I have wanted to travel overseas since I sat in my neighbour’s basement, at eight-years-old, watching The Lizzie McGuire Movie.

Since that day, I have badgered my family members every time an international travel opportunity presented itself. Come university, nothing was going to stop me from savouring gelato in the streets of Rome, warming up with some “vin chaud” in the streets of Paris, and scarfing down a high tea set in London’s famous Harrods. It was time I participate in a student exchange.

The picture shows a panorama of a row of baroque apartment buildings that lead to Les Invalides.

This is a panorama I took from the balcony in the dining room of my friend Alix’s family home in the 15th arrondissement of Paris.

Bye, Canada! Bonjour, la France!

French being my first language, I decided that studying in France would be a good opportunity for me to refine my French language skills at the post-secondary level. After doing some research, I concluded that Lyon would be my new home for my third year as a university student. A year prior to setting off on my European excursion, Carleton University’s International Student Services Office (ISSO) helped me hammer out some of the details of my exchange.

Lyon is known for its enormous student population. The French metropolitan city is located between Paris and the South of France, bordering on Geneva, Switzerland. I found that, like its climate, the people of Lyon were warm. Lyon has a rich history that can be explored through its ancient Roman amphitheaters and secret passageways. But with all things considered, my favourite thing about Lyon is definitely its culinary scene. The city is known as France’s gastronomic capital, and features several restaurants founded by Paul Bocuse, the Culinary Institute of America’s “Chef of The Century.”

Adventuring Abroad

Aside from the time I spent roaming around my host country, I also spent a fair bit of time travelling outside of France while on exchange. That said, on my first day at the University of Lyon, one of my professors gave our class a valuable piece of advice: do not get too caught up in various European travel opportunities before making an effort to explore your host country and its culture. In other words, while on exchange, you might not have time to familiarize yourself with every European country, but you do have time to examine, analyze and try to understand your host country’s culture.

In any case, I followed his advice. I travelled from a small, crystal-clear lake in the French Alps, across the endless vineyards of Provence, and along the sunny coast of St Tropez.

Still lake water reflects the teal and purple tones of the dusk sky in Annecy, France.

This shot was taken at dusk, of Lake Annecy, in the French Alps.

After seeing the French countryside and getting more accustomed to my host country’s culture, I ventured outside of its borders to countries such as Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands. Though my European travels were inspiring and awe-instilling, as my professor had once advised, these trips did not compare to the time I spent in my host country, getting to know its regions and the people that inhabit them.

A girl walks along the boardwalk in Bandol sur Mer, France.

I photographed my friend strolling down the boardwalk in Bandol sur Mer, France.

Over the course of my stay, I built an international network, participated in a journalistic internship and even acquired a French diploma from the University of Lyon’s Faculty of Modern Letters.  And I also made quite a few friends along the way. Besides, as an arts reporter with an interest in fashion, this exchange also acted as an informal education in the art of living “à la française.” Familiarizing myself with French culture has definitely been invaluable to my professional development.

I came back to Carleton with far more than I could have ever imagined.