Julie Bonningues was 15 years old when she first went abroad. Five years later, she’s had trips and internships in Spain, Los Angeles and Wyoming, to add to that first experience in Australia. This semester, she is the only French exchange student studying at the University of Memphis.
“My first impression was mainly about the campus because this campus is very huge compared to the one I’m used to in France,” the international business major said. “I think that everything in America is much bigger than the original size in France,” Bonnigues said.
For courses, it’s the other way around. At her home at the University in Lille in Lille, France, a city near Belgium, students take around 10 subjects per semester with a fixed schedule as opposed to the four classes Bonningues has here.
Throughout the three years it takes to complete a Bachelor’s degree (five for a Master’s), most classes (as in group of people) stay together for their courses, only breaking up for some electives.
The style of teaching differs as well. For one, there are some courses taught in foreign languages like English or Portuguese. And while students have to spend more time in class in France, they are graded on final exams and projects alone, Bonningues said.
For the first few weeks in Memphis, she said she felt like she could miss a test “so easily,” because quizzes and small tasks happen more frequently. Now, she has gotten used to the system.
Bonningues said because she is not yet 21, she can sometimes feel like “a baby,” because she cannot do some things she’s used to already doing in her home country, where the drinking age is 18.
“I really like the way of mind of the American people in terms of business,” Bonningues said. “Because I really think that in America, if you want to do something, you can really do it. If you have a dream, you can really try to make it happen.”
During her internship during 2017, she said she met people who had nothing when starting out and then went on to create their own companies.
“People are encouraged to do what they hope to do,” she said.
To describe her own country is a bit more difficult for her. In France, people tell you to find a job that makes you feel good and to not work too much. Whereas in the United States, you are told to go big, “if you want to make big money, try to make it,” Bonningues said.
In her opinion, the French government supports its citizens more in terms of insurance or welfare, so people can be secure even if they do not have the best job. Not having that support might make it more difficult for people in the U.S., she said.
After graduating, Bonningues wants to sell goods and work for an international firm, which is why she wanted to study abroad, but practicing her English and learning different ways of doing business are not the only things Bonningues said she liked about traveling abroad. She also loves learning about different cultures, as she did in Australia.
“When I came back to France, during the first weeks, I was always comparing everything,” she said. “It totally changed my mind. I saw differences in culture everywhere.”
Studying abroad can be very beneficial, she said.
“You have to go far away from your life, your friends, your family,” Bonningues said. “You have to start to be by yourself in a foreign country. You really have to be an adult.”
The impact of that shows. In Australia, even saying, “Hi” was different from what she was used to, Bonningues said. Now in Memphis, she said while there are differences to France, “I just don’t see them anymore.”