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Tanya Poltavets, 2024 2nd Place Research

Submissions in the research category are open to research topics in any field: STEM, Social Sciences, Business, Humanities, etc. Submissions should use the documentation style appropriate to the discipline and should not exceed 20 pages. Tanya Poltavets wrote the 2nd place submission in the Research category for the 2024 President’s Writing Awards.

About Tanya

Tanya Poltavets

Hello! I’m Tanya Poltavets and this is my second year here at Boise State. My major is in English Teaching as I truly enjoy the art of writing and hope to pass that along. Originally I am from Ukraine, but have lived here in Idaho for majority of my life. I love the amount of activities that are available here during the summer, and am excited to get as much sun as possible this year. Thank you for taking the time to read my work!

Winning Manuscript – What Matters Most

Walking the streets full of memories, I try to grasp onto everything that was and everything that changed. I try to relive those moments that have long passed. “Has it really been fifteen years?” I followed in step with the flashbacks that filled my mind, taking every path that my little feet once traveled. Growing up in a little town in Ukraine, I never imagined returning. The sun was setting as I strolled through the town. Passing by all the houses, I continued on through the gravel road. On either side I was surrounded by greenery, and my eyes tried to capture the redness of the setting sun. “I could get used to this,” I thought as I savored every step. At last I came to a gate; it felt cold to the touch, and picking it I quickly realized it was locked. That’s when I began to yell out my grandma’s name, hoping she would hear.

Such a simple memory and yet I found beauty in it. I strolled carelessly without the pressure of being somewhere and with no attachment to time. Yelling out someone’s name was also a common encounter in that area unlike a simple phone call or bell. Majority of the time, guests came by unannounced and would stay late into the night drinking tea and talking about any life memories and anything and everything in between. There seemed to be such a simplicity when it came to daily life. Although my home was in the States, packed with my busy schedule, I could never replicate these simple carefree moments. Wondering, “what could these other countries possibly have that we often lack in the States?” My conclusion was “time.”

Time goes by and only memories come back to haunt us. What we chose to do in that time will often determine how many memories we will have stored up in the end. Wishing to spend my days putting on my favorite pair of trousers and blissfully walking the streets, I couldn’t help but imagine what my life would be in the mindset of “Mangez bien, riez souvent, aimez beaucoup.” [Eat well, laugh often, love a lot.] A country that would prioritize self-care and rest perhaps even more than I have experienced in Ukraine; France, a place where leisure and relaxation is a necessity, not a luxury.

“Mangez bien” [Eat well]. In his article, “What Shocked Me When I Moved From France To The U.S.”, Pierre Baguette, a college student from France, came to live and study in the States. He settled in with roommates, just like back home. In France, he often found himself in the kitchen preparing a meal for the entire household. Their phones go off with a simple message, “le dîner est prêt” [dinner is ready,] after which they would all come together on time to enjoy and share the meal. Others would then clean and share additional responsibilities. This tradition was consistent throughout the end of the year. Moving to the States he recognized that he was still cooking and spending time in the kitchen, yet this time only for himself. He could hardly see any of his other roommates cooking and in general his daily schedule was much busier to open up time to sit and spend an extra hour with his meal.

“Le déjeuner est un moment sacré” [lunch is a sacred moment]. Walking into the workplace, you patiently do your work until the clock signals that it is finally noon. You try to finish up the last couple of bits of work, when you notice all the rest of the employees pack up and leave one by one. Thirty minutes have passed and not one employee has returned. Quickly grabbing your lunch you walk out the once packed, yet now haunting and deserted office. “Where do all the French disappear during their lunch breaks,” is a common phrase among the Americans traveling abroad. A typical lunch break may consist of going out to a restaurant, finishing a meal with a dessert and a glass of wine prior to returning back to work. Others go home for a couple hours and enjoy their time with family. No mealtime is quick and effortless, Jamie Schler experienced this first hand. She wrote, “The meal was never rushed, no interruption was allowed, food and conversation filled up an hour or two before either a quick nap or heading back to work. It was a much-needed break in the middle of a hectic day, which usually began before dawn, a time set aside for family.” They ate a much larger lunch in comparison to their dinner which allows them to continue in a healthier lifestyle. A new view to Americans who “generally eat a quick lunch that often includes some type of sandwich, soup, or leftovers from the previous night’s dinner (e.g., rice or pasta).”

