Maura Cadigan: Comparing Cultures

Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. Below is Maura Cadigan’s reflection on her co-op in Paris, France.

– By Maura Cadigan

When I began working abroad at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, I expected to learn a lot about the diplomatic process, the French culture, and myself. But I did not expect the radical differences in culture. I knew that the U.S. and France both have unique cultures, but I thought that they would be more similar given their historically intertwined past.

The office environment was the most surprising dissimilarity. Of course I had heard that French offices were more relaxed, but I could not have imagined the extent of the difference. In my first week, my boss, who was French, wanted me to email potential business partners. I did and was annoyed when no one had responded in two days. When I asked my boss if I should email them again, she simply laughed and said not to expect a response for at least a week, more likely two weeks. It caught me off guard. In my work experience in America, you are expected to communicate instantaneously, responding to emails in hours at the slowest. In addition to the slower pace of business, we were also only expected to be at the office for thirty-five hours a week including an hour lunch break each day. When I returned to my full time summer job in the U.S., it took a few days to get used to the long hours and quicker pace.

Maura Cadigan '17 with other embassy interns in front of an F-15 Eagle at the Paris Air Show.
Maura Cadigan ’17 (third from left) with other embassy interns in front of an F-15 Eagle at the Paris Air Show.

The culture is also more relaxed, or at least more open. I found a park near my apartment one day and decided to run there the next day. As I ran around the park, I noticed the absurd amount of public displays of affection in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday. That would never happen in the U.S. It shocked me at first, but after a few days, I was surprised to find that I barely noticed anymore. On a similar note, there is a stark contrast between American and French movies. American movies are often extremely violent and treat nudity as a taboo. French movies are the inverse. I don’t think I saw a single advertisement for a French-made action movie in my five months in Paris.

While there are many differences in our respective cultures, one is not superior to the other. During my first few weeks, I found myself constantly comparing the two cultures, deciding which aspects of each I liked better. Thankfully, I soon realized that line of thought is ridiculous. No culture is better than another. Culture simply is. And I should enjoy and appreciate whatever culture I happen to live within.

To learn more about doing a co-op or internship abroad, visit the TAMU Career Center,


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