My STEP Signature Project was a four-week education abroad trip in Montpellier, France. I spent four hours each weekday in a classroom learning French with students from all over the world. Staying with a host family, I observed and truly absorbed some unique customs of this southern region.
While in Montpellier, my understanding of time and how it affects me was transformed. Time in France, I discovered, is seen as an “unlimited good.” In the United States, time is seen as a “precious commodity” (Paige, Cohen, Kappler, Chi, & Lassegard, 2006, pp. 64–67). Therefore, the French follow a polychronic time orientation more so than we do in the United States. This American monochronic view of time I traveled to France with was noticeably altered after I lived as a member of my host family and culture. A couple weeks passed before I became used to the daily routine and expectations. Not only did the schedule differ greatly from home regarding times and durations of meals, but the enjoyment of time dedicated to loved ones seemed more significant. I felt deep appreciation associated with quality time in Montpellier and hope to create the same sort of experience for my family and friends back home.
One event that led to my time orientation transformation was a weekend getaway to Barcelona. Although this event did not occur in France, it proved to be a perfect opportunity to compare what I had been noticing in my host country with customs of a neighboring country. People in Spain seemed to view time as an unlimited good even more than the French. As an example, dinner happens around 8:00 or 9:00 pm in France but after sunset in Spain. Walking around the city with my friends at 11:00 pm, I caught a glimpse of a large family eating dinner, laughing, and engrossed in conversation. At this same hour, I saw young children journeying to the market with their parents. Even my last moments in Barcelona were influenced by a difference in time orientation. I ordered an Uber to take my friends and me to the bus station. Our driver took twice as long to arrive than my Uber app accounted for, so my friends and I almost missed our bus back to France. Fortunately, this bus did not leave promptly at its departure time. We rushed from our Uber to the bus, luggage in tow, and miraculously boarded just before it pulled away from the station. My favorite part of the whole trip to Barcelona was these Spanish men yelling, “Run, Forest! Run!” as we frantically sprinted past them. The irony of this weekend getaway where I gained a new perspective on time was that we only had 24 hours to explore and were forced to hurry from place to place.
Another event that led to my time orientation transformation was an end-of-the-school-year festival that my host brothers’ school held. This festival happened on a Friday when I had a paper due. I did not finish my paper before I was summoned by my host brothers, as they were ready to walk over to their special celebration. I assumed that we would be home in two hours or less, so my paper could wait until then. To my surprise, the festival lasted for five hours. There was cheap food and live music, so parents chatted happily amongst themselves as their children played. It was a very entertaining occasion, and I met many kind and curious people. A couple hours in, I felt as if I should part ways and head home to finish my essay, but I did not want to offend my host mom. I feared she might misunderstand and think I was not having fun. Because we did not return home until after 11, I ended up falling asleep while typing. Finishing my essay the following morning, I turned it in with an explanation of my tardiness attached. The professor replied with enthusiasm, “You have just chosen to experience the culture in Montpellier! Congratulations! You have chosen to experience polychronic time (and jump right in), rather than go with a US style monochronic deadline! Hooray! This is very significant Hannah!” (B. Stone, personal communication, June 16, 2018). I felt encouraged and grateful after reading her response. There are so many possibilities beyond my limited view of time that I have not yet fully discovered but was beginning to taste.
A third event that led to my time orientation transformation was the most influential of all. My host family brought me with them on their mini-vacation to Collioure. This fishing village on the Mediterranean was indescribably and unbelievably gorgeous. The property where we stayed sat atop a mountain which was bright green with rows and rows of vineyards. We took a 40-minute hike into town and I snapped pictures that could barely capture the true magnificence surrounding us. In town, buildings had vibrant-colored shudders, doors, and flowers. The clear water reflected colors of sapphire, turquoise, and aquamarine all at once. Boats sailed near a rocky coast and hundreds of locals tanned on the sand. I was so in awe of everything around me and pleased beyond words for this opportunity, but I also had a moment of isolation and despair. My host mom, Olivia, needed to hike back and pick up our car, so she asked if I could stay with her sons for an hour or so. After she left, I realized how awfully helpless I would be if anything went wrong. I did not have the right vocabulary for any sort of emergency, or even to scold the boys when they acted out or fought. It was an hour of pure tension, so when my host mom returned, I went to the bathroom and cried. At dinner, Olivia saw my tears and reassured me that everything would be okay. Looking back, I realize that hour of pure tension was also purely beautiful. Instead of praying that the seconds would tick by faster, I could have focused on the sounds and sights of Collioure and the boys’ joy as they skipped rocks on the water. I could have focused on the positives of bonding with my host brothers and giving Olivia respite from their bickering. Although we spent that hour in such drastically dissimilar ways, it led Olivia and I to a closer relationship. I finally burst after bottling up my feelings, and Olivia showed me compassion. I learned to cherish time spent in hardship because of the good that can result.
Despite how it sounds, that weekend in Collioure was the highlight of my education abroad experience. In the aftermath of hopelessness, I gained a deeper understanding of myself and how resilient I could be. The weekend is symbolic of my STEP Project as a whole. I endured trials, adapted accordingly, and grew in spirit and confidence. The transformation that took place in me will be valuable for my future as a teacher. I will need to understand variations in time orientation for a diverse classroom of students. The students, especially my English Language Learners and students with disabilities, deserve my compassion and grace when they struggle and need extra time on assignments and tests. With a shift in perspective, I can see time as unlimited and students’ possibilities as endless.
Paige, R. M., Cohen, A. D., Kappler, B., Chi, J. C., & Lassegard, J. P. (2006). Understanding the ways cultures can differ in values. In Maximizing study abroad: A students’ guide to strategies for language and culture learning and use (2nd ed., pp. 63–75). Minneapolis, MN: Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, University of Minnesota.