International Studies & Programs

Student Stories

Back to News
Michael Ronayne - Business Studies at NEOMA Business School in France

Published: Monday, 27 Jun 2016
Author: Cheryl Ann Benner
Department: Office for Education Abroad

Name: Michael Ronayne

Status: Sophomore

Major: Accounting

Hometown: Farmington Hills, MI

Program: Business Studies at NEOMA Business School in France

 

I spent the entirety of my sophomore spring semester in Rouen, France. The city, about a two-hour drive northwest of Paris, was not what I had originally expected. I remember visiting the downtown area with other exchange students the day I arrived in France. We were all surprised by how bustling the city was. We were also astonished by the medieval architecture. There were streets lined with "colombages," or wooden buildings that are typical to the Normandy region. It's safe to say we hadn't done our research.

 

I chose to live with a host family in a small farm town north of the city center. The family did not know any English. This proved to be difficult at times, especially during the initial couple weeks. However, overall, this was the defining aspect of my foreign experience. We may have stereotypes and preconceptions about what a typical French family may be like, what they may eat, or how they might act. But as we all know, there is a huge variation in traditions, values, and ways of life from one American family to another. I discovered the same thing holds true in France. In fact, a favorite recurring topic of conversation amongst my exchange student friends was comparing and contrasting our host families.

 

Being at a French school, as opposed to only being with other MSU students and led by an MSU faculty member, allowed me to further immerse myself in the culture. In a majority of my classes, I was one of only maybe three native English speakers, with the rest being French speaking students. I quickly befriended various groups of French students. We often compared life in Europe to life in America, highlighting differences in areas such as educational systems, politics, and societal expectations. I got to know some of them on a deeper level when they offered to take me on a weekend trip to the chateaux of the Loire Valley.

 

The school placed a heavy emphasis on group work. This was extremely beneficial to me in that it taught me how to better communicate by considering the audience of your communication. When working with a diverse group of students from all over the world, I learned to be mindful of my usage of colloquialisms, regional slang, and metaphors that may not be understood by all.

 

My experience wasn't exclusively French. And I don't mean that as in I travelled while I was in Europe (which I did, a lot!). I say that because I, along with about a dozen or so other American students, represented only a sliver of the international student population at the business school. I made friends, took classes, and traveled with Canadians, Colombians, Norwegians, Brazilians, Cameroonians, Moroccans, and a student from Hong Kong (just to name a few). This was truly a global experience.

 

My French skills vastly improved over my four months in France. Because I practiced my French every day with my host family and French students, I can now speak more quickly and with much better pronunciation and grammar. However, the most important takeaway from my experience is not my ameliorated French abilities, but my insight into what it feels like to be an international student. We take for granted tasks in our native language such as calling a taxi, reviewing a lease agreement, or speaking to a school administrator. To an international student who is learning the language, these activities can be daunting. Because of this rather simple realization, I have been inspired to interact with and help international students at Michigan State when I return to campus in the fall.

 

Finally, one "myth" to bust is the preconception that Parisians, or French and European people in general, are not friendly to Americans. My experience was completely the opposite. Almost everybody I encountered was more than willing to help me or answer any questions I had. If you refrain from drawing attention to yourself, I believe you will not have any issues when traveling. Building off of what I previously stated, I had also heard that French people especially dislike non-French speakers. This, again, could not have been further from the truth. I would often start a conversation in French with a French student, a waiter or waitress, or an employee in a store, only to have the person switch over to English because they too wanted to practice their foreign language skills! In fact, it actually became a frustrating conflict of interest.

 

I am so grateful for the opportunity afforded to me by receiving a study abroad scholarship. It significantly lessened the burden of studying abroad and allowed me to partake in a semester-long experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. This was my first time in Europe, and before this program, Europe (and the other five continents, for that matter) seemed so far away- different planets, even. What happened in other parts of the world didn't affect me in North America. I was in my own bubble. Since returning, the world feels smaller. These foreign places are no doubt still far in physical distance, but psychologically, everything seems much closer. Now, when I read about current events in other parts of the world, I take more interest in them than I previously had. I consider how what is happening abroad can impact myself where I live today, and what we can learn from the ideas of those in foreign lands.