If “you only live once” is America’s best expression for living in the moment, the French have an even better one: “profiter du moment.”
“It means to ‘profit’ from the moment, to get all you can from an experience because it’s not going to last,” junior JoAnna Kroeker said after spending four months in Tours, France, at a language school for international students. For Kroeker, the best part of studying abroad was being thrown into a new environment and seeing how other people lead their lives.
Kroeker will share about her experiences in France for the International Club event “Americans Abroad,” along with senior Katie Kortepeter on France, sophomore Lydia Reyes on Germany, and senior Andrea Sommer on Spain. The event will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, February 23, in the Heritage Room in Mossey Library.
Reflecting on her time in Germany, Reyes said that one of her favorite memories was staying at a cabin in the mountains.
“It looked right out at the Alps,” she said. “It just drew your breath away. Especially in the morning when the sun was rising and it just came over the Alps to the top of the mountaintops where there was still a bit of snow since it was still early in the year.”
Reyes visited Germany while she was still in high school, through a nonprofit organization called Youth For Understanding. Although being an amateur in the language was challenging, especially in learning to maneuver the language’s grammatical “matrix,” as she described it, her communication improved exponentially once she began to learn.
“Going there and being immersed in it, without having been trained in the language before, you learn it kind of like a child does,” she said. “The grammar becomes kind of like guesswork, where you have a certain intuition for things because you listen very closely and observe how people say it.”
Both Kortepeter and Kroeker were particularly struck by the atmosphere of “détente” in France, which, as Kroeker described it, is “the idea of spending hours in a café smoking cigarettes and drinking your espresso, just talking.”
“Americans have this kind of ‘go, go, go,’ like if we’re not doing something, we’re not being us…and that’s time wasted,” Kroeker said. “There wasn’t really time wasted when I was in France; it was just time differently spent.”
Kortepeter also liked the emphasis on leisure in France, the 35-hour work week that allows people to spend more time with family and “get away from the grind.” But she said she also found French culture to be hedonistic in a negative way, and to exhibit a loss of historical and religious consciousness.
“I realized the conversations I was having with them were not nearly as deep as the conversations I would have somewhere at Hillsdale,” she said. “French culture felt a little bit like a veneer, you know, like you have this outer shell of beautiful things, beautiful buildings, lots of simple pleasures, you’re with your family, and then when you get underneath, there’s not really a lot there.”
Such sentiments about how Americans feel as foreigners abroad are what International Club President Ema Karakoleva said she plans to have the panel represent at tonight’s event. Over the past two years, a total of 69 students have studied abroad through Hillsdale’s Germany, France, England (Oxford), and Scotland programs.
The International Club as a whole is both for American students and non-American students on campus who want to learn about other cultures, Karakoleva said. The club currently has members from the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Israel, Kenya, Ukraine, South and North Korea, and several other countries.
Kortepeter knows firsthand what it is like to change perspective on different cultures after studying abroad.
“At the [Institut de Touraine], I was meeting people from all over the world,” she said. “It kind of got rid of a lot of stereotypes that I had, and it helped humanize the things that are going on in different parts of the world that I make a lot of assumptions about…now I feel like I can put faces to what I see on the news.”