France | An Idiot Abroad: Finals on Finals



This past week I officially finished all of my classes, with the exception of Political Islam which I still have a take home final for and Politics of Humor which just commenced. The final for Professor Porter’s Imperialism class was quite straight forward. He gave us a variety of questions to choose from for our in class final essay which allowed for a great of latitude in our responses. He also provided us the questions at the very start of our class so we had the whole duration of the course to prepare and research our answers. Needless to say the procrastination bug hit like it always does around finals and most of us waited until the week or even days before the exam to begin preparing our essays. The questions asked and the exam style were very similar to their counterparts in the states. You get a couple questions from which you pick one to write about. You are allowed two hours for the essay and you may leave whenever you want. I personally chose to write “to what extant did imperialism cause the fall of the Chinese Empire in 1911” and discovered some interesting primary documents that showcased the conditions of the era in very bleak and non-academic manner. Being of Chinese decent myself, I never really had an understanding of the effects of imperialism on China or exactly what caused the Opium Wars (other than of course the obvious Opium). Professor Porter’s class really spurred me to look more into my culture’s history and understand the nuances of the era. For a long time, in middle school and high school, we were taught that imperialism is bad and the “white man’s burden” was more destructive than constructive. Imperialism was blamed for the plight of many nations and attributed as the reason for some’s decline. However, through Professor Porter’s class, we were taught to look at things from a different perspective; to engage in the question of imperialism from a not so black or white angle, but more so a grey one. Yes imperialism created many problems in the nations that were imperialized and yes imperialism produced devastating consequences, but it would be inaccurate to say that was all that imperialism did. It would be shortsighted to say that imperialism was purely bad, because there are moments of good and progress that were generated as a result of imperialist activities. Not all locals suffered and it was not always just the imperialists wreaking havoc. As through seen through China, the national government played a key role in the empire’s downfall and imperialism only highlighted the empire’s shortfalls but did not directly induce its fall. Professor Porter stressed to us the need to examine primary sources from both sides, the imperialists and the imperialized, and that imperialism cannot be blankly categorized as good or bad for all situations.

Our final for the Justice and Democracy was much more different than our final for Professor Porter’s class. The final for the former involved a group presentation where we picked a topic of our choosing and applied the theories we learned throughout the term to the topic. I was in a group of four with my girlfriend, Anna (fellow American), and Tom (our hilarious German friend). We focused on overpopulation and utilized the theories of Habermas, Sen, and Schlosberg to discuss the economics, environmental implications, and social effects of overpopulation. Our presentation was over forty minutes (as requested by Professor Sophie) and essentially a student lecture for the class. Although we were all a bit stressed the moments before the presentation, everyone did an amazing job and the professor was very pleased with what we had to say. The presentation was a great way to end the week of finals and my girlfriend and I hopped on a train bound for Italy the next day.


After finals, our week of break of began. For ten days my girlfriend and I planned to go to Milan, Florence, Rome, and Venice. At the time of writing of this blog we are currently in Florence for Easter Sunday.

Unfortunately I was sick in Milan (although we were only there for a day because it was the cheapest place to travel from in Italy) so we did not see much other than the Duomo, gelato, and a weird Chinese-Italian combination restaurant. It was such an amazing sight to see a Chinese chef making a pizza while another cooked up some Chow Mein.

This morning in Florence we got to see the Explosion of the Cart right in front of Santa Maria Del Fiore. It was a magnificent sight and a ton of people from all over came to see it. We managed to finesse VIP tickets from a nice Italian man and got real up close and personal with the fireworks. Never have I seen so many tourists and selfie sticks in such a small area. Today is our second day in Florence and it has been much better than the first. Yesterday my girlfriend and I, along with a German couple, were unfairly fined by the ATAF controllers for riding the bus “without a ticket.” Upon arriving in Florence we asked multiple individuals where to purchase bus tickets, everyone said you can just buy them from the bus driver. When we got on the bus the driver said something in Italian and motioned that he did not have any tickets and waved us back. We thought that this meant it was okay…but apparently not. After about two stops, two men dressed in plain clothes got on the bus (these were the employees of the public transport system). They specifically only went up to my girlfriend and I as well as the German couple to check tickets because we had luggage with us. Needless to say none of us had tickets because the driver did not sell us any. We were then forced off the bus where they issued us tickets and said that the fine could only be paid in cash. When asked if we could pay later today they responded that their offices are closed on Saturday and Sundays and paying on Monday would be more expensive (I later called and found out that their offices were actually open on Saturdays). When we tried to explain them our situation and that we simply did not know where to buy the tickets because there was no machine or advertisement, they responded with “you buy ticket at tobacco shop” and words in Italian that no one understood. There is absolutely no way for tourists who just got into Florence to know that you buy bus tickets from tobacco shops without prior research. This experience was a lesson that taught us that we definitely need to do more research about new countries. However, the Florentine system is also rigged because after speaking with the local workers at our hostel they said that the controllers specifically target tourists because the majority of them do not know that tickets are sold at tobacco shops.

All in all, the trip thus far has been great despite the tickets. It was a definite learning experience and we will proceed through the rest of Italy’s public transport with much more caution and information.

Barry Yang studied abroad in Lyon, France, in Spring 2017:

France | A Somewhat Comprehensive Comparison



After having spent nearly 3 months in France, I have gotten a pretty good handle on the sequences of French living and can clearly see and feel salient differences between the land of Francois and Donald.

I have talked about the French education system before. However, after three months, I have had a chance to experience all my classes and establish a more thorough and informed opinion. I am currently taking six classes this semester: five political science classes and one French language and culture class. Two of these classes do not last the whole semester and only run for six weeks at four hours per week. Only four of my classes actually run the length of the semester. I do not know if it is just because we are international students, but the classes also all end at different times; some end a week earlier and some 2 weeks later. The class sizes are also are very small. With the exception of the BREXIT class, every other single class is never more than about twenty students. One of the most forward differences between classes in Lyon and in the US are the final exams. Besides not really assigning any homework or readings, professors tend to ask students their opinion on the final exam and some will even make amendments to the exam depending on popular opinion. My finals for all my classes range from presentations to short in class essay and short take home papers. There is even one class that let us come up with our essay question for the final. The latitude in these classes is both good and bad.

While the relatively low workload allows many of us to travel more easily, the lack of work and structure at times detract from the education and sometimes I feel that there is more we could have learned. However, this is my first time in Europe and I am traveling all over the place so I really have no complaints.

In the states we are all use to bigger college campus that resemble small towns more than institutions. However, in Lyon, many of the universities and grade schools are just one building and not really campuses. There are not really dedicated places for students to eat (at least for those who brought their own food), there is no public gym, and the libraries are relatively small. However, these schools have much less students than the typical UC, so the infrastructure does not need to be as big. The university is also very integrated into the city. Instead of hanging around on “campus” after classes, students just wander into the city and lounge around in coffeeshops and small restaurants. This is a pretty good phenomenon as there are plenty of student friendly establishments that offer some great deals. There is a burger place that offers killer deals on Mondays and Thursdays where you can deluxe customized burgers for four euros.

Speaking of euros; living in Lyon is comparable to the US. Food, that is not fast food or kebabs, run around 12-14 euros a person. The portion sizes are very small and hardly filling. More authentic Lyonnais restaurants or “Bouchon” run upwards of 30 euros per person. Fruits and vegetables are more expensive than in the states and there is less variety. The thing that makes living in Lyon more expensive than the states is the inconvenience of making your own food. Living in a host family is nice, but only breakfast and dinner are provided and only during the weekdays. This leaves 11 meals that we have to figure out on our own. Most of the time we resort to eating out simply because it’s difficult to cook in our host families’ homes. For me personally, the time I get home is also usually around the time my host mom is cooking dinner and I do not want to be a bother and take up space in the kitchen cooking my own food for tomorrow. However, if you really wanted to, it is possible to cook your own meals. It is definitely not as easy as when living on your own or with your personal family. The inconvenience and low key awkwardness of cooking your personal food in someone else’s home helps induce a laziness to not make your own food.

The cars in Lyon are a lot smaller than those in the US, and so are the roads. People tend to kind of just weave through traffic and its hard to decipher whether traffic signs are actual legal signage or merely suggestions. Last weekend we took a ride in a BlaBlaCar (ride sharing service in France) and many drivers on the freeways were essentially tailgating each other and no one really signaled until the moment right before he or she changed lanes. The lanes are also very narrow and when you pass another car you get a real good look at the other drivers. My girlfriend and I are contemplating renting a car this weekend to explore the countryside surround Lyon. However, given the countless one way streets, turnarounds, and obscure traffic signs, I am a little hesitant as crashing a French car sounds incredibly unpleasant and I would really not like to get in any arguments with French drivers…I hear three day old baguettes hurt.

Barry Yang studied abroad in Lyon, France, in Spring 2017:

France | An Idiot Abroad: Hola, Barcelona!



This past week of class has been fairly steady and non-exciting. Our French classes continue as normal as I struggle to learn the imparfait and differences between qui and que. Recently we received a new group of Japanese students in our French class. Straight from Tokyo and Meiji, our Japanese friends are very much in the same boat I am in. Seven out of the eight of them have no previous French experience and are just as lost as I am in the class. Our professor, Christophe, seems to be struggling a bit with the discrepancy in French levels as he must now accommodate students on a much wider spectrum. Though it is kind of nice having some people in the class who are just as clueless as I am. Our European Imperialism class is going very well and Professor Porter has introduced us many new and interesting insights on British overtures in China during the 19th and 20th century. Having learned broadly about the Opium Wars, Boxer Rebellion, and the spheres of influence established by western powers in China, it was very nice to get a more primary source centric lecture that dove more in depth into personal accounts; this really helped me get a much through understanding of the era. An animated man with a lively presence, Professor Porter never creates a dull moment. One can really see that his enthusiasm is genuine. This week was our class for Political Islam, Professor Addi ended the class on an interesting note talking about various terms in Arabic and discussing their historical and religious roots. I have always wanted to understand Islam, better but never took the time or opportunity to learn about it. This Political Islam class gave me a deeper understanding on how Islam affects matters of the state and the many nuances of the religion. While I wish the course would have had a more formal structure, it was nonetheless a great experience that broadened my perspectives. Professor Addi was a very nice teacher and even gave us three options for our final. One, take an in class essay exam. Two, do an at home essay on one of the books he provided in his syllabus. Three, do both and have the better score count. These are more options than they have at a French buffet! I have never heard of anything like this in the states and probably never will. Our last class, Justice and Democracy, is also about to wrap up and we will soon begin presenting our topic (overpopulation) as part of the final. Professor Sophie gave us interesting perspectives on the injustices that result from environmental pollution. She introduced various environmental theories and approached the matter of global warming from philosophical lenses. While I do enjoy Professor Sophie’s class, I sometimes feel that the theories she presents are just very common sense observations wrapped in pretentious vocabulary. Though I do not think that this is so much her as it is the philosophers she is teaching us about. We have another class beginning next Monday; it is weird that then commencing class will only last a month as that is only about a third of a standard UCLA quarter.


After all of our classes on Thursday, my girlfriend and I hopped on a plane to Barcelona (we do not have class on Fridays). The most simplistic method to get the Lyon airport is via a tramline called the Rhone Express. This is also the method of transportation suggested to us by UCEAP when we first arrived in Lyon. While the Rhone Express is incredibly easy to ride and convenient, it is not the cheapest. A few years ago Lyon’s public transport could take you to the airport. From Part-Dieu (the main train station in Lyon) one could simply take Tramway 3 towards Meyzieu Zone Industrial and then take a bus which stops at the airport.

All this would have only costed 1.80 euros (Lyon’s public transport tickets work for 60 minutes upon first validation so you can use it as much as you want on all the methods of transport within the hour). The bus has since been scrubbed so now the Rhone Express remains the only option besides driving. However, we recently discovered a car service that essentially has taken over the role of the bus. For 7 euros (student price) a shuttle service will pick you up at the Meyzieu Zone Industrial tram stop and drop you off at the airport. Even with the tramway ticket factored in, the total only comes out to 8.5 euros which is still

almost 5 euros cheaper than the student Rhone Express ticket. The Rhone Express, for a lack of a better word, is really just there to make more money off both tourists and local Lyonnais. There is absolutely no reason why a train or tramway line can not run to the airport, especially given the fact that there is literally a new train station inside the airport. These sentiments are also shared by Lyonnais locals. After speaking with my host family and a old French couple on the shuttle service, it was quite clear that no one is very pleased with the Rhone Express.

Anyways, after a tramway, shuttle service, flight, my girlfriend and I arrived at Barcelona. Our weekend trip was incredibly fun and I got to see sights that I never thought I would actually get an opportunity to see. We walked by the economics university in Barcelona, which was actually my first choice for study abroad, but I did not get my application in on time. In hindsight though, I am very glad I chose Lyon. Barcelona is too big of a city and there is just too much going on. After a very exciting weekend filled with much sightseeing, and sangria, we were both excited to return to our home in Lyon.

Barry Yang studied abroad in Lyon, France, in Spring 2017:

France | An Idiot Abroad: Super Mario Go, Coin!



This past week Professor Porter took us to a very famous Lyonnais museum (Musee de Beaux Arts, which literally translates to “museum of beautiful arts”). He wanted to do our last lecture outside of the classroom and have us experience more of Lyon. The museum is an architectural master piece and composed of beautiful gardens, reliefs, and lots of marble. A former nunnery, the Museum came to be after locals raided the it during the French Revolution. The nunnery was known to have housed many artifacts and deemed too extravagant by locals for a place of God. The state eventually took control of the nunnery and overtime a museum was established. Not only are the artifacts housed in the museum a part priceless history, but so is the building and location itself. In fact, in the Hotel de Ville – Louis Pradel plaza right outside the museum, over ninety people were executed by guillotine during the revolution.

The reason why Professor Porter took us to the museum was to show us a Matisse painting that he had been researching about for the last three months. The painting depicted an art dealer with a very particular beard. Professor Porter spent two hours in front of the exhibit telling us a very convoluted, but extremely interesting, timeline of the paintings imperialist history and his theories on some of the imperialist symbology depicted in the painting. The passion Professor Porter had during this lecture was immense; it was incredibly clear that he was teaching and talking about a subject matter he genuinely cared about. His research on the Matisse painting was not commissioned by the school or an organization, but done simply out of his own interest and curiosity. Professor Porter has been one of the most enjoyable professors I had during this study abroad experience. Many of the other UC students also enjoyed Professor Porter’s class. I feel very lucky to have been taught by someone who so genuinely cares about his subject matter and I hope to meet more professors like Professor Porter in the future. As an end of the term celebration, Professor Porter has invited all of us to see a mime in a traditional Lyonnaise theater and enjoy some beers with him and the theater troupe afterwards. Honestly, what a cool guy (he literally wears a suit everyday but rides around on a scooter).


This study abroad experience has truly been holistic. Not only have I hung out and enjoyed drinks with local Lyonnais and French individuals, but I have also had the opportunity to make friends with people from all over the world. I have had the opportunity to learn about life in Germany, Turkey, Finland, Japan, Ireland, Scotland, London, and many other countries. The stories I have heard and the friendships I have made on this experience will be something that I take with me for the rest of my life and look back on with extreme fondness and nostalgia.

This past weekend the Japanese students in our French class invited us all to their apartment for a party. When we arrived we were greeted with plates of traditional family style dishes. One of the Japanese student’s mother was in Lyon visiting for a few days and she was in the kitchen Gordon Ramsey-ing it up for everyone. There was a lot of camaraderie and shared responsibility amongst all the Japanese students as everyone was doing something to help set up the party. Some were preparing drinks and others were helping in the kitchen. There was not an idle hand and everyone took part in something. We must have had 9 or 10 different dishes that night. The mother even brought some ingredients in straight from Japan. There was a seafood soup that was incredibly savory and nutritious. They prepared a kind of hash brown pancake, but it was topped with dried fish. It would take me too long to describe all the food, but needless to say it was all very delicious. My knowledge of Japanese cuisine expanded greatly after this experience as now I know more than just ramen and sushi. We played some traditional Japanese drinking games as well and it was incredibly fun seeing people from America, Finland, Germany, Turkey, and Japan all bond over food and games. One of the drinking games our Japanese friends taught us was literally called “Super Mario Go, Coin.” Essentially everyone would be in a circle and take turns saying one syllable of the phrase “Super Mario, Super Mario, Super Mario, Coin!”

The “coin” would increase after every time the phrase is said. After the first completion it would be one “coin,” second completion would be two “coin,” and so on and so forth. If someone messed up on what he or she is suppose to say then he or she would drink. These games were really fun because they seem to be designed with the intent of getting people to know each other and create bonds rather than just to get people drunk. We all had a really good time at the party and I got to learn a lot about Japanese traditions and cuisine. It is moments like these that make me really enjoy studying abroad; being able to bond with a diverse group of people over simple foods and finding that common link that bridges all cultures and divides is part of what made, and what continues to make, this study abroad experience so fun and eye opening. There are so many hidden gems within every culture, but it is not until you can embed in the culture and have authentic experiences with locals that these gems become discoverable.

Barry Yang studied abroad in Lyon, France, in Spring 2017:

France | An Idiot Abroad: From the Classroom to Real Life



Throughout high school we all learned about the atrocities of World War II and the Holocaust. The heartless ways in which millions of people were slaughtered hold a salient place in my mind. However, it is not until I saw the grounds where these atrocities took place that I gained a deeper and more powerful understanding. The concentration camps of Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau were the biggest concentration camps created by the Nazi regime and responsible for more than one million deaths. It is one thing to look at pictures of these places in textbooks, but another completely to experience in person. The sadness, despair, and violence permeates from the dirt and brick floors. It is a solemn moment to stand among the trees that millions also stood just moments before they were herded off to the gas chambers and mindlessly murdered. One does not even need to have knowledge of the Holocaust to feel the distinct sadness present in these concentration camps. Seeing the exhibits and just imaging how life must have been like in these camps was enough to bring me, as well as many others, to silence and tears.

It is unfathomable how humanity could be so violent and heartless to itself. Auschwitz preserves this inhumanity and serves as a reminder and lesson for future generations to never repeat this part of humanity’s past. The blackhole of mankind, Auschwitz is an experience and lesson that has been the most poignant for me on this study abroad experience thus far. It would be incredibly regrettable for anyone participating in a European study abroad program to not visit these momentous grounds. You will be left in tears, and you will be left speechless. It will force you to contemplate the past and question the nature of humanity.

Visiting Auschwitz is not as expensive as one would expect once one is in Europe. A weekend in Krakow can easily be done for under $150 USD (this includes plane ticket, public transportation, housing, Auschwitz visit, and food). There are not many resources online that provide an easy to understand and direct guide to visiting Auschwitz on a mega- budget; below I will try to give some tips that my girlfriend and I learned from our experience.

Flying into Krakow is relatively cheap through EasyJet. We spent about $80 USD (per person) for a roundtrip ticket departing from Lyon, France (this price could be less if you are flying out of a bigger city). A train ticket going directly from the airport to the city centre is about $3 USD and takes only 17 minutes. Once in Poland, find an ATM and pull out cash there. DO NOT let the ATM machine choose the conversion rate for you, simply delay the conversion and let your bank take care of it (there is an option for this on the screen). I saved about $10 dollars in fees letting my bank do the conversions rather than the ATM. Buying things in Poland really makes you proud to be an American. One US dollar is approximately four Polish Zlotys. To give you a sense of the dollar’s purchase power: 3 bottles of Polish beer costs $2.50 USD, a plate of very filling great Polish food costs $3-4 USD. We only ate at “Milkbars.” These are traditional Polish restaurants with communists roots that serve traditional food at very budget prices, catering to students and commoners.

In terms of lodging, there are hostels for as little as $5-7USD a night. My girlfriend opted for an Airbnb studio apt. that ran about $20USD/night. Krakow centre and the surround areas are not very big so it is very doable to get around by foot. Public transportation is really only needed going to and from the airport and Auschwitz.

There are countless tour groups in Poland that offer transport and guide to Auschwitz. These typically run around $30 dollars per person. However, these tours are completely unnecessary as there is public transportation that drops you off directly at Auschwitz for around 4 USD (MDA transportation company). Entrance into Auschwitz and Auschwitz- Birkenau is also completely free if you do not want a guided tour. There is also a free shuttle that takes you from Auschwitz to Auschwitz-Berkenau and takes about 10 minutes. I felt that experiencing Auschwitz without a guide was a lot better. My girlfriend and I got to see everything we wanted and take as long as we needed. We also did not have to move around with a huge group of people. Auschwitz is one of those places that is better experienced on your own terms and independently. Too many people simply distract you from the essence of the sites and may honestly even piss you off. There were quite a few people talking very loudly, taking pictures when signage specifically marked no photos, and posing for selfies at very inappropriate locations. I personally felt these actions were incredibly disrespectful and was glad that I did not partake in a tour or else I might have actually hit someone.

It was an amazing experience to see what I learned in class in real life. There are not enough words or pictures that can fully encapsulate the Auschwitz and Krakow experience. It is something that one must do themselves to truly understand; everyone’s experience is different and unique. All in all, Krakow is beautiful little city with very friendly people, amazing cheap food, and a poignant history.

Barry Yang studied abroad in Lyon, France, in Spring 2017:

France | An Idiot Abroad: Antsy for Annecy

By Barry Yang

Exiting from Brexit

This past week on Thursday I took my first final exam in the country of France. The exam was for my Brexit class which only lasted for five weeks (technically four because the teacher canceled class the first week). As I mentioned in my previous blog, the class itself is quite different from classes at UCLA. The professor is much more opinionated, and there is an air of bias that I feel should be reduced in an academic setting. The exam was two hours long and composed of five short answer essay-style questions. The questions alluded to a primary document from the British government outlining its plan for the official execution of Brexit, and we were suppose to incorporate the document in our answers. The nature of the exam, much like the class, was quite different from the ones I am accustomed to at UCLA. The professor’s questions were incredibly broad. While essay questions demand a degree of flexibility to allow students to propose diverse ideas and information, the questions we received were too broad that I struggled to establish a structure for my answers. The questions were also very opinionated in that they were inherently pro-remain. The questions did not really inspire a great amount of debate or analysis. They were more asking us to recount information than to make an argument. After the test, all of us UC kids discussed the exam and many of us shared the same thoughts. It will be interesting to see how the professor grades the exam. The class is incredibly diverse and composed of kids from various countries with various levels of English. It will be interesting to see how the Professor distinguishes the quality of someone’s answer from the quality of his or her English. This class was by far the shortest class I have ever attended. Although it was interesting to learn about Brexit in an academic setting and from a native British individual, I wish the class was longer and that the professor presented some information on the other side that went beyond what has been already talked about somewhat thoroughly in popular media. I am excited to see what my other classes’ finals will be like given that they are semester long classes unlike the Brexit one.

Metros on Metros

Living in Los Angeles and San Diego all my childhood, I have not experienced true public transportation. Although buses and now the metro-link exist in Los Angeles, both of these pale in comparison to the public transit in Lyon and even just Europe. Lyon’s public transit is run by the company TCL. TCL has four subway lines, four tramway lines, and over one hundred bus lines. You can essentially get anywhere in the city with the public transit system. I use to only take two tramways because those were the only ones I knew and I really did not want to deviate, get lost, and be an hour late to class. However, after I got the TCL iPhone application my life completely changed. The app outlines the quickest modes of transportation for you at the time and ensures that you will arrive at your destination by a time you specify. It is also advisable to get a TCL metro card which is about thirty euros a month for students but allows you unlimited rides. A normal ticket costs 1.8 euros and lasts only an hour from the time of first scan. However, many Lyon locals do not even buy a ticket when they are traveling one or two stops because ticket enforcement is incredibly lax. This may soon change though; my host brother just informed me that TCL has employed undercover agents and will be more strict on enforcement.

Antsy for Annecy

The city of Annecy appears on essentially every list when you look up “best small towns in France.” The town is situated by a huge lake as well as the Rhone-Alps. There’s also a river that runs straight through the center of town and quaint old buildings are built around it. When we visited Annecy, we got there on a Friday which just happened to be a market day. We got to try some very local food and was stuffed for about 10 euros a person. We had some potatoes and cheese with baguette, smoked ham, traditional French sausage, local baguette sandwich, as well as a good amount of fresh ice cream (yes all for 10 euros). This trip to Annecy was also the first time we used BlaBlaCar (a European ride sharing service). We usually opt for busses with Ouibus or Flixbus when traveling to locations close to Lyon because tickets are only around 10 euros. However, this time, BlaBlaCar worked out to be a better deal and more suiting for our schedule. While the ride was not horrible, I definitely would not recommend sitting in a standard French car for more than a hour. Firstly, the cars here just physically feel smaller than American cars. The drivers also try and pack as many people as legal possible into said small cars so one can kiss goodbye to leg room or shoulder room. Driving in France also feels more reckless and dangerous than in the US (this may be a biased opinion though considering I do not understand French driving laws). Even though the ride is not all that great, BlaBlaCar is still an amazing budget-friendly way to travel and allows you to meet some French locals and really drive through the French countryside familyesque style.

France | An Idiot Abroad: BeLEAVE in UK



It’s not in every class where you learn something that you can immediately translate to, or see an example of, in real life. Most of the subject matter is immaterial nature and a certain amount of imagination is required to visualize and project. Thus, when the subject matter is material and something contemporary it is a real treat as one can watch, analyze, and experience in real time.

This is what is occurring in my Brexit class. Under the instruction of Professor Helen Drake, I have been learning about the United Kingdom referendum to leave the European Union for the past 3 weeks. While the class itself is quite short in duration (only a month) and moderately biased, it is still very cool to learn about something that is literally happening as I write this. The best part about the class was that this past break I got to spend 10 days in the UK and actually live and see Brexit in context.

Professor Drake is in the remain camp; this was something she made clear to us on the first day of class. While she has her personal biases, she does try to be impartial and offer us the leave perspective as well. However, the class has been overall remain leaning and I feel there is a lack of effort to really try and explain or understand why people wanted to leave the UK. Instead of investigating the mindset of the leave camp, the professor just mostly points to the lack of education and ignorance as the motivations for people to vote leave.

While these two explanations are certainly valid and may even in fact be the most contributing factors to a leave mentality, it overly simplifies the other side and detracts from the complexity and nuances of the issue. After having visited the UK and interacted with the British, I can personally see and understand how a British individual can feel removed from Europe and not identify with the European Union. It is very understandable how this non-EU mindset can lead to Euroskepticism and culminate in a decision to leave the EU.

As part of our course we discussed the idea of how European is England, if at all. After seeing England in person, I personally feel a huge difference between the island and the rest of the continent. The British culture and just overall aurora is palatably different than the rest of Europe’s. From the architecture and language to the culture and social norms, Britain is arguably more American than European. While there is diversity in Britain there is also a feel of great homogeneity. This does not mean everyone is caucasian, it just simply means that there is sense of nationhood amongst the people. Even though individuals may come from different backgrounds and have different cultures, I felt a sense of unity amongst individuals in that there is an implicit overarching British culture.

A great example stems from this very traditional Indian restaurant I visited in the Fitzrovia district of London. While the food, culture, and patrons of the restaurant was distinctively Indian, the restaurant still served traditional British tea and most of the people were drinking it. Obviously Britain has strong ties to India because of historic imperialism and the acceptance of British customs amongst Indians have roots in this era of occupation. However, that does not detract from the fact that there is an overarching British culture present in non-English minority groups. This is purely an anecdotal experience, and I am sure there are groups living in England who refuse to accept or do not embrace British culture. However, in comparison to another continental European nation like France, I can personally feel a difference in how full integrated into the native society immigrants are and the varying senses of unity. This sense of cultural unity was not something I only felt in Britain. To a certain degree, I felt even stronger senses of hometown pride and cultural identity in the rest of the UK.

After seeing the UK in person I can very easily see how a British individual would vote to leave the EU because he or she does not been that Britain is European. I can equally see how an individual would vote to leave the EU due to a sense of British exceptionalism. After seeing London, I am genuinely amazed by the efficacy, friendliness, and sheer beauty of Britain. The towering statues of British thinkers and other important individuals throughout the city hints back at this feeling of exceptionalism and the many jaw dropping buildings and gardens/parks further contribute to this narrative. Not even being British myself, I totally felt a sense of British exceptionalism while I was in London and I can see how and why some British people hold their nation in superiority.

I am excited to see how the rest of my Brexit class plays out as we dive deeper into the topic and finish up our last week of class. I am very glad I had the opportunity to visit the UK and draw parallels from what I learned in the classroom to what was happening in real life. Before I came abroad, the explanations I heard for Brexit were along the same school of thought as those proposed by Professor Drake. However, after having learned more about the topic and being exposed to Britain in real life I can completely understand and believe that some people voted for Brexit simply because their country just did not fit in the EU. To a certain degree are they wrong? The British decision to enter the EU in 1975 was largely transactional, maybe its decision to leave in 2016 is largely emotional.

Barry Yang studied abroad in Lyon, France, in Spring 2017:

France | An Idiot Abroad: Passage to France


The Way of the French

When I arrived in France I spoke absolutely no French. Now, approximately a month later, I still speak no French. Well that is an exaggeration, but my comprehension and conversational skills are still very very very low. Unfortunately, the language class offered at Sciences Po Lyon does not contain a beginner’s level. Students with similar levels of French are bunched up in one class. Since everyone speaks mountains more French than me, the lowest level class is still 100 times passed my comprehension level. However, as the French say, c’est la vie.

This brings me to our French language instructor Professor Christophe. A curly haired friendly French man who largely refuses to speak English in class, Professor Christophe has a tendency to call on me to answer questions when he very well understands that my French skills are impoverished. I found the class initially very boring as I understood little to nothing that was going on. However, as time went on, Professor Christophe and I developed a friendly relationship filled with lively incoherent conversations that involved him partially understanding my English and me not understanding his French at all. Even though there is a huge language gap and a steep learning curve, I am having a great time in this class. Professor Christophe is a very nice teacher and takes the time to individually teach me the pronunciations and make sure that I’m not completely clueless as to what is going on. A soft spoken yet firm teacher, Professor Christophe is a lot of fun and has a good sense of humor. I am very glad that he takes my jokes well and enjoys my random comments in English (at least I hope he does). I could not be happier that I am learning French from him, and I really respect and appreciate the effort he puts in both in and out of class to ensure that he is able to help and advance every student regardless of the their French levels.

Yvan celebrating his birthday!


I have seen a lot of French students in the streets of Lyon, but none have been as inappropriately funny as my French home-stay brother Paul-Eliot. A 15 year old boy of many not so politically correct and PG jokes, Paul- Eliot constantly shows me French memes and translates them into English for me. I thoroughly enjoy helping him with his English homework and giving him a hard time whenever his teacher gives him a bad mark (all in good fun of course).

For a 15 year old, Paul-Eliot stays pretty busy. On Thursdays he has almost 9 hours of class and every Wednesday he does not get home from his “Fireman” activity until 8:30PM. Apparently, in France, the Firehouse holds activities where students can go to learn the duties of a fireman and engage in some exercise and workouts. The Firehouse also puts on a “Fireman Ball” where members of the community and participants of the Fireman class are invited to a soiree filled with small eats and dancing. My host family regularly attends; sadly I was not able to join this time because of my trip of Avignon.

Paul-Eliot is just one of the many great characters in my French family. Stay tuned for next week when I introduce my French sister Lison.


If one follows the Rhone river towards the Southern region of France, past Lyon, one arrives in a region known as Provence. While extremely beautiful during the summer, the sights during the winter are not so shabby either. A region that produces some great wines and picturesque postcards, Provence has been one of mine and my girlfriend’s favorite regions. In addition to being very beautiful, the region is also very cheap to get to via Flixbus, Ouibus, or Ouigo. For around 9-12 euros, you can make your way to some beautiful French towns and get away from the humdrum of the cities.

This weekend we visited Nimes, which is only about an hour away from Avignon (our choice of travel for last week). The city is very small, but has some amazing Roman architecture scattered throughout the town. In addition to a small pantheon, there is a very big Colosseum as well as beautiful statues. 20 kilometers outside the city is Pont du Gard. Pont du Gard is the highest of all elevated Roman aqueducts and listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historical significance. The aqueduct was built as part of a 50 kilometer water system that carried water from a spring at Uzes to the Roman colony of Nimes. At almost 50 meters tall, Pont Du Gard is an amazing architectural feat. It is hard to believe that people were able to build something of this caliber in the first century AD without heavy machinery or tools. That is Roman ingenuity I guess.

In addition to Pont du Gard, Nimes is just incredibly quaint and cozy. The buildings are extremely close together and the streets very narrow. With only 140,000 inhabitants, the city is sparsely populated despite its small size and there are few crowds like the ones one would see in Lyon or Paris. The public transit in the town should not be disregarded simply due to the city’s size. At only 160 square kilometers, Nimes has arguably a better public transport system than some of the biggest metropolises in the United States. The buses run every 7 minutes and only costs 1.5 euros for a ticket. One can easily get all around town on the bus, and there is little need to own a car. There is even a more extensive transport system that will take you to near by towns such as Uzes, Ales, and Poet du Gard for the same 1.5 euros. Overall, Nimes is a beautiful city and definitely worthy of at least a day trip.

