A year ago I was living in Tours, France teaching English to middle school students. Boarding the plane on my way back to France was an exciting feeling. Although I wasn’t going back to teach English or to visit my students and colleagues in Tours, I was eager to explore a different city and make the most out of my days in Grenoble. Many undergraduate students from our University of Michigan community are given an amazing opportunity every year to study the beauty of the French language and culture in Grenoble. As the CGIS French Language Programs Advisor, an important part of my role is ensuring that our students studying abroad are not only prepared for their experiences, but to also foster intercultural learning. Therefore, I am grateful that CGIS had given me this opportunity to embark on this short journey to Grenoble in hopes of familiarizing myself better with the city and our onsite partners so that I can continue my commitment in making a positive impact on our students.
My Personal Reflection
Living or visiting France has always been an interesting experience for me and quite different than living in the U.S. Growing up in Madagascar, a French-speaking country, but being raised by English-speaking parents has allowed me to be bilingual in both languages. It is somewhat perplexing to French people when I identify as an American yet speak Metropolitan French. From my personal experience, French people appear to be more intrigued by one's ethnic identity than people in the U.S.
A question that I was would constantly be asked and was not fully prepared or comfortable answering my first time around in France was “Quelles sont vos origines?” or “What are your origins?” Simply answering “American” never seemed to be enough to please the person who was asking. I quickly learned that French people were more curious about my ethnic origin(s), which is why I began changing my answer to “my mother is Ghanaian and my father is Norwegian-American”. Although I was never offended by the question, I did find it unsettling at first because this was something that I had never experienced when I moved to the U.S from Madagascar.
France, much like the U.S., is very diverse and has a large population of Arabic and African people. However, France’s racial and colonial history is different and understanding what that means in reference to my identity helped me to contextualize why the concept of “origins” or one’s ethnic background was an important part of one’s identity versus one’s nationality. Going to France this time around, I not only felt more prepared to deal with people’s perceptions of my identity as a person who to some extent is ethnically ambiguous in French society, but I also felt more comfortable and proud to share my heritage.
More about Grenoble
Aside from my personal reflection of being in France, I was also able to explore Grenoble, meet our onsite partners, visit a homestay, and speak with students currently studying abroad at the Centre Universitaire Etudes Française (CUEF). I opted to take a direct flight from Detroit to Lyon, with a short layover in Paris. This, in my opinion, is the easiest and most practical way of getting to Grenoble. The Grenoble airport is relatively small, which made it easy to find the luggage claim and airport bus station. After about an hour and half bus ride, I was finally happy to enter the charming city of Grenoble.
It was raining for most of my time there, but it was very easy to envision life in the summer in Grenoble: people taking strolls along the river of Isère, families picnicking and children playing in the Jardin de Ville, young professionals and students socializing in Place Grenette, joggers running up to the Fort de la Bastille and more. All the students I spoke with agreed with me that Grenoble’s beautiful river, its’ snowy peaks, its’ lush vegetation, its’ historical museums and monuments, its’ world-famous ravioli, and its’ many ‘rues piétonnes’ are just some of these things that make Grenoble the perfect location to study abroad. The students also had nothing but great things to say about their host families, our onsite partner (AIFS) and the CUEF.
In my own opinion, Miranda, the AIFS onsite director, was one of the most genuine, friendly, and open people that I’ve met. Just from spending a short amount of time with her, I felt very comfortable being around her and could tell that she really cared about the students and was dedicated to her job. The host mother that I visited was extremely accommodating to her student and was very excited to be hosting one of our students this spring and summer.
The Université Grenoble Alpes, which where the CUEF is housed, is only a 10 minutes tram ride away from city center. The campus is very green and walkable. It also has many shops and restaurants centrally located, including a bike shop, bagel shop, and a vegetarian/ vegan restaurant. Altogether, Grenoble is one of my favorite cities in France and I am looking forward to going back someday and having more delicious ravioli!
