Oui in Grenoble, the experience of an american student at GEM

When I look back at the time when I was deciding if I would enroll in a one-year exchange program at Grenoble École de Management, it’s hard for me to believe that I considered not coming here. I contemplated for good reasons such as putting off the beginning of my professional career for another year, but in the end, the benefits outweighed the costs. It sounds cliché (oui, oui) because it’s what any student who has ever studied abroad will tell you, but my experience here at GEM so far has been indescribable and better than I could have ever imagined.


Katie’s first day of classes at GEM

Why did you choose GEM?

My home university has a partnership with GEM, and so the Masters of Management exchange was an obvious choice for me due to the accessibility and correlation with my master degree in the US. A few of the deciding factors in my decision included the international atmosphere of the school, high rankings of my program, and the inclusiveness of the French culture with an academic environment. Many students from my university have completed this program in the past so I had several first hand personal testimonies to reference, which made my decision much easier.

I chose France for cultural aspects. I was in France for a short time 3 years ago on a one-month study abroad so I knew a bit of what living here would be like. I was very fond of the lifestyle, the food and the friendliness of the people I encountered. Some people will disagree with me, but I actually think the French are quite nice. I can’t recall an experience in which a shop owner has been unpleasant or unhelpful, which says a lot because my French language skills are still very amateur.


What were you expectations?

My expectations prior to my arrival were fairly simple. I came to Grenoble with an open mind to meet other international and French students, and to learn more about business management in an international environment. So far, every day has exceeded my expectations, and not a day goes by without learning something new.

In my opinion, expectations have to do with attitude. Since arriving, I have kept a few simple tactics in mind to make the most out of the experience:

  1. Always arrive with an open mind no matter the time, person or place
  2. Never assume a stranger speaks English (and in the meantime, if they don’t understand your Frenglish, smile and try harder)
  3. “Bonjour” and “Parlez vous français?” = MOST IMPORTANT WORDS (See previous point)
  4. Patience and perseverance are the keys to happiness

How did you prepare for coming here?

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about coming to GEM without knowing a single person. I’m an introvert naturally so foreign situations such as moving to another continent (pun intended) have always been a bit unnerving for me. But being an introvert, I excel in internally mentally preparing myself for new situations so I took the months prior to arriving to prepare my state of mind. So much so, that by the time I left home in August, I was absolutely ready to start my new adventure.

Logistically, I prepared like any foreign exchange student might. I applied for my visa, and studied all of the guides provided by the Welcome Desk so I wouldn’t miss any of the many administrative details (Bienvenue en France).  Additionally, Google Maps became my best friend as I became addicted to (virtually) wandering the streets of Grenoble to find my apartment and other spots of interest.

Describe the main cultural difference you have encountered (if any)?

The main cultural differences, in my opinion, are unsurprisingly the bureaucracy of the administration processes and the midday store closures. My friend who was an exchange student at GEM last year warned me about the lengthiness of certain processes, but in my mind, I thought I could use efficiency to overcome the process. As an American, I’m used to fast-paced systems and as well as the “any time, any where” frame of mind so you could imagine my urge to become frustrated when things move slowly.

Other than admin processes, I haven’t experienced many other extreme cultural differences. I try to be as “French” as possible in terms of speaking the language in public and reflecting simple mannerisms. For example, blowing raspberries when something is irrelevant in a situation, or saying “Oh la la” when something goes right (or wrong). To my surprise, these tactics have worked very well for me. After just a few months, I can blend in with the French culture, so much so, that if I don’t reveal my American accent, people will often mistake me for being French.

Favorite moments in GEM

After three months here at GEM, it’s hard to pick just one, two or even three favorite moments, but rather the experience as a whole has been one of the best in my life. I can already see how it’s changing my outlook on the importance. The first few weeks after my arrival were very eventful because I was constantly meeting others. Between the administration tasks, school orientation or attending the events held by the Welcome Desk (i.e: day trip to Lyon, karaoke night, picnic at the Bastille), it was exhaustful bliss from day one.  I met some really awesome people during the first days of orientation and we all became fast friends. We still have a close bond, and I really cherish those moments because they were so impactful on setting the tone of my experience.


Picnic with friends at the Bastille

I also joined Aloha, the French student association at GEM that facilitates international student integration. I’m so happy with my decision to join Aloha because I have connected with many other French students. Other moments that I really cherish are: a mountain hike with a group of students at Dent de Crolles (challenging but awesome!), “afterwork” drinks with friends after our three-hour French classes, and international dinners/brunches.

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Hiking in Dent de Crolles

Since the first weeks of integration, I have formed networks and relationships with people from all over the world (at least 20+ nations and counting), and I interact with both French and international students on a daily basis. The best part of the culture at GEM is that each person, no matter her country of origin, is one and the same.  We’re all just twenty-something’s here to develop ourselves professionally and have a good time.

(By Katie Tebbe)


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