Sore Legs, Full Stomach: Some Insight into My Daily Life in Nantes

A month has already gone by, which I seriously can’t believe. I’ve started to get into a routine here, and things have stopped feeling quite so new and unfamiliar (though I still encounter something new every day— today, I learned that when the public transit system is on strike, you may have to bodycheck people to get off of the overcrowded tram).

Here’s a little sneak-peek into some aspects of my daily life for those who are interested:

My Routine:

Every morning I take the bus to the IES center (or the tram if I’m going to the university), which is in a super cute part of Nantes (we’re right next to a beautiful garden that I sometimes take naps in inbetween classes). There are 33 other students in total at the center who are from lots of different colleges in the U.S., and a bunch of really friendly and helpful IES staff and professors!

Cours Cambronne, a park close to IES. Picture was taken post-nap!

A view of Nantes from Le Tour de Bretagne (the tallest building in Nantes)!

Classes:

Classes I’m taking at IES:
-French 451— just a general French class where we talk about different topics and discuss current events (pretty much everyone at IES has to take a French class here)!

-Art history— really excited to be taking this class in France! I got to see some of the paintings we’ve studied at the Louvre in Paris, which was soo cool. The scientist in me has trouble getting past just stating objective facts in favor of an analysis (examples of things I said in my last analysis of a painting: This painting is dark. This painting is religious. This painting has lots of people in it.) but I’m getting there.

One of the paintings we learned about in art history, in the Louvre (painting by Valentin de Boulogne)!

-Politics of the European Union— very interesting!! so far, this class has taught me that I know absolutely nothing about the European Union (oops) and that all acronyms in French are the backwards version of those we use in the US. Examples: the EU is UE in French, NATO is OTAN, the UN is ONU, etc…

-A teaching internship— I’ll be teaching English in either a French elementary, middle, or high school. I haven’t gotten to start teaching quite yet, so stay tuned for that, but I’m super excited!

Classes I’m taking at the Université de Nantes:

-A sociology class— A general introductory sociology course that I find very interesting! We’re going to talk about sociology of families, how people are socialized, and just societal patterns in general. At times I panic because I’m not able to understand things that the professor is saying, but I still think it’ll be a really good class. BUT, this class is held in possibly the world’s hottest room. It’s a lecture hall that holds classes of around 100 people with no AC and no opening windows, so when you walk in the heat and stale smell of BO just slaps you right in the face. People brought fans to the lecture— no joke.

One thing I find interesting about university classes is that the relationship between professors and students is very different— at home, my professors are readily available for help and it seems like they genuinely care about my learning. They share details about their personal lives; I’ve eaten dinner at a professor’s house before and another brought her kids in to class one day. Here, in France, professors are a lot more distant from their students. The relationship is a lot more impersonal and I think French professors tend to be stricter with their students as well. Not to say that they’re cold, because that isn’t the case, but it’s just a very different relationship than what I experience at home!

Food:

Bread. So much. After every meal, the French take a piece of bread and use it to wipe their plate clean. I think I’ve probably been averaging a baguette a day here (in addition to lots of other bread products!!) and quite honestly, while a lot of stereotypes about French people (like that they wear berets) aren’t true, that stereotype that French people walk around with a baguette in hand does have some truth to it. But who can blame them when there’s so many good boulangeries and pâtisseries around town? My host family also eats a lot of goat cheese (chèvre) and yogurt (yaourt). My host brothers love trying to get me to ask for a yogurt because I have so much trouble saying the word “yaourt!”

Some choux pastries at a boulangerie called Emma. *swoons*

Weekend Plans:

I’m hoping that during the weekends I’ll be able to travel a lot!! IES plans a lot of awesome excursions (most are day trips) during the weekends. A few weekends ago, my program went to Clisson together, a cute little town that’s about an hour away from Nantes. This past weekend, a few friends and I went to Paris!! (For anyone who wants to see more pictures, I put them in a separate tab so I’m not spamming everyone).

A few random travel tips I want to share:

  1. In Paris, you can basically get into most museums and monuments for free if you’re under 25 years old and are a resident in the EU–this means that if you’re studying abroad in an EU-member country and can provide a copy of your student visa (I didn’t even bring my actual passport), then you can get into a bunch of places for free, plus you can avoid all those long ticket lines. The Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie, l’Arc de Triomphe, all free. A poor college student’s dream.
  2. The Paris metro system is super!! easy to navigate. If you’re in the city for a weekend and buy a 2 or 3 day visitors pass in one of the metro stations, you can take as many metro lines and public buses and you want with your ticket (just be prepared to take off your jacket because wow does it get muggy down there).

The view from our Paris airbnb–can’t believe that some people get to wake up to this every day!

Ciao!

Anna “still trying to stretch out my sore legs from climbing so many stairs in Paris” Yoshida

Le début: getting lost, eating bread, and having fun

Five days in and I’ve already taken the wrong bus, gotten lost on the way home, and told a man I’m a SIM card. As you might be able to guess, study abroad has already been a learning experience for me.

However, mistakes aside, this first week in Nantes has been incredible. The city is absolutely stunning, and my host family has 6 kids (5 of which are living in the house with me now and 2 of which will be living with me for the entirety of the semester), which makes for some very lively dinner conversations and lots of activity going on in the house. During meals sometimes I feel like I’m watching a tennis match because I’m continuously switching between looking from one person to another as they have a rapid conversation! It can definitely be hard to understand my family sometimes or communicate what I want to say, but they’re very patient and I already feel like my French is improving. Being here definitely makes me miss my own family, but I love that French families make a point of eating meals all together (and taking their time, as well–at home my brother is done eating in 10 minutes, whereas my host brother and I were at the dinner table last night for 2 hours!).

This weekend IES (my study abroad program) took us on a retreat to Vannes and the Gulf of Morbihan, which are a few hours away from Nantes. Both places were so beautiful, with lots of old churches and buildings. The trip made me realize that somehow most people can tell that myself and my classmates are Americans–whether it’s the way that we dress, our accents, or something else. Lots of people have said things in English to me as I’ve passed by them, even if I haven’t spoken a word.

Rochefort-en-Terre, a city near Vannes. Fun fact: all of the old houses (like the one on the right) are painted different colors so that locals in the olden days could easily distinguish and communicate which was which.

A castle in Vannes!

One night at dinner this week, my host family asked me why Americans eat turkey for Thanksgiving. I thought for a second, flattened my lips into an ashamed smile, and responded that I didn’t actually know why. One of my host brothers said to me*, “We don’t think a lot about the meanings behind our own culture and traditions because it’s just something we’re accustomed to doing out of habit. When you study another culture besides your own, that’s when you ask that question of why traditions and behaviors are the way that they are.”

I’ve read before that when you encounter something in a foreign culture that you don’t like or that seems strange to you, you should try to determine the root cause or reason behind that behavior or tradition–because if you understand the “why” behind actions, you can start to accept and see them in a different light.

Hopefully this semester I’ll be able to ask lots of “whys” about both French culture and my own.

(and hopefully also take the right buses)

À bientôt!

Anna

Me in Rochefort-en-Terre!

*in French (so don’t quote me on this)