would look around me and realize that I hadn’t gotten used to seeing all the different people on the tram everyday, so why should I expect them to? When you live in a large city (I know there are larger cities than 160,000, but to someone who is used to cities like De Pere, it seems huge), you may take the tram at the same time everyday and never see the same people. So even though it was frustrating and I didn’t always ignore people who were staring at me, I could at least understand because I too saw new tings everyday.
Alissa De Valk is studying abroad at the University of Grenoble III in Grenoble, France, with the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS).