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: