A three year old golden retriever and a wonderful part of my host family here in Nantes. Now, given that I’ve already been here for almost two months and it feels like there’s so much that happened, to organize my thoughts I decided to structure this first post around lessons I learned from my adorable new roommate over the first week or so.
Lesson One: Be Friendly
It’s pretty overwhelming to show up in a new country and get thrown into a situation with forty other students, told you can only speak a language that you’ve only really been studying for three years, and set loose in the streets of Nantes, France. It’s like first year orientation: everyone is scrambling to make a good first impression, groups form surprisingly fast, and everyone is exhausted, nervous, and really excited. The strategy I adopted was just be friendly with everyone and see who stuck. I have to say it worked out pretty well. The first weekend we took a trip to several castles along the Loire River. I met a lot of new people and by the end of the weekend had a sweet group of the few that I had really clicked with. Adopting the strategy of an always friendly dog, even if it was a little unnatural for me, really helped in that first week. With a couple of additions, that group of friends has stayed strong and made wonderful memories in the months that followed that first weekend. Here we are in Caen in Normandy.
Lesson Two: Say Yes to Everything
A dog never turns down the chance to go for a walk around the neighborhood. For the first couple of weeks, I decided to do as much as possible. I spent time exploring my new city (I’ll probably have a full post about the city of Nantes eventually so I won’t say too much here), I went on all the trips IES (the program I’m here with) offered to various parts of the country (the castles, Mont St Michel and Saint Malo, and Normandy), I went for a hike with my host dad and out for drinks with my new friends. It was occasionally exhausting, and I may have not said yes to technically everything (more on that later), but it felt good to step out of my comfort zone from time to time and really feel like I was exploring my new region. The best memories are always when I was doing or seeing something new.
Lesson Three: Give Yourself a Lazy Day
Even Mowgli likes to curl up in the living room all day from time to time. One of the hardest things about the first weeks was a very strong dose of FOMO (fear of missing out). As much as I tried to say yes to new opportunities, I’m not always in a social mood. Nor did I always want to do the half hour commute to the center of town from my house in the rain at nine pm. It made me feel guilty sometimes to say no to things and feel like I was missing out on important memories. I think one of the biggest misconceptions I had going into this semester was that I could change myself. That I could go out on weeknights or go clubbing every weekend because that’s what college students do in Europe and I would enjoy being a very extroverted person. But the truth is, even in France, I’m the same person. And that person sometimes needs to lie in bed and read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and go to bed at 10:30. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’ve tried to strike a balance between making the most of every day, and listening to myself when I need to stay home.
Lesson Four: Learn New Things
Mowgli is a very intelligent dog. On command, he can sit, lie down, shake (both paws, you can tell him right or left) and not eat a treat you place on his paw. It was so satisfying for me to learn all the words in French to get him to do those things. My host parents don’t really speak English, and so every mealtime (we get five dinners a week and every breakfast with them) it’s all French, all the time. While I don’t understand everything, I have tried to ask when I don’t know a word, and they are very patient and kind with my lapses or a phrase I pronounce in a very strong accent. I’ll talk more about the academics in a future blog post as well, but for now suffice it to say that there is so much learning going on, even just in daily life. It’s really satisfying to feel like my accent is improving, or to realize that I just understood a six year old’s rambling story about a trip to a museum (my host parents grand-kids are visiting this week).
There’s so much more to say about my experiences in Nantes, and I’m really looking forward to sharing future posts. For now, I’ll leave you with a few more pictures of some of the trips we did over the first couple weeks through IES: