Monthly Archives: December 2018

Au Revoir

(side note: I made a video compilation of all of my clips from the trip and if you’re interested, you can click here and watch it to see a little sneak peek into what my life was like!)

PSA: prepare yourself, because I’m quite a sap and I’m also quite sad about leaving this wonderful country so this post might get a little sentimental or clichéd—bear with me if you will.

Firstly: au revoir, which is how the French say goodbye, directly translates into something like “until we see each other again” (voir=to see, thus revoir=to resee). I’ve always liked this because I’m a nostalgic sap and have a really hard time saying goodbye to things (one of the many reasons why I have 5 huge boxes filled with “memories” under my bed at home, which are really just a bunch of random old tickets and scraps of paper), and I prefer to say “see you soon!” in English rather than “goodbye!”

So I’ll say au revoir to France, and to Nantes, a place that I’ve completely fallen in love with. Sure, there are things that I won’t miss about it, but every country has its ups and downs (there are certainly things I didn’t miss about America when I came here. For one, have you ever noticed how loud Americans are?)

Now, I don’t want to speak for everyone, because I know that people on my program had very different experiences, but for some strange reason I feel like I really only had ups this semester. I just read a letter that I wrote to myself at the beginning of the semester where I described all of my fears (being pickpocketed, disliking my host family, etc.) and was almost surprised to see that none of them came true. Sure, I had struggles, and times when I missed things from home, but I’ve found myself almost uncannily happy here. “What has made your semester so great, Anna?” you ask. Well I’ll tell you.

First and foremost: my host family (and the fact that I chose to do a homestay). One of the most generous groups of people I know. To be able to welcome a complete stranger into your life (and for them, dozens and dozens, because they have a host student about every semester) and to be able to give them an authentic, amazing experience, on top of already having 6 kids, is no small feat! Leaving them might’ve been the hardest part of going—I seriously felt like I was leaving my second family behind (and my host mom didn’t want to let me go at the train station because I kept crying!).

My friends at IES: because I didn’t make a lot of French friends, but I sure did make some really great American ones, who don’t mind listening to me when I ramble about how much I love French because they all feel the same way! In general, there were only 30 students on this program this semester and we all got really close. Everyone was really nice (like, seriously. There was not a single person I didn’t like.) and I think that really helped make my experience what it was.

Me and some of my best friends inside La Cigale, which is a really famous restaurant in Nantes!

The IES staff, who are actually some of the nicest people I have ever met, and who helped us through the good and bad of our entire semester. They genuinely cared about each and every one of us.

Me, the other 32 wonderful students on this program, and some of the staff!

The actual city of Nantes. If you’ve never studied abroad/worked/done anything in France before, I’ll let you in on something you’ll encounter if you do: if you’re going anywhere in France but Paris, people at home still think you’re going to Paris. Sometimes even if you’ve reminded them multiple times (actually, I’m going to Nantes…). But let me tell you, boy am I glad that I did not study abroad in Paris, even though people at home inevitably probably still think I did. In my personal opinion: the Nantais are nicer than Parisiens, who to me sometimes seem grumpy and fed up with foreigners (which is fair so I can’t judge). Whether it’s for efficiency’s sake or just out of annoyance, Parisiens also will resort to speaking English with you if they can tell that you’re American. People in Nantes do that way less (like barely ever), so Nantes is a lot better for improving your French language skills (I think mine have made leaps and bounds!). Also, Paris might have a lot of must-see things like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre that Nantes doesn’t, but for that reason Nantes is a lot less touristy. Therefore, I think in Nantes you get a more authentic idea of French culture and it’s also a better, calmer city for living in (unless you’re super used to living in a place with tons of hustle and bustle!). Nantes is vibrant, full of activity, and now home to so many people that I care about!

The Christmas market in Nantes is amaazingg.

Picture taken about 2 mins away from IES–the center’s in a great location!

Boulangeries and the baguettes that they make. That is all. Anna’s love of bread continues (it is my personal opinion that if you have not tried a warm pain au chocolat from France it should be on your bucket list!!).

My study abroad experience has also given a new meaning to an old cliché: that the world is big and very different. There are multitudes of habits and customs here that are unfamiliar to me that I have had to recognize and adapt to, and France is just one foreign country of many! However, I think the beauty of this is that no matter how different your background is from someone else’s, people still find little ways to connect. For my host brother and I, it was electromagnetism, a physics concept. A student I teach in a French high school: a craving for a “pain au chocolat.” Then there are things that remind me of how small the world actually is: one of the professors I work with for my teaching internship was the French language assistant for Whitman many years ago and lived in the French House on campus. In short, I think I have come to realize that the world is very big and there are a lot of things I do not know about it, but that you can form a connection with practically anyone.

I would suggest that everyone try to travel, if not study abroad in a different country. But I know that traveling is a financial privilege that not everyone is fortunate enough to have. So I’d say try to question the things around you. What makes up your culture? Why do you do the things you do? Go out and find things that surprise you, that are completely new to you, that scare you.

I think often times when we encounter something new, which is the epitome of going abroad, we immediately notice what’s different. Thus, we try to find familiar things and cling to them to ground us, while judging the new aspects we don’t like.

It’s human nature to judge, I believe. The thing you can change is your awareness of these innate judgements (and where they stem from) and the humility to understand that with every situation and person, be it in your country or another, there’s something going on beneath the surface that you’re not seeing. Always. No two people are brought up the same way, with the same values. (And what you consider completely normal could appear totally “fou” to someone else.)

Be open: to others, to ideas, to changes within yourself.

I’m most definitely biased, but if you’re a potential student reading this blog trying to choose what study abroad program to do—do this one.

Bisous, et au revoir,


An icon.

Amaazing view of Nantes.

This Girl is on Fire: Part 2

**don’t worry, I haven’t had any new encounters with fire!!

As I write this, I can hear loud bangs in the distance (not really sure what they are, but sounds like people throwing or breaking stuff). These past few weeks in France have been absolutely crazy (today is the 4th Saturday that the gilets jaunes have been protesting). I already covered the protests of the gilet jaunes in my last blog post, “This Girl is on Fire,” but to be honest it feels like I need to give an update because the situation here has gotten kind of insane.

Tear gas everywhere: a characteristic of the last few weeks. Burned cars, broken store windows, a torn up Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Today, none of the dozens of buses or trams are running in the center of town because they don’t want to encounter the protests (there are three different ones in Nantes happening right now, as I sit at my desk and listen to the sounds). Sirens. All the time. Police officers with huge guns. Riot gear. Couldn’t get to my university class this week because one of the high schools near it decided to protest and set trash cans on fire. On top of that, no university classes all of Thursday. Or Friday. People in Nantes couldn’t buy alcohol of any kind yesterday, nor certain things that they could use to throw at police officers. The train company is striking, so us IES students might have trouble getting home to the US at the end of next week. In short, as one my IES friends said the other day, this country has “gone to ****!”

Nantes still bein’ pretty, despite the current situation.

My French professor told us that it might not seem like it now, but what we’re experiencing is history. We’re lucky to see it because it hasn’t happened on this scale for a decent amount of time, and it’ll be talked about for a long time to come. And it might be a bit far-fetched, but my art history professor compared the protests to the French Revolution (I scribbled what she said into the margins of my David notes so I could remember it for later). “Here in France,” she explained, “we’re proud of the fact that we can say no to everything and all of a sudden mobilize and get our voices across. Some of the gilet jaunes are calling for a total blockage of the whole country.”

Block everything indeed. While I haven’t been on the receiving end of many of the drawbacks that have come from this protest, and while I can watch it unfold from the perspective of a more withdrawn outsider who’s going to leave in just a week, it’s still unbelievable how much disruption that the gilet jaunes have been able to cause (it’s up to you to decide whether that’s a good or bad thing). As I said before, it certainly makes you question the importance of getting your opinions heard, and what the best way to do that is. I’m not convinced there’s a right or wrong answer.

It’s interesting to see how the culture differs here–I would never have imagined something like this unfolding in America, and I think manifestations are a lot more common in this country. This is a bit of an extreme case, but I think that people largely accept smaller-scaled protests as part of their lives. They just adapt and work around them when they do come up (whereas I think Americans would be a lot more aggravated!).

On the bright side, I’ve been a lot more successful in avoiding the protests than I was a few weekends ago, and honestly navigating tense situations like these just takes some awareness and smart planning. I’ve been reading lots of news! And some commutes have gotten longer and more complicated, but that’s life. Even if things seems like they’ve “gone to ****”, you can still eat your baguettes and go about your normal routine.

As classes wind down here, leaving is become more of a reality (unless my train is canceled and/or the airport is blocked by the protestors…). And even though sometimes it feels like I’m in a country plagued by chaos right now, I’d give anything to stay for just another week. The people, the culture, the language, the food, IES, the Christmas markets–I’m gonna miss all of it.

A Christmas ride in the middle of Place Graslin in Nantes, right before sunset! I’ll miss how festive everything is here.

Sooo I think Christmas markets are my new favorite thing…

À la prochaine fois!