Monthly Archives: February 2017

What’s my life like in Nantes? Here’s the rundown.

I looked up “rundown” before I posted this, and I found two definitions:

1: a play in baseball in which a base runner who is caught off base is chased by two or more opposing players who throw the ball from one to another in an attempt to tag the runner out
2: an item-by-item report or review : summary (Merriam-Webster)

Just to clarify, this rundown will have absolutely nothing to do with baseball.

My apologies to the sports fans.

So here’s the scoop.

My program: IES Abroad Nantes. There are 40(ish) people in my program this semester, from all over the U.S., and from different universities. I take some of my classes at the IES Abroad center, and others at the Université de Nantes (“à la fac” if you want to be cool).

Entrance to the IES Abroad Center (image from Google Maps)

Courses I’m taking at IES:

French 451 – a general French class where we learn French expressions and eat madeleines (seriously though- the professor brought some in last week!).

France and the European Union- just what it sounds like! Last week we learned that there’s no procedure to expel a country from the EU (though they can be sanctioned).

Teaching Internship- Through IES, I’m interning at a local middle school, where I work 4 hours a week as an English teaching assistant. During the teaching class at IES, we learn more about the French education system as well as about effective teaching strategies.

Courses I’m taking at the university:

Introduction to modern art (lecture class + discussion class)- this class has been my favorite by far! Really interesting, the professor is very passionate about the subject, and I’m learning more about the Sistine Chapel (la Chapelle Sixtine) and Michelangelo (Michel-Ange) than I’ve ever learned before. Currently scheming about hopping over to Rome for a weekend to see it all for myself (apparently there’s a Nantes-Rome flight!).

French culture and civilisation- OK, originally I thought this class was for foreign students, but now I think it’s more like a French-as-a-second-language class? Still slightly confused, all I know is that I am the only international student in the class! Though we do learn about French culture and civilisation, the professor likes to add his own opinions in as well, which makes for a very interesting lecture for this American. On Thursday he used Trump’s election as an example of what happens when the general public is not well-informed… which, as you can imagine, put me, as the only American in the class, squarely in the hot seat! But I’ll save the rest for another blog post.

Université de Nantes, by the student union (image from Ouest-France)

Université de Nantes, at my favorite dining hall (image from Ouest-France)

How I get around Nantes:

The bus! And the tram, to get to the university. I absolutely love how easy the public transportation is in Nantes. Even though I miss the bus on a pretty regular basis (not a new problem- I was always running to the bus in middle school and high school!), I really enjoy the bus and the tram. Each time, I get an inside look at Nantes, and an opportunity to listen to and observe the people around me: A woman with a baguette sticking out of her handbag, a girl with a small pink backpack, a big grey scarf around her neck, two elderly gentlemen talking enthusiastically about the weather….and me, the American who’s still trying to figure out how to put her scarf on without the tag showing!

My secret to bus stress: reading! Just have to make sure I look up every once in a while so I don’t miss my stop…

Where I’m living: In a homestay! I truly think this has been one of the best parts of my experience so far. My family has five (5!) kids, ages 12, 9, 7, plus twin 5-year-old girls! Back home, I’m the oldest of three kids as well as plenty of younger cousins, so I’ve been loving hanging out with my new siblings. To be honest, it can be hard to communicate sometimes (“Comment?” or “Come again?” has been one of my frequently used phrases), and I think I’m still finding my stride in terms of becoming part of a different family, with a different culture and a different family dynamic. At the same time,  I couldn’t imagine my experience in Nantes without it. The support from my host family, whether it’s a quick “Bonne journée!” as I dash out the door, or a cake and lunch for my birthday, is invaluable. My favorite moments are the little moments where it really feels like home, whether we’re all sitting around the table talking about our days, or reading books by the fireplace in the living room. It’s during these moments that I no longer feel like the American exchange student staying for a semester, but rather like a family member.

Morning view from chez moi


Then and Now: A look at my first day in France

A note to the reader: I’ve been keeping a travel journal since day 1 of my study abroad experience in Nantes, France, and I thought it would be fun to revisit some of my earlier entries and compare them with my experiences now. So here we go!

THEN: January 3rd, 2017. TGV from Paris to Nantes. 3:00pm.

First glimpse of the CDG Paris train station

OK, I’ll admit I was a little naïve with this one. IES Abroad (my study abroad program) had warned us that it was best to bring minimal luggage to go on the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, aka “very fast train”– the French really like acronyms). Hypothetically, I’m all about the minimalist packing approach- don’t pack more than you’ll need. However, despite my best efforts I ended up with 3 pieces of luggage: my backpack, my smaller grey leopard-print suitcase, and an obnoxiously large suitcase that will henceforth be called Big Red.

Now, I’ll admit that it was a little difficult getting through the airport with all this stuff, but it was manageable… until I reached the Paris train station.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, it’s that politeness will get you nowhere in a crowd of French people. I waited, and waited, and waited as the platform slowly emptied and everyone boarded the train. Part of my reluctance was due to having to haul two suitcases around, but the other part was due to the fact that my seat was on the second floor, and the only way to get to the second floor was (you guessed it!) by taking the stairs.

Already imagining my doom, I finally gripped my suitcases, said a prayer, and stepped onto the train. All I know is that God must have been listening, because I definitely could not have taken those suitcases up those stairs on my own (though I did invent a leap frog suitcase-carrying technique, which was slow and arduous… but necessary). Once I finally reached my floor, I found the last spot for Big Red, wedged him in there with the help of a very kind lady, and just like that, we were off.

A jet-lagged look out the window- I love the French countryside

NOW: February 8th, 2017. Nantes, 22h00.

It’s pretty funny to read that TGV story now, and think about how scared and bewildered I was just one month ago. As I listened to the French conversations around me and watched the outskirts of Paris whizz by, I felt like I was in some weird dream where I had decided to live in France for 4+ months, flew there by myself and hauled my luggage up the stairs of the TGV- seriously, did I really do that? For the first time in a long time, French was happening all around me, not just at school or the random French music on my Pandora station…I’m really in France! I had to keep reminding myself.

It’s not so hard to remind myself I’m in France now! I am surrounded by French wherever I go, which is any French major’s dream. In fact, I realized that I’m speaking about 99% French and 1% English on a daily basis, to the point where it feels weird to speak English. Never thought that would happen!

One clear reminder that I’m in France- the food! Une galette (savory crêpe) oeuf, jambon, fromage à la raclette (melted cheese)… YUM

There are moments, however, where I miss English. The ease of speaking it, the casual “yeah”. I do have some chances to speak English, the biggest one being my teaching internship, where I act as an English teaching assistant in a 7th grade classroom. It has been really fun so far, but even then I have to consciously tell myself not to speak French to the kids! The brain is truly fascinating in its ability to adapt, and I’m finally getting a taste of what it’s like to be truly bilingual. C’est cool!*

*Yes, the French really do say “cool”! Variations: C’est trop cool! (literally: “It’s too cool!”), c’est vachement cool!, etc.