Exchange Diaries: Learning the local culture

Chloe Grande is in France on exchange for the upcoming year. She will be sharing her experience as a regular contributor for QJBlogs.

Before I left, a typical conversation about my exchange to Lyon usually involved me repeating the name of the city several times and a lot of blank stares. I’d say the name a little slower and hope for a spark of recognition. To be fair, though, I didn’t know much about the city before, either.

I arrived in Lyon knowing two things about the city: a) it was the gastronomical capital of France and b) it was two hours away from Paris by train. I knew other details of course — it was a university city, located close to the Swiss border and the second largest city in France — but I was completely oblivious to Lyon’s rich historical and cultural traditions.

As I learned in my French culture class, there was more to the city than just fine dining. It’s renowned for its silk industry, Roman ruins and famous light festival, La Fête des Lumières, among other things. The city was even named a UNESCO heritage site in 1998. It blew my mind that I was living in a place crammed with more history than my own country.

The funny thing was that although my culture teacher had her qualms with the French — according to her, they were always on strike and in a permanent state of unhappiness — she had nothing but good things to say about Lyon. It didn’t take much convincing for me to understand why.

The city is nestled between the Rhône river and the Alps, making it a prime location for hiking and skiing. It also offers easy access to Eastern Europe thanks to an excellent transportation system.

Living in Lyon wouldn’t be half bad either. With an average work week of 35 hours, a minimum of five to six weeks of paid holiday and an appreciation for long lunch breaks, it’s easy to see why my teacher loved Lyon so much.

I’ve been lucky enough to hit up most of the city’s highlights, including the Notre Dame de Fourvière Basilica (which offers an amazing panoramic view of the city), the Gallo-Roman theatre and world-renowned Musée de Beaux Arts. I couldn’t miss out on the Parc de Tête d’Or, a huge public park complete with its own zoo.

There’s been no shortage of activities to do in Lyon and still so much left for me to explore. That said, I’m looking forward to visiting more of France in the upcoming months. And yes, that includes Paris.

Keep track of Chloe’s journey. Her next post will appear in two weeks.

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