Laurie Wilson is a Resident Director through IE3 Global at the Université Lyon 2 in Lyon, France. She has a doctorate degree in Romance Languages from the University of Oregon. Using her past experience from studying abroad and extensive French culture and language study, she helps students acclimate to life in France and get the most out of their own time abroad.
What brought you to be a Resident Director?
I happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right combination of experiences under my belt. I first studied abroad in France as an undergraduate in Poitiers through the University of California EAP program. I later worked as a graduate assistant for the Lyon exchange program for one year while I was a doctoral student in Romance Languages at the University of Oregon, then returned to Lyon once I had advanced to candidacy to join my husband, whom I had met during my time as the graduate assistant. I then worked as a graduate assistant at Université Lyon 2 for two years while I was writing my doctoral dissertation. The Lyon Resident Director position became available one year after I had completed my degree, and I was fortunate to be selected based on my experience studying and teaching in both the U.S. and French university systems and my background with study abroad and the Lyon exchange program in particular.
What are some unique aspects of your city and country?
Lyon has been inhabited for an uninterrupted period of over 2000 years, and has managed to preserve structures from its past throughout its constant evolution as a dynamic European center of innovation and trade. Evidence of this is everywhere, be it the Roman ruins near Fourvière, the medieval and Renaissance structures of Vieux Lyon, vestiges of the silk industry, the factory where the Lumière Brothers invented cinema, Interpol’s world headquarters or the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Lyon is also the gastronomic capital of France!
What is one thing most of your students may not know about you?
I have also worked as a professional translator. I have translated two novels by Lebanese author Alexandre Najjar from French into English: L’Ecole de la guerre and Le Silence du tenor, both published by Telegram.
What are some of your favorite aspects of being a Resident Director?
I love the ever-changing nature of my job – it’s anything but monotonous. I enjoy accompanying students as they face and work through the challenges of adjusting to and learning to thrive in a culture very different from their own, learning what is a source of joy and what is a source of frustration for each of them and observing how they navigate their emotions and grow throughout their study-abroad experience.
What are some of the challenges of your job?
The biggest challenge is needing to be competent in so many areas without truly being able to master any of them. I am at once activities coordinator, rental agent, academic advisor, university administrator, counselor, health-care specialist, cultural mediator, international program developer, and educator. I adapt to the varying needs, interests and challenges of each new group of students.
What have you seen as the biggest challenge for incoming students?
By far the biggest challenge for students in our program is avoiding the comfortable fall-back of spending most or all of their free time with other American program participants, which can be lots of fun but is catastrophic for both language progress and cultural integration. It takes a great deal of courage for students to be more independent, to avoid contact with English as much as possible and to work through the awkward stage of initially only being able to communicate at a very basic level. But those who take the plunge end up attaining a much more enriching level of linguistic and cultural integration than do those who take the easy road.
What is your advice for students planning to attend your program, or to study abroad in your country?
Students should know that their role during a study abroad experience is not to compare and to criticize differences, but to observe and to try to understand what lies behind them. Come with an open mind, appreciate the experience for what it is without comparing it to what you thought it would be, adopt Lyon as your home while you are here rather than waiting for it to take you in and push beyond your comfort zone every day so you can make the most of your time here. Prior to arrival, students should do all that they can to improve their level of French so they have a solid base to build from once they get here.
What is one thing you think students shouldn’t forget to pack for life in your country?
Comfortable walking shoes and an appetite for adventure, both culinary and otherwise.
What do you think is the most important take-away for education abroad students?
Learning how to navigate an unexpectedly different culture, how to persevere in the face of incomprehension and frustration, learning new forms of independence, gaining an appreciation for tolerance, and rethinking “right and wrong” in terms of cultural norms.
To learn more about studying abroad in Lyon, France, click this link!