What Surprises Students from France in the USA?

What might your typical American life look like through the eyes of a student from France? In this month’s survey, we discovered that French students are keen observers of our culture. They enjoy slipping into a real American life thanks to their kind, generous host families; they also love comparing the USA to France. 

And their top surprises? Take a look and see…

High School: US vs. France

three high school students walking with backpacks

“The most different with France is school,” explains Lola who is studying in Oregon this year. “It’s the opposite of France.” And Elèonore agrees from her post in West Virginia. “In France you go to school you study the whole day, and you get home and still have to work... In the US you go to school to study, yes. But the teachers always try their best to make you succeed and you have fun with them and your friends and there are activities like the pep rallies or dances and stuff like that.” Anaïs, also in West Virginia couldn’t agree more. “I also enjoy the diversity of art, and more especially music practices that we can join. During the year, I’ve been part of marching band, concert band, show, and a jazz band with the middle school.”

High School Sports

High school sports football volley ball basketball and track

“I was surprised of how involved they are in sports. I LOVE IT!” exclaims Julie who is enjoying her experience in Texas. Anaïs is also surprised. “Every school has a football field, a gym, a soccer field. This is so strange. I didn’t have that in school back in France. I like it.” Maëlle, in Indiana, appreciates the importance given to sports and how students are pushed to play a sport. And Eléonore loves the team spirit. “It makes me feel more like a real American student like I always dreamed of.” 

Seniors in the USA…

High school senior in cap and gown smiling

Not all surprises are positive. Anaïs has an issue with the special important given to seniors. “I understand that because they’re the oldest, they got privileges, but I think they are going way too far,” she explains. “They organized ceremonies, senior nights, senior picture day. They can leave earlier. They get every solo in band because they’re seniors… and all of this because they’ve been in school for 12-13 years and they have to apply to college and it’s their last year before college. It seems wrong to me, because they are celebrating all the year before even knowing if they’ll graduate. In France, we have an exam to take that we have to pass if we want to graduate. Seniors have a few privileges, mostly based on trust, but ‘underclassmen’ are not treating them like gods. But I get that it’s part of the American culture.”

Teachers: USA vs. France

high school teacher smiling and helping students

Lucie (Texas) is surprised by how nice teachers are and how easy it is to have a down-to-earth conversation with them. Lola heartily agrees. “What surprised me was how cool and friendly the teachers are, they are your friends! My teachers are amazing, and I can talk about everything with them. They are interested about your life, and they want your happiness unlike French teachers who are just here to work, work and work.”

School Stress: USA vs. France

Students studying together with American flag in background

School in France is a much more serious, academic affair than it is in the USA, here is what our survey participants have to say:

I appreciate a lot the tranquility of high school in America. I don’t know if it is just my schedule, but I’m not stressed or anxious about tests and I don’t have to stay up late at night to finish my homework, I’m just get up the morning and then I enjoy my day at school.” - Anaïs

We almost never have homework which is way better. It’s extremely different from France because high school is really hard over there…High school is really different here.” - Julie

I like the fact that to be successful in school, you just have to do the work and try your best and that usually works out well.” - Lucie 

All my classes are so easy and fun, it feels weird because it’s so different in France…School here is so fun, and I only have fun classes like culinary, jewellery making or competitive games.- Lola

School Lunch: American vs. French

high school student holding tray in cafeteria

If you’re curious about elaborate, freshly prepared school lunches in France, check out American author Pamela Druckerman’s true story about raising her children in France. Then you will sympathize with Lola who says, “The food at the cafeteria is HORRIBLE, French cafeteria are so much better and delicious.” And she is not the only student from France who feels this way.

American Fast Food Culture

fast food including burgers fries coke and chips

Is it surprising that all of our French survey participants expressed concerns about food? Each one expressed some variation of Anaïs’ comment. “Even if I already knew about it, I was shocked when I saw the number of fast-food restaurants in a town and how often some people get food from them.” As Mäelle points out, “I found that American food was not very healthy, with a lot of sugar and oil.” And Juliette, who is in South Carolina, even offered a word of caution from her French perspective. “My advice for Americans is to eat less fast food.”

Teens: US vs. France

six teenagers standing together with arms around shoulders

Like all teenagers on exchange, these French students have fun observing their American counterparts. “I’m always surprised to see how little American teenagers use slang or curse. Again, I don’t if it’s only where I am, but I am so used to hearing teens cursing and using slang every second in France that I feel like I am the one who doesn’t know how to speak correctly,” says Anaïs while Maëlle remarks, “I was surprised by the number of teenagers that smoke.”

Teen Fashion: US vs. France

teenage girl wearing dalmatian onsie pajamas

And then there is that French eye for fashion. “American teenagers attend school in pajamas. It was really surprising at first because in France most people dress well for school,” notes Julie, while Lola diplomatically calls this the American teens “special clothing style”. “They were sweatpants and big hoodies and crocs every time! It’s funny because I thought they would all wear cool Carhartt pants and great sweatshirt but no...” Do our French participants look down their noses as American teen fashion? Not necessarily! “I really like that you can wear very comfortable clothes and you don't get judged,” says Maëlle.

And More Surprises?

Perhaps Maëlle sums it up best, “There isn't anything that is ‘most different’ from my country and my culture. Everything is very different in a certain way.”

Our French students had plenty more to say, but we will stop here. To learn more, sign up to host your very own French teenager for a year. Prepare for an earful as they share so many fun (and funny) insights about American culture…and your life!


Tags: Cultural Exchange, Exchange Student, Host an exchange student, cultural understanding

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