Host Families in Nantes

Being home now, it is of course wonderful to spend time with my parents and sister. But when I reflect on my time in Nantes, I’m finding that my host family is one of the things I’m missing the most. IES Nantes is a full immersion program, meaning that everything is “En francais, s’il vous plait!” Classes, outings, events, any time spent in the IES building itself, and of course, time with the host family. Going into the semester, it was one of the things I was most nervous about. I felt like my language abilities were not strong enough to get thrown into the deep end like this, and I was worried communication with the real life “Nantais” would be full of forgotten words and extravagant gesturing to get my point across.

On arrival, after crazy days of barely caught flights and lost luggage, I was in an even worse mental state. My host parents were late picking me up from the IES center, I hadn’t been able to eat all day, and I was completely jet lagged. Not the best circumstance to try to make a good first impression. But I was wonderfully surprised at the compassion, understanding, and kindness of my host parents. I lived with a retired couple and their dog who had started taking American students back when their youngest daughter still lived at home. They spoke slowly for me, always checking in if I understood the more obscure subjects, and were generally supportive and complementary about my language skills. My confidence shot up in the first week, and from what I heard from my new friends there, everyone was having a similar experience. We were all more capable than we thought when it came to managing a foreign language, and when we weren’t the host families were always very understanding. My host parents didn’t really speak any English, but they kept an English-French dictionary near the table so we could bridge the gap when needed.

In terms of daily life with the host families, we settled into a routine fairly quickly. As determined by the program, we were provided with breakfast every day and dinners five nights a week. My host parents also invited me to several lunches when I was around on the weekends. My host mom was an amazing chef, both of traditional French foods (galette: see savory crepe with egg, ham and cheese) and other cuisines (she made a delicious curry and fried rice). Dinners were much later there than I was used to back home, generally in between 8 and 9 pm. They also had more courses than I was used to; the first couple weeks I would stuff myself on soup and salad and then she’d bring out a giant quiche and then some bread and cheese and then offer desert…it took some practice to not overeat. This meant that meals were a little longer and had lots of time for conversation. Of course, this varied from host family to host family, as my friends who lived with small children had a less leisurely experience.

I also got a chance to live with some French kiddos for a bit…their grandchildren stayed with us for a couple weeks right near the end of my time there. Understanding French spoken by a rambling six-year-old is definitely a whole different ballpark. In general though, I found their energy a fun addition to the house, and a great way to improve my language skills. If you get a chance, I recommend talking to kids in whatever language you’re learning.  At the end of this post, check out the adorable picture of the six-year-old trying to share his umbrella with Mowgli when we went for a walk in the rain.

I think really what I want to get across with this post is don’t worry about the host families. Almost all of them have years of experience with hosting IES students and we’re in high demand (every semester there’s many more families wanting students than there are students). They are patient and understanding with the language, and if something isn’t working, IES is very available to help with uncomfortable situations and even with changing families. I’ve found myself missing them a lot in the past few weeks, and I look forward to a connection with them that will hopefully include me going back for a visit at some point in the coming years.


It feels odd to be writing this from my bedroom in Bend, Oregon. I have been home for almost a week and a half, and there are still so many conflicting emotions. There is a definite sense of living through history, and a much stronger sense of complete chaos and surrealism. With this post, I’m going to write briefly about coming home, but this isn’t my last post. There’s still a lot I want to talk about from the two months I was lucky enough to have in France and classes are still continuing online, so look forward to more from me in the next month or so.

Travelling across the world as the crisis of this pandemic really started to kick in was a bizarre experience. In the span of twenty four hours, I went from “everything is fine” to “some schools want people to go home” to “every school wants everyone to come home” to “do I actually have to come home?” to “yes I definitely have to go home” to this midnight phone call with my mother: “We have a plane ticket for you out of Paris tomorrow at one, you need to pack up everything tonight and get on a train at 5:45 in the morning.” Complete insanity. I feel so grateful that I was able to get home as quickly as I did, you may recall that the President announced that all travel from Europe would be restricted to US citizens and would have to go through select airports starting that Saturday. I was home Friday night. However, it was a heartbreaking goodbye. I didn’t get to say goodbye to any of my friends (although group Facetime calls have ensured those connections continue in our respective quarantines) and I had only a couple of minutes to say goodbye to my host parents and Mowgli, an unceremonious end to relationships that deserved more.

The program was suspended and now everyone is home. They have ensured our credits with slightly altered classes and expectations and online courses have started up for real in the past few days. Like the rest of world, I am taking everything day by day, and feeling grateful to have made it halfway across the globe to be in quarantine in the more stable and safer environment of my house. Plus I got to see my dogs a bit earlier than planned, which is a definite bonus.

From the emails I have exchanged with my host parents, it seems like France is in lockdown. They’re confined to the house, but every evening they go out on their balcony and applaud the healthcare workers, which I think is absolutely beautiful. It will be difficult to write about my experiences there after they were cut short so brutally, but there’s more I want to share and I’m looking forward to reminiscing in my future posts. For now, all I can say is merci for the half of a semester I got to spend learning my favorite language in a beautiful city on the other side of the world.


P.S. For the sake of something uplifting in these wild days, enjoy these pictures of my dogs (they are quite happy to have me home).

Top Eight Places in Nantes for Somewhat Broke College Students

Alright, so as mentioned in my first post I’ve already been here a couple months and I have a ton to talk about. So today, in an effort to describe my new city and a bit of what life is like here, I’m going to share my top places in Nantes, France. This might be a bit long.

Some background before I begin: Nantes is a mid size city in the Pays de la Loire region of France, with a history of being a port town (although it’s about 45 minutes from the Atlantic) and the primary residence of the Dukes of Brittany before they joined with France. I chose to study here because it’s smaller size and general non-Paris-ness meant there is very little English spoken, and so the language immersion is much more impactful than it would be in a more touristy region. That being said, Nantes does still welcome plenty of tourists and several things on this list are the classic, tourist-oriented attractions of the city. I still highly recommend them, as they are a part of the Nantes experience and you will see plenty of locals enjoying them too! I would also like to note that everything on this list is within a 45 minute walk of each other, and the public transportation network here is amazing, bringing everything to a roughly 20 minute commute. The city is full of things to do, but not too overwhelming, which is perfect.


  1. Les Restaurants Universitaires

Okay, this isn’t really a tourist attraction. But still an excellent thing to know about for IES students. With your student card (which you get over orientation) you can go to the restaurants at the University of Nantes, which provide a huge cafeteria style meal for roughly €3.30. It’s an excellent deal for lunch, the food is surprisingly good, and there’s several different restaurants at the campuses all around the city. Check them out!


  1. L’Ile de Versailles

This charming Japanese garden just so happens to be located about ten minutes from my house (and a ten-minute tram ride from IES). Built on a man-made island in the center of the Erdre river, this is a beautiful, free park that’s an excellent spot to wander on a nice day when you’re craving a little greenery. Nantes is known as the blue and green city; there’s three main rivers and a ton of parks and natural spaces. In fact, one of the courses I’m taking at IES is on how Nantes won the European Green Capital award in 2013, and the environmental and biodiversifying practices they implement. Fun fact: every person in Nantes lives within 300 meters from a green space. So, if you like parks, rivers, and tons of birds and flowers, Nantes is a great place for you!


  1. Le Musée d’Arts de Nantes

Of course, Nantes has its cultural options as well. IES students can take classes at the school of Beaux-Arts, and they have a fairly impressive art museum as well. For just €10, you can buy an unlimited year long pass. It’s a good deal, a fun way to feel very European, and a great collection of modern and classic works. I don’t know that much about art, I have to admit, but I still bought the unlimited pass and I’ve already enjoyed wandering around the exhibits a couple of times now.


  1. Le Château des Ducs de Bretagne

There’s a castle. In the city. Fifteen minutes by foot from IES. It has a moat. Europe is awesome. There’s a Nantes History Museum within the castle that you have to pay to access, but you can walk along the walls and into sections of it for free, and it’s just a fun experience you can check out over and over. While you’re in the neighborhood, stop in the Nantes Cathedral, built in the 1400s and just beautiful.


  1. Les Machines de L’Ile

This is probably the most classic tourist attraction of the city. To get a sense of it, I just recommend looking it up. Here’s a couple of pictures I’ve taken there too. It’s quite unique.


  1. La Jardin des Plantes

The biggest and most famous garden in Nantes, again with free access. It’s beautiful and peaceful, it has a long history and a lot of funky, quirky elements that change with the seasons. There’s not too much more to say about it, but it’s a must do for any Nantes visitor.


  1. Your host family’s living room

For the sake of space, I’m saving all the wonderful things I have to say about life with a host family for another post. But I had to include this in the list. For one, living rooms are free. So big bonus there. But this is also where you’re more likely to have conversations with your host family. It’s where they’ll come in and give you a blanket and turn on the radio so you can hear some French reporting. It’s where the dog will come drop a toy in your lap. It’s probably where I’ve gotten the best exposure to the language and gotten to know my host parents the most. So make sure you spend some time there too!

  1. Le Nid

Every place I visit, I try to get a bird’s eye view. In Nantes, they took this pretty literally, with the bar “Le Nid” or “The Nest”. It’s at the top of the Tour Bretagne, Nantes’ lone, kind of ugly skyscraper in the middle of the city center. They took the nest theme to heart, as you might be able to tell from my pictures. But there’s a great 360 degree view of the city from up there, and it’s really fun to go up (for only €1!) and orient yourself, notice the differences between the older (1400s) and newer (1800s) neighborhoods of the city, try to spot your host parent’s house, and finally figure out where the Loire is relative to IES. I highly recommend.

In short, Nantes is a really cool city, with so many things to do (this list is really only the highlights, there’s a lot going on here), and an amazing place to study abroad!

Coming up in my next posts…host families, independent travel, classes, and more!

Lessons From a French Dog

Meet Mowgli:

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: