Blog Post #15

SLS-France Fall 2023 Student Blog + Week 9

October 25, 2023

Sophie Lair

Cultures, Customs, and Circular Economies

During my time in the SLS Program, I have had some incredible experiences thanks to which I have been able to better understand French culture, French people, the French language, sustainability in France, and more. I have enjoyed all our readings and how they have allowed me to expand my knowledge of sustainability in a global context. Through my other courses at Duke, I have explored sustainability, but typically on a more local and national level. I have enjoyed thinking about sustainability from other perspectives during my time in France. Although I still have a lot to learn about sustainability on a global level, I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to better understand and use my experiences here to expand my perspective on the things I learn in the United States. This class and the experiences that have come with it have challenged my French language skills, but have also given me more confidence to make errors and learn from them. 

An experience that I have really enjoyed is volunteering at "La Trucothèque." Honestly, the first time that I was volunteering, I was terrified. It is scary to speak French just to my peers, so speaking to native French speakers was an incredibly daunting task. After finally gaining the confidence to go volunteer, I was immediately welcomed with incredible kindness by other volunteers. They explained to me how "La Trucothèque" works and the purpose of its volunteers. This site of exchange is based on the principle that people donate "things" and anyone can come get approximately five free items each time it is open. I was interested in the concept because I try to live in line with the idea of circulation and practice a circular economy in my own life. 

Additionally, the word "trucothèque," derived from the word "truc," which means "thingy," is a neologism. It is interesting to reflect on the formation or combination of words that happens in French - this is not something that I have had the opportunity to think about often. In a similar vein, I have thought more of language and linguistic differences. I have had the opportunity to speak to people in English, French, and “Franglish”. I have met multiple immigrants who have spoken of their experiences of learning French. Listening to them share their experiences has been very enriching. A man who comes to "La Trucothèque" on Wednesdays likes to speak to me in English, but he has talked to me about the challenges of integrating into French society and becoming "French." Overall, I have had unique opportunities to speak to people with whom I typically would not have the opportunity to speak. These are not always perfect conversations, but it has been incredibly gratifying nonetheless to challenge my French skills while learning more about people in Metz.

I have also found it interesting to discuss cultural differences between France and the United States. One of the volunteers asked me if I was comfortable doing "la bise," since she knows that it is not a common practice in America. It was a memorable moment because it got me thinking more about how people respond to different gestures, languages, and customs. Another memorable moment was when I told a volunteer that I studied global health, and he asked if I thought that the world needed more vaccinations. After saying that I think vaccinations are a good thing, he said he didn’t agree. I tried to convey why I thought they were positive, but I realized that I did not have the French vocabulary to have a coherent debate on this subject. This was a moment when I wished I had a wider vocabulary so I could speak about this subject. 

All in all, I am very grateful for my volunteering experiences and the other experiences that I have had in Metz. I have met some incredible people and had enriching and stimulating conversations through this program. While the time is going by fast, I am excited to learn more through additional service work and learning here in Metz.