CGIS currently has two programs in Grenoble, France: CGIS: French 230 in Grenoble, France and CGIS: Intermediate French Language Studies in Grenoble, France.
After my visit in Grenoble, I was fortunate to have also been given the opportunity to travel to Geneva and Nyon in Switzerland. Many of our new programs, in partnership with School for International Training (SIT) are in based in Geneva and Nyon, and as the CGIS Advisor who oversees these programs, I was keen to visit our new program sites and meet our students currently studying abroad there.
My Personal Reflection
This was my first time travelling to Switzerland and if I am being completely honest, I thought that Switzerland wouldn’t be much different than France. The fact that French is spoken in both countries and that they share a border gave me the impression that they would be culturally similar. However, even in Geneva, which is only a couple hours away from Grenoble, it was clear that there was already a distinction between the two places.
While in France, my ethnic identity was almost always brought up in a conversation, this was not the case in Switzerland. Perhaps, this in part had to do the fact that I was in Geneva, an international city, but it did feel like a breath of fresh air to just be able to navigate a city and meet people and not have to constantly explain myself. French ‘Genevois’ were also very friendly and accepting. On my first night in Geneva, I was eating alone at a restaurant and a young couple invited me over to their table to dine with them. I found this type of hospitality in almost every encounter I had in Switzerland.
I guess I was naive to have generalized what to expect in Switzerland. I am happy to stand corrected that from my experience, both countries are different in many ways, though they may share some similarities. Even as an experienced traveler, it is always important to research the place you are travelling to beforehand and to break your preconceived notions and stereotypes.
More About Geneva and Nyon
I took the train from Grenoble to Geneva, which only took about two hours. It was very scenic route through the Alps. Geneva itself is a medium-sized city, but the city center is very walkable and well connected by bus, tram, and the metro. My favorite things about Geneva include the picturesque Lake Geneva and its international gastronomy. The Genevan culture is very much influenced by the large international population that reside in the city, and this is very apparent in its diverse cuisine.
Luckily, the SIT center in Geneva, which is where students on the International Studies and Multilateral Diplomacy program take their classes, is on a 5-minute walk from the train station. This allows students to explore the city center and walk to Lake Geneva during their lunch break and free afternoons. The onsite SIT staff were also very helpful and offered students many resources and things to do around the city. The professors were experts in their fields and it was a great feeling being around people that were so knowledge and passionate about their work.
Nyon, the small town where the second SIT center is located is only a 10-minute train ride away from Geneva. At the Nyon SIT center, students in Food Security and Nutrition, Global Health and Development, and Banking, Finance, and Social Responsibility program take their classes. Nyon is much smaller than Geneva, and more traditional. As opposed to the hustle and bustle of an international city like Geneva, Nyon is a quaint and quiet town that sits on the edge of Lake Geneva. I met with two of our students studying on the Banking program and they expressed to me that one of their favorite aspect of Nyon is being able to eat their lunch at the historic Nyon Castle that overlooks Lake Geneva. They were also very happy with their experience so far, which was a delight to my ears.
Overall, the programs we offer in Switzerland are very enriching. The students really seemed to be enjoying themselves and their host families. Many of them would pack their own lunch and save their food stipend, which is included in their program fee, for personal expenses. This effective strategy seemed to offset the high cost of living in Switzerland. I am very excited to be sending more students to Switzerland this summer and Fall and share what I have learned with them so that they can make the most out of their experience onsite.
CGIS currently has 5 programs in Switzerland: CGIS: Banking, Finance, and Social Responsibility in Geneva, Switzerland; CGIS: Food Security and Nutrition in Geneva, Switzerland; CGIS: Global Health and Development Policy in Geneva, Switzerland; CGIS: International Studies and Multilateral Diplomacy in Geneva, Switzerland; and CGIS: International Studies and Multilateral Diplomacy Summer Program in Geneva, Switzerland.