“Riez souvent” [laugh often]. When the clock hits the final hour of work, individuals log off, grab their things and leave the office without looking back; they are completely unavailable for work until their return. Lucy Mangan brings up the fact that in France, workers are bound to certain relaxation. She covers that, “Now employers’ federations and unions have signed a new, legally binding labour agreement that will require employers to make sure staff “disconnect” outside of working hours.” This would include checking any work emails or phone calls related to work, or clocking out later than scheduled to leave. On the other hand, picture an American working long hours and finally logging off, heading home and at any minor inconvenience at work, they jump on a zoom call or email. Or finally getting an opportunity of heading to a vacation, they arrive at a beautiful resort with their family, enjoy the nice cool water and sand running through their toes as they walk on the shores of the ocean and every now and then their phone goes off with numerous tasks begging to be accomplished urgently. No longer are they looking at the ocean as they are scanning through their emails, minutes turn to hours, and the vacation quickly fades away and they’re back at work the following Monday. They are praised for their flexibility, yet whether this is a beneficial habit is up for debate.

Working long hours range from weeks to months until that vacation finally rolls around in the States. You take a week long trip somewhere where you can get away, yet often still available to any quick email or work call. In comparison, France gets much more time away from work. Alberto Nardelli states, “According to research by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), among OECD countries France is the most generous when it comes to annual leave. The average French worker can expect 30 days a year of paid vacation.” This does not include the 11 annual public holidays that are practiced in that area. An American hiring a French worker is likely to experience them working their exact hours and nothing outside of it. He might say, “You still have some work to do,” to which she may respond, “I’ll get to it first thing tomorrow morning since I’ll be off in a couple minutes.” If he would persist to challenge her, stating, “How do you expect to get rich if you are not willing to work harder?” She could quote a common French Proverb, “If working hard made you rich, donkeys would be covered in gold.” This refers to how in some cases people can work all day and despite all of their efforts they simply will not become rich, just like a donkey labors all day and yet it is not covered in gold. But perhaps for them, they do not need to work additional hours because they are simply trying to provide for a comfortable life. Often in America, an average worker is trying to provide enough for all their bills, including healthcare, which would be a provided benefit in France. There is another common phrase that “French people work to live, while Americans live to work.” Through work, many individuals find their identity and without it perhaps they would simply not know what to do with their time. .

“Aimez beaucoup” [love a lot]. Arrive at a familiar home, look around and nothing has changed; the jade green door and “volets” [shutters] are as contrasting as you remember and you can see how the little bits of paint slowly start to chip. About to knock on the door when it swings wide open and your great aunt appears with a warm welcoming smile. She kisses both your cheeks and welcomes you into the room brimming with all your relatives. From your youngest little nephew to grand-papa Gabin. Greeting each and every one of them, you settle down in a cozy room full of love and laughter. French are very family oriented individuals who enjoy spending time late into the night with their friends and families. Based on stories from a local living in France, “Relationships between family members are generally quite close and warm. It is common for the French to spend time with their cousins, uncles, and aunts at family gatherings.” They typically will find any reason to get together from a Christmas holiday when they would all share gifts to a simple Sunday dinner when all the relatives would arrive to share a meal and spend time together. In general they value their family life and traditions so much that they often choose to pass down family traditions and cultures to their children and grandchildren. One main difference that was noted was when it was a child’s birthday in America it is very common to only invite their friends, while in France this would be another opportunity for the family and relatives to come together as a whole.

French individuals really take eating, spending time away from work and time with family very seriously. Yet looking at their relaxation, somehow I wonder if Americans are envious of their schedule at all, and leaves me questioning “why?” Is relaxation really all that beneficial or are there hidden truths to their way of life? Margaret Mariani speaks of the age of America in comparison to France; the United States is fairly a new country. She states, “France became an independent country in the ninth century while America just started to tell Her story in 1776… Just like a 19-year-old, the future is the focus. It’s what lies ahead which is most important, and not what lies in the past.” The future is full of possibilities for a nineteen year old adult; life is just beginning and these first steps will often determine the course of the rest of their life.

“Work hard” [travailler dur.] Alarm clock strikes half past six, reaching for it discomfort grips your body and an intense throbbing sharp pain afflicts your head. Looking up at the ceiling you are faced with two choices, call in sick or endure the pain. “I’m sure I’ll be okay” you tell yourself struggling to get onto your two feet. “I do have sick days, perhaps I could just call in this one time” you ponder back and forth. Finally getting enough courage, you lift your phone and dial the company. Heart pounding, anxiety rising as each ringing sound warns you to prepare yourself. Slowly clearing your throat you manage one simple sentence, “I’m not feeling well today, I think it’s best I take the day off.” “No worries, hope you feel better soon,” comes a kind reply. Call ends and you snuggle into the couch, and grabbing the remote, turn on your favorite TV Show in hopes of enjoying your day off to its brim. Managing a few minutes of uninterrupted peace, you get swarmed with numerous thoughts of guilt and regret. “How will they manage without me?” “Will the staff be upset with me?” “I could’ve totally come in today, I’m not that sick.” Thoughts race one after the other; what was intended to be a nice relaxation, turned into a glut of guilt and shame, assembling a feeling far worse than the sickness itself. Recently CBS News launched an article, “Employees are sick with guilt about calling in sick “ claiming that, “Nearly 65% of workers say they experience “stress, anxiety, guilt or fear” when requesting sick time from their employer.” This greatly differs from France, where many individuals rather than taking one day off, will take three. The Connexion French News in English Since 2002 discloses that, “The number of people taking three consecutive days of leave at least once in a year – 48% of the working population in 2022 – was considerably higher than the 36% in 2021, or 39% in 2020.” It also goes on to explain that employees are required three consecutive sick days to qualify for payment. Assuming workers in France are taking their sick leave intentionally, leaves one to consider if it is more ethical to prioritize yourself or the needs of the company.

Working hard has often been a key value in the United States, where individuals are likely to prioritize their time and effort at work. This begs the question if their work values are equally as crucial as their home and family life. In the Institute For Family Studies, a study was created to test 3,757 U.S. adults with children under 18 on whether they would prioritize “college education, marriage, having children, a satisfying job/career” or “ financial independence.” While 88% of the parents voted that “financial independence” was most important, 41% voted on getting a “college education,” and only 20% voted on “getting married” and 21% on “having children.” The study deepens with the statement that parents claimed, “getting married one day (46%) and having kids of their own (46%) were ‘not too important’ or ‘not at all important.”’ Perhaps these values are driven strategically, hoping for a future that would create freedom and independence. It does, however, beg the question if American individuals are truly happy with the time they chose to dedicate to work as opposed to France where the priority is often placed on family.

“Be Consistent” [être cohérent.] Slipping on your comfiest sweatpants, laying your laptop across your chest and a bag of chips to the right you gaze into an enchanting screen; a story unfolding before your very eyes. Nearly two hours later, credits roll, fading the screen to black. Horror flashes your eyes as a reflection of crumbs and a double chin entices you to quickly shut the device. Moments later you burst with motivation to turn your life around. Turning to YouTube, you set on a quest to find the best motivational speech to get you on track on your new, yet determined goal. Likely to come across phrases such as “You better get up!” “Do it when it hurts!” “Keep going!” “Stay Consistent!” You set yourself on a journey to become a better you. Night rolls into day, and by 5:00 am you are making your way into your nearest public gym, music blasting in your ears motivating you to push yourself harder. Pumped, you hit the gym day after day, week after week, until you either form habits or as Lecrae Moore stated in his book, Unashamed, “Old habits die hard” sending you back into your prior routine awaiting the next burst of motivation. This cycle although may sound very enticing for an American is often deemed unnecessary to a French individual. In the magazine Expatica Live.Work.Love it is mentioned that individuals simply eat everything in moderation and walk everywhere on a daily basis. This leaves one with the choice to create a consistency to become a better version of themselves, or enjoy that time eating a baguette and daily walks to a nearby grocery store.

Consistency is often valued for its ability to create an independent form of lifestyle that determines a limitless future full of freedom and self-reliance. The U.S. Department of State Government states that, “Americans value independence and self-determination, placing importance on the role of the individual in shaping his or her own identity and destiny through one’s choices, abilities, and efforts.” In other words, whether taking full advantage of self- determination or not, Americans should be aware that they are capable of achieving more with their time and efforts. Although often exchanging time spent with family and friends, leaving for college as soon as they are of age, and focusing almost exclusively on their career, perhaps Americans are simply consistent because they see a future that could be attained rather than chance a future of unknown.