I got the opportunity to fly my drone and make a video of the small city; the video can be found here:

Barry Yang studied abroad in Lyon, France, in Spring 2017:

France | An Idiot Abroad: C’est Bon


“C’est bon” (it’s good). No two words could better encapsulated and de- scribe my first week in France. This is because these two words are the ones I use the most from my arsenal of flowery French vocabulary: filled to the brim with all its 10 words and elementary sophistication.

I have never taken French before. I have never been to Europe. I have never been so excited.

Coming to a foreign country and not understanding anything may seem scary, but at the end of the day it all comes down to perspective. When I first moved to the US at age 8, I was dropped straight into 2nd grade not speaking a word of English. At that age I was too naive to under- stand embarrassment or comprehend the fact that the teacher did not speak Chinese (I completed all my assignments and gave presentations in Chinese and never thought about the difficulties Mrs. Turner would have). Now, at 21, I am still very much possess that adolescent naiveté and could not be more thankful and happy that I never truly matured in this area. It is this youthful ignorance and complete blindness to bar- riers that has made my time in France, thus far, “très très bien” (very very great). I could not be happier that I never learned as a child to not talk to strangers.

Without any previous experience in French, I dove head first into this beautiful land. Armed with one phrase and one phrase only, “parlez- vous anglais” (do you speak English?), I landed in Lyon on New Year’s Eve at 10:17PM. Completely clueless and shocked by the freezing cold, I managed to get myself to my hostel after 1 train, 2 trams, and a lot of directions from Frenchmen that I couldn’t understand. I arrived at my Hostel exactly at 12:00AM and was greeted by a huge group of people with “bonne année” and other trendy French New Year sayings that I did not understand. It was at this moment that I realized that the hos- tel I had so last minute booked on Expedia was also a bar…The night continued with random conversations with a group of locals who in- vited me for drinks and made sure that I did not have to spend the first moments of 2017 alone. Everything that I had heard about the French hating Americans and being extremely unfriendly were all proven to be complete and utter BS at this moment. Thank you Mohammed, John- Phillip, and all the others with really French names that I do not have the proper education to pronounce.

(Six hour layover in Amsterdam before arriving in Lyon, France)

1) Lyon Airport. 2) Closing in on New Years. 3) Rhone Express to Lyon city center. 4) Friends I made on New Year’s Eve

I spent the next 2 days at the hostel and got really close with the baris- tas and other travelers who shared with me some special local spots and their incredible stories. One gentleman from Australia was espe- cially memorable. Jonathan had been an engineer in Australia and at the age of 48 decided to quit his job and travel the world. On the date that I met him, he had been traveling for almost 2 years. We talked late into the night, and his experiences and stories inspired and made a last- ing impact on me. He didn’t have a lot of money nor many luxuries, but one could feel the appreciation he had for life and the vitality he pos- sessed. Thank you Jonathan, Leslie, Judith, Clara, Sharif, Andre, and Jean for such a great first hostel experience in France.

On the 3rd day my host family picked me up from the Hostel and helped me move into my home for the next 6 months. When I met them, I could not believe how much my life was beginning to resemble a movie. My host-dad Yvan, is one of the most charming and funny people I have ever met and everything I imaged a Frenchman to be. We’ve had great conversations about how to strategize bargains with people on Lyon’s version of Craigslist (Leboncoin) and his favorite French musicians that I have grown to like. My host-mom Caroline, is very sweet and extremely caring. Her square glasses, French accent, and warm expressos just conjures up flashes of every French movie I have ever seen. Their children Paul-Eliot and Lison are also some of the nicest and most entertaining people I have ever met (child or adult). I could not have been more blessed to be placed in such a wonderful family. Even though we don’t always 100% understand each other, there is never a lack of conversation, great food, aromatic cheese, and terrific wine. Thank you guys for opening your home to me and wel- coming me as a member of the family.

Besides roaming the streets and talking to random people like a 7 year old, I’ve also dabbled in the realm of education. After all, academics first right? Classes have not officially began yet, but as a part of the pro- gram we have to enroll in a 2 week intensive French language and cul- ture seminar. The classes in this seminar are all in French. I’m not talking 1 or 2 words in French, a sentence in French, or even half an hour in French. I’m talking 6 hours a day of non-stop French. We’re not talking about elementary level French either. This is some next level, Les Misérable, Amélie, drowning in French type of level. I understand completely nothing in any of the classes. I live for moments when there are words spoken that sound similar to English and short breaks when I can converse with other students in a language that I actually know. Despite my efforts to transfer to a elementary school that I believe would actually be more conducive for my French learning, the powers that be have yet to honor this request.

This past week in the classrooms have been very reminiscent of my first months in 2nd grade when I didn’t speak a word of English and could not understand anyone. Similar to those months 13 years ago, I am still proceeding with a blissful lack of concern and regard for the language barrier and childishly engaging in the ways I can and to the best of my ability. Despite me being eons behind everyone else, these classes have proved to be overall great experiences and I don’t hesitate for a second on whether I should go to class tomorrow. After all, decisions are not made by everyone who understands, but can only be made by those who show up.

(A field trip organized by the University as part of the language program. We got to spend a day in Montpellier, which could have literally been the setting for every single Hollywood romantic film.)

I’ve made friends with the staff and professors who have come to refer me as the class’ collective “baby” and also graciously made accommoda- tions to make things a little easier for me. Although I still understand nothing, I have come to learn through this past week that it is not so much how much you can understand, but rather how much you try to understand that really matters.

I have made some great friends from all over the world in these classes. They are some of the most kind and fun people to be around. It’s amaz- ing how close we all have grown in such a short amount of time and I can not thank them enough for their help and friendship. Thank you: Jonathan, Daniel, Claire, Stasi, Cian, Ollie, Tammy, Elishka, Flevie, and Madam Santos for being the A1’s and all the great times. Looking for- ward to all the possibilities in the 6 months.

Some wonderful instructors who made things very fun even though I understood nothing they said 100% of the time.

(Some extremely fun times shared with some great people. Could not have asked for better compadres on this journey through a foreign land.)

In the words of Hannah Montana: “life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock.”

Barry Yang studied abroad in Lyon, France, in Spring 2017:

France | An Idiot Abroad: La Bise and the Geneve


La Bise, that’s what the French call that whole kissing on the cheek greeting thing. Instead of going in for the hug, they pop two on your cheeks and call it a day. Although I first found this gesture a little awk- ward to initiate, this form of greeting has grown on me and become something incredibly endearing.

This past week has been a continuation of IEP language classes which essentially just translate to another week of me not understanding French and showing up solely for the experience. I was extremely fortu- nate to have amazing professors who found my lack of French endear- ing and comedic. The school even found me an aide (thank you Marisol) who attended every class with me and helped me through the language classes. Despite the aide, the level of French you need to un- derstand these classes is probably something I won’t achieve within the next decade. Thank the Lord we begin regular classes next week which will finally be in English. I can soon finally prove to the French people that I’m not completely useless.

Madame Santos and Christine Ebnother our favorite teachers.

While Lyon is renowned as the center of gastronomy, I will not lie and say that I am getting a little tired of French cuisine. It is not so much the food, as the food decorum. Let me explain. While the food is deli- cious and invigorating to the palate, the portion sizes are usually horri- bly small. As a growing young boy with the appetite of multiple French men, eating at French restaurants is not really conducive for the wallet or the health.

The boys Cian and Cameron enjoying a nice wine.

Bread and butter are literally the bread and butter of meals, and I’ve found myself eating a lot of carbohydrates to compensate for the small portion sizes. Albeit, the bread here is so delicious and baked fresh dai- ly. The butter is also derived from organic cows that have not been adulterated by hormones. The fresh bread and natural butter really is a killer combo and very good. Throw on one or two cheeses from literally

the hundreds of options and its very very c’est bon. Wine is also cheaper than the sparkling water they serve. You can get very nice bottles of red and white wines in supermarkets for literally 4–5 euros. Baguettes are about one euro. Pancetta another 2–3 euros. A nice block of cheese for 5–10 euros. Combine all of this and you can have wonderful lunches and dinners for multiple days.

The ethnic foods in Lyon (Indian, Chinese, Thai, etc.) are also moder- ately disappointing…It is amazing that these foods even exist in Lyon but their essence and soul have been diluted to appease the French palate and as a result become unauthentic. Ethnic foods are also quite expensive. A big plate of Pad Thai will run about 8–9 dollars in the US, but here in Lyon the price is more like 14–17 Euros. At almost double the price and half the flavor, I’ve committed myself to only eat French cuisine (we will see how long this holds out though given how many of the other Americans in the group enjoy and miss ethic foods).

Besides French food, the most commonplace cuisine is the Kebab. Be- cause of its large Middle Eastern population, Lyon is filled with Kebab shops. You can’t really walk 5 minutes without seeing a Kebab shop. Filled with meat, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise and French fries, these Middle Eastern California burritos are very cheap and fairly tasty. Al- though probably not the healthiest, they’ve been a great food for when time is short or when the wine proves to be a little too strong.

This weekend I got the opportunity to go to Geneva, Switzerland. Boy oh boy do I NOT recommend going there. Firstly, they would not let me on the bus because I forgot my passport. I then had to book a different train ticket after getting my passport only to have no one check or ask for my passport. Upon arriving in Geneva, I couldn’t even tell that we were in a different county. I had to confirm with Google Maps to make sure that I had actually taken the correct train and left France. The city was incredibly cold and non-english speaking. I felt a strong sense of pompous superiority in the shops we went to and did not feel a lot of loving vibes. The lake in Geneva is fairly beautiful, but nothing spectac- ular. If you really want to see a lake, just drive up to Big Bear and you will have gotten essentially the same thing. Things are also incredibly expensive in Geneva. For dinner my friend and I shared some “buffalo chicken wings” and a pasta called the “San Diego.” These toddler sized dishes came out to more than 35 euros. The buffalo chicken wings came with 3 wings and some sauce that was everything but buffalo. The “San

Diego” pasta tasted just like Heinz ketchup mixed with undercooked pasta and zucchini. I could not have been more disappointed with Geneva. I do want to return to Switzerland in the future and see Lugano and other cities, but thus far, Geneva has been very very under- whelming 0.6/10 would not recommend.

This past week I also attended a party my host family put together. There were oysters, Galette (a delicious French cake), lots of cham- pagne, French whiskey, and great times. They invited their friends from Interpol and we had some great conversations about how much travel intensive the job is and the different things they get to encounter on an international level. Definitely looking to potentially working there in the future.

I am thoroughly enjoying my host family. I had the pleasure of making them Peruvian food on Wednesday, and although it came out a little too spicy, they were very receptive and we all had an amazing time.

Week two in France has been an absolute pleasure minus that one day in Geneva. Looking very much forward to when classes actually start and all the places I’ll get to see and learn about.

Barry Yang studied abroad in Lyon, France, in Spring 2017: