Reflection of My Experiences Abroad
Elisa in Paris
Last Spring, I did two different internships in Paris for three months. Before going I set some learning goals for that period. I chose my goals from two different learning areas which were “Culture” and “Own field of study”. I wanted to learn about French culture, traditions, language, history, and French cuisine. I also wanted to learn to speak a bit of French, get to know both local and international people from different cities, countries and cultures, and get to know Paris in general. One of my biggest dreams was to go to see a soccer match to Princes Park and I did it! The learning methods for achieving these goals were simple. The easiest way to learn was just to keep my eyes open and learn by observing others, and just by doing things and participating to different events. I visited lots of restaurants, cultural buildings, historical monuments and participated to student’s events. When tasting bravely different kind of foods in various restaurants, I got some new favorite restaurants. You can literally find anything you could imagine from Paris! I visited lots of museums like Louvre, Pompidou center, Musée d’Orsay and my most favorite Musée de l’Orangerie where you can find artworks made by Claude Monet. Me and my friends together also made a quick day trip to one of the famous destinations just beyond the city, Palace of Versailles. My favorite parts of Paris are Latin Quarter where you can find charming streets with small boutiques, bistros, fountains, boulangeries and cafés, and the area of Montmartre where the famous Basilica of the Sacré Coeur built in Italian Byzantine style and visible from most points in Paris is located. Also, all the parks of Paris like Jardin des Plantes, Jardin Tuileries and Jardin du Luxembourg were worth the visit, especially in May and June. Not mentioning all the Sunday markets around Paris center where you can buy fresh bakeries, fruits and vegetables or just enjoy your coffee and socialize with others. I had one very nice experience on the market when an old man came to talk with me in French and offered me coffee afterwards. I could finally practice my French properly because there was no other chance!
Other goals for my exchange were more professional and were related to the field of physiotherapy. Most important goal was to gain confidence on my own skills and competences as a physiotherapist. Then I wanted to learn to understand the similarities and differences between our healthcare systems. In the end, I did learn to appreciate Finnish healthcare system more but also found some flaws in it. Like the ability to face each patient as a person. In my opinion, here in Finland we are too dependent on different protocols and rules so that the patient is more like an object than a a real person. Next goal for my exchange was to learn new ways of doing rehabilitation and physiotherapy in general and to get work experience from working abroad. The methods for achieving these professional goals were simply to always do my best in every situation, to get to see as many different healthcare institutions as possible to get to know different fields of physiotherapy, and to learn by doing but also by observing professionals.
My knowledge about France was short and understanding of French people very stereotypical. They like to eat lots of croissants, baguettes and cheese, and drink wine, were my thoughts. They are work-shy and very pride over their country, and usually rude towards English-speaking foreigners. Well, some of these stereotypes were correct. The French are commonly regarded to enjoy drinking wine and eating cheese, and plenty of bread, particularly baguettes and croissants. “How is it possible that they are not becoming fat?”, I was thinking before my exchange. It’s true that they really do buy a fresh baguette from a boulangerie almost every morning, and they also like to enjoy croissants with their morning coffee, but French food is a lot more than croissants and baguettes. They also eat a lot of so-called proper food like meat and potatoes! This might be only my opinion but the secret of eating lots of carbs without gaining too much weight is that mealtimes are more like social events and, they know how to enjoy food, all the different colors of the food and not to mention all the incomparable flavors that their food has. They don’t only love their food but also know how to appreciate it!
Taking about the French cuisine, for my surprise the food in France was very unsalted. For me France is known as a country of spicy and tasty food but the food I got from the hospital’s canteen was all salt-free. There were jars of pepper and salt on the table so everyone could add as much spiciness as they want. In the canteen of the hospital where I worked, always had options like fish, red meat or chicken with rice, mashed potatoes, or pasta as a sider. Really basic food in my opinion. When I asked about typical breakfast in France my tutor told me during the week, he usually only had coffee or sometimes oat flakes with yoghurt if he has time to have breakfast. But it really depends on a person. The biggest difference comparing to us are the mealtimes. French people start working later than we do, around 9 am or 10 am, so they have breakfast around 8 am, the lunchtime is between 1 pm and 3 pm and dinnertime a lot later than we are used to, which is around 8 pm. For me their meal rhythm and working hours suited well because I’m rather night person than morning person.
Another common stereotypical image of French people is them being very rude and disrespectful to foreigners especially to those who speak only little French. But Paris is a very multicultural city. Sometimes there were people who seemed to be rude by not speaking to me in the supermarkets or boulangeries but later I understood the reason for that was the fact that they couldn’t speak English. Mostly, I felt very welcomed, like being at home. Everyone in my internship placements were kind and helpful to me and French waiters were never rude but more like polite and interested in my country. Some people from my internship wanted me to learn French so they decided not to talk in English with me. My French was so poor I just couldn’t understand their language and I had some uncomfortable situation because of that. Overall, I think French people are not rude or proud. Of course, they are proud of their own country, culture, history, and language but they are also interested to hear about other cultures and countries. For example, I thought that French are superficial people with their way of greeting and asking, “How are you?” even without waiting for the answer, but in the end, I think by doing so they just take contact, check that there is nothing terribly wrong and maybe distract people from their own negative thoughts just for a moment.
Paris is known as the city of love. People are coming all over the world to make a proposal, a honeymoon or to take a picture of a couple kissing either in front of the wall of love or Eiffel Tower. But that’s also more like a stereotype, and doing those things are more touristic things to do. On my first week I went to see a comedy show called “Oh my god, she’s a Parisian” which broke this stereotype completely. When I think about typical French person, I wouldn’t say that they are any more romantic than I am. Some of them did like to talk more about love and relationships but some of them were just as unromantic as I am! By breaking this stereotype, I increased my own intercultural awareness. And made me understand how many kinds of people there are in every nation. In France for example, there are many different places very different from one another. Even in Paris there are poor neighborhoods and there are rich neighborhoods. After a while I learned which ones are those where you shouldn’t walk alone as a woman, where there are slums but also the places where you start feeling undressed with a trousers and sneakers on your feet. By the way, there are more people living in Paris than there are living in Finland! All the people come with variable backgrounds and from different cultures.
Before my departure, I didn’t know almost anything about my internship place except the name of the employers. My first internship place was a private physiotherapy clinic and the second one was a hospital. I was working there for 12 weeks so I think I got to know the working life of France well enough. After six weeks of internship period in both of those places, I think I prefer the hospital because there you’re never alone and you can do more multi-professional cooperation with doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, and other healthcare professionals. You are also able to chat with others during the breaks and ask for help with the patients if needed. Also work rhythm was slower and the work atmosphere more relaxed in the hospital compared to the clinic work where they had more patients in a shorter time, and longer work shifts. During my stay at the hospital, I got the chance to follow some surgeries like a shoulder prothesis and one bariatric surgery. I found it very interesting to just observe sergeants doing their magic, apart from the fact that it was freezing there in the surgery room, and I had to stand there for 8 hours in a row.
The way of working as a physiotherapist was pretty much the same as in Finland, only that they had more patients and shorter appointments especially in the private sector. The lack of recording patient’s data in databases was a surprise to my but on the other hand it left more time for them to really treat the patients. The French physiotherapists have 7-hours worksheets, and even though they often tend to prone strikes (there were strikes all the time when I was there) I think that they are hard-workers and not work-shy at all, as people often assume. Truth to be told, I admire their way of enjoying working and I think that us, so called northern people, have a lot to learn from them.
For me there was no specific culture shock during my exchange. I feel like I adapt to everything easily and learned the local ways quickly. For me it was funny that they didn’t seem to follow the rules as strictly as we Finns do. I often saw someone stealing something from the grocery store or crossing the road on a red light. Everything and everyone were somehow more easygoing and chill both at workplace and in the city. At the hospital, common working hours were from 9 am to 4 pm and I really enjoyed their slow mornings. I’m more of a night person than morning person so this suited me very well. The only thing a bit hard to adapt was the food; the lack of rye bread, the enormous amount of wheat products and the weird dishes they served in the hospital’s canteen. But I got used to it in the end and figured it out soon that if you’re feeling hungry, you can eat almost anything! I have even changed my meal rhythm and having dinner around 9 pm nowadays when being back home! I also started to enjoy having sweet things for breakfast which was quite strange to me at first.
In conclusion, the whole experience was unforgettable, and I wouldn’t change anything on it! I learned a lot just by having an open-minded attitude towards other people and new things. Afterwards, I’m proud of myself for being brave enough to socialize with people around me. I got to know people worldwide so if I want to travel, I already have places to stay in Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Netherlands, Lebanon, Marocco, India and other places all over the world. When meeting people with different backgrounds, I learned a lot about different cultures, ways of living and other countries in general, not just France. I’m thankful for this opportunity to make an exchange period abroad and will hold all the experiences and those people in my heart forever. And to be honest, I already bought the tickets to go back there this Autumn, can’t wait to see everyone again!