Redefining Comfort

Guest Post By: Madeline Siu, a Senior studying Accounting and Art History. She is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient, and she studied abroad through Foster Exchange at the Paris School of Business in Paris, France, during Autumn Semester 2023.

Hello! My name is Madeline Siu and I’m a third-year Accounting student at Foster, studying at the Paris School of Business as part of the GBC’s Global Exchange and Direct Enroll Program. I’m now past the halfway mark of my time abroad, and it simultaneously feels like these two months have flown by, while also being the longest two months of my life. Adapting to life here in Paris has been more challenging than I expected, despite my awareness of the potential challenges of studying abroad. Seemingly simple errands like going to the grocery store and obtaining a library card became daunting due to the language barrier. I’ve found my emotions often feeling frustrated by my lack of control. I had spent over a year living in an apartment in Seattle, so why was living in an apartment in Paris so much more challenging?

You’re likely thinking that I’m describing the textbook definition of culture shock. And that’s exactly what I was experiencing, even though I initially didn’t want to admit it. Prior to moving to Seattle, I had lived within a 15 mile radius in California my entire life, and even that transition lacked culture shock when I moved from the Bay Area to U District. Since culture shock was an unfamiliar experience for me, I was led to believe that I was immune to it. I was very wrong. While it was scary, I’ve discovered various sources of comfort to help ease the shock. A clear indicator of how much I’ve changed over these two months is how my sources of comfort have evolved.

Initially, I tried to recreate the Seattle lifestyle in Paris, seeking comfort in activities like cleaning my apartment, getting acquainted with the public transportation system, visiting the Asian grocery store (as the regular grocery store still intimidated me at the time), and watching Netflix in my room. However, as the novelty of these familiar activities wore off, I found comfort in the everyday aspects of life in my new neighborhood. Without even realizing it, I started to find solace in the mundane, external experiences—riding the metro to the tune of French conversations and street performers, watching the kebab around the corner from me dwindle as the day passed, and even using my broken French to purchase goods from my local bakery  (where the owner now recognizes me!) And, now that I’ve taken my first weekend trip to Spain, I felt comfort and relief in coming back to Paris, seeing the beacon of the Eiffel Tower and closing my navigation application because I knew exactly where I was. It’s a place I couldn’t have imagined being at just two months ago when even buying an apple felt intimidating.

I haven’t “defeated” culture shock by any means; I’m well aware that I have a long journey ahead of me before I can truly feel at ease in Paris. It’s possible that I may never reach the point where I can confidently call Paris my third home. However, this experience thus far has taught me the invaluable lesson of being patient with myself when dealing with challenges beyond my control. I’m looking forward to sharing updates on my evolving sources of comfort, but for now, a bientôt!