First Year in France student Marie Vilsange ’16 (right) regularly speaks Spanish with one of her best friends, Bettina Staartjes ’15 (left), who is from Venezuela.
Marie Vilsange ’16 grew up in Nantes, on the western coast of France, and attended the Holy Cross high school Notre Dame d’Orveau. She had planned to attend college in Paris but began looking at St. Edward’s when a recruiter visited her school to introduce the First Year in France program. Vilsange spent her first year of college at the St. Edward’s program in Angers, where she polished her English and adapted to the instructional style of American professors. She just completed her second year in Austin and is majoring in Communication. —Robyn Ross
What aspects of American culture surprised you? When I first came to Austin, I was kissing people on both cheeks, but people were just hugging me. Then you meet people from South America, and they just kiss you once — you’re waiting for the second one and it never comes, so you’re just hanging. In France, if I walk to school and pass people, they’re not going to say, “Hi” or “How are you doing?” When I walk across the Austin campus, I can say hi to 50 people between the library and Hunt Hall, and I don’t know their names.
How would you contrast the American and French teaching styles? In France, most of what we learn comes from the professor lecturing to us. We aren’t asked to participate in the class or do as many presentations. The relationship we have with the teachers here is closer — they know us. My first year in France we had the American Experience class, and we had to do a paper on our family roots. Some reacted to that assignment [saying], “I’m not going to tell my story. That’s private.” We didn’t know at the time that that’s what American education was like. We didn’t know the relationship we were going to have with the teachers.
What international experiences have you had on campus? I’m taking Communication and Culture this semester, and one of my best friends, who’s from Venezuela, is also in the class. We’ll often be asked questions about our own cultures. Most of my friends are from South America, and we speak Spanish together. My roommate is from Gambia. I think everyone should study abroad if they have the opportunity. I’m growing up through this experience — it makes me more mature and independent and gives me another perspective on the world.
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