“Don’t Quit” [n’abandonne pas.] Ever fall into the tail of “shark bait”? Captured by a marine biologist, a shark flows into a fish tank encapsulated on all sides. Several fish bait cascade into the other side of the tank, enriching the shark’s hunger. A glass barrier however was set to test the shark’s persistence. Racing across the water in hopes of snatching a meal, it would plunge itself into the thick barrier. After numerous afflictions, persistence slowly faded until it was fully diminished in failed attempts at a meal. Later the glass barrier got removed, yet the shark still persisted to avoid the now inexistent barrier. The moral of this story is to persist trying despite numerous failures. Persistent motivation floods a large American population to work hard. That is the vast difference between the tales of the donkey that simply never gets rich no matter the effort and the shark that motivates the reader to never give up despite failure.

Whichever one is true is up for debate, yet it all comes down to perspective and what matters most to certain groups of people. Many Americans may spend numerous hours going above and beyond their responsibilities at a job that does not bring them much satisfaction. Going to work, day after day, at times voicing their vexation and yet the joy of payday seems to wash it all away. They continue to work hard, consistently with long hours and short boundaries. Contrary, The Millennial Abroad voiced in their article, “Quiet Quitting: A Cultural Analysis by an American Living in France” that “In France, to do your job is to be fulfilling the duties ascribed to said job. There is no general expectation in the working psyche that “going above and beyond” or placing importance on something as arbitrary and, let’s be honest, capricious, as “customer satisfaction” is worth the extra effort on the part of the worker.” Although many still persist to go to their daily jobs, they are simply quitting on putting in anything more than what they are paid for, an idea at times arbitrary to an American who is wired to go above and beyond.

Just as a 19 year old young adult, you are born into a nation that is exciting and full of opportunities. You are determined to live a life of “Work hard, be consistent, don’t quit” [travailler dur, être cohérent, n’abandonne pas.] Perhaps you have goals that are unattainable, but who is to say if you don’t try? Perhaps there are other ways of living that would bring more joy and fulfillment, so why not explore it? Go “Eat well, laugh often, love a lot” and see for yourself if you are a French or an American at heart. There must be an ideal way of living life for every individual, the question lies in what is worth your “time” most? What we chose to do in that time will often determine how many memories we will have stored up in the end.

Works Cited

Baguette, Pierre. “What Shocked Me When I Moved from France to the U.S.” Medium, ILLUMINATION, 3 May 2023, from-france-to-the-u-s-3996b9f281e3.

Beata. “10 Things You Need to Know about French Culture.” Langster, Langster, 20 July 2022,

Cerullo, Megan. “Employees Are Sick with Guilt about Calling in Sick.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 9 Oct. 2023,

Claire, and Gaenor du Plessis. “Quiet Quitting: A Cultural Analysis by an American Living in France.” The Millennial Abroad, 8 Feb. 2023, quitting-a-cultural-analysis-by-an-american-living-in-france/.

Correspondents, BNN. “Unveiling the Secrets of Longevity: Six Key Differences between French and American Lifestyles.” BNN Breaking, BNN Breaking, 25 Sept. 2023, between-french-and-american-lifestyles/.

“Doctors under Fire over Number of Sick Days They Grant French Workers.” Https://Www.Connexionfrance.Com, Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.

“The French Take More Holidays and Work Less – but Does It Matter?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 June 2015,

“How to Stay Fit and Healthy in France.” Expatica France, 10 Oct. 2023,

Independence – U.S. Department of State, AmericanValues.pdf. Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.

“Les Miserables? Actually the French Insist They Are Happier than Ever.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 Dec. 2021, miserables-actually-the-french-insist-they-are-happier-than-ever.

Opinion | Americans Care Too Much about Hard Work – The Washington Post, Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.

“Prioritizing Money over Marriage, Today’s Parents Are Making a Big Mistake.” Institute for Family Studies, a-big-mistake. Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.

Schler, Jamie. “The Disappearing ‘Pause Déjeuner.’” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2011,

SEO, Edsys. “Top 12 Motivational Stories for Students to Work Hard.” Edsys, 15 Mar. 2023,

Swns. “American Families Barely Spend Quality Time Together.” New York Post, New York Post, 20 Mar. 2018, together/.

“Unashamed.” Google Books, Google, e%2Bsaid%2Bold%2Bhabits%2Bdie%2Bhard&source=bl&ots=sB3C-

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“When the French Clock off at 6pm, They Really Mean It.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 Apr. 2014, agreement-work-emails-out-of-office.