Summer Study Abroad in France

What?:

I spent this past summer in Montpellier, France. It is a large city located in the south of France. It was absolutely beautiful. I spent 6 weeks staying with a host family and taking courses at the University of Montpellier III Paul Valery. My host family was very welcoming. I had heard some horror stories so I was pretty nervous about meeting them. They spoke English well which was helpful if things ever got too confusing, but usually they only spoke in France. This was a combined trip with students from the University of Minnesota and Nebraska. The University of Minnesota has an office set up there. I took one culture class at their office and spent a lot of time hanging out there. There were 12 students in the program. They became some of my best friends in such a short time. Each one of them was so unique and we meshed so well together during the trip. I also took a language class at Paul Valery. One of the best parts of the trip was our teacher, Paul. He was the most enthusiastic and down to earth teacher I have ever had. He was willing to talk to us about anything and really helped us learn the ins and outs of French culture. He made the adjustment very easy. Classes were a bit challenging. Everything was in French, which was very difficult at first. Outside of classes we spent out afternoons at the beach, exploring the town, going to art museum, and playing French card games. The French night life was also fun. One of my favorite events was a wine festival that was set up in the comedy of town. For 5 euros you got a wine glass and tickets to sample wine. They also had many food vendors and merchant stands. We had a few excursions to Paris, Nimes, and other local sites. The Paris trip was especially interesting because the transportation workers were on strike. The trains were packed and all the schedules were changed but we managed. It is a common thing in French culture. The absolute best part was the food. I couldn’t pick a favorite. I ate so much bread and chocolate. Everything was phenomenal.

So What?:

My French improved so much in such a short time! The first day with my host family, my host mom told me that it would be difficult. I shouldn’t expect to understand much the first week but it gets better. It did thankfully. The first night I went out with my host brothers and met their friends. I was really overwhelmed. The all spoke fast and used a lot of slang that I had never heard before. This was a major issue I often dealt with. I knew how to carry on formal conversations about vocabulary words that I had previously learned but there were major gaps. I also got very hung up if I couldn’t remember a key word. The night ended up going okay because they were just happy that I was trying. They also wanted to test out their English skills, which were equally as bad. I felt a little behind at the start of classes because most of the other students were French majors and had taken a lot more French courses previously. One of my favorite memories was being in class one day and I just understood what my teacher was saying. Usually I would think through the words in my head and be consciously translating.

After the classes were over, I met up with and travelled around Europe with one of my friends. I spent one night in London alone. Typically I dislike being alone and I’m not very social. I wasn’t that nervous though. I had grown so much from my previous experiences and felt more independent. I had spent a lot more time on my own than I ever had before, especially while using public transportation. I remember being nervous about taking the tube from the airport and finding my hotel. Then I realized how silly this was because everything would be in ENGLISH. After spending so much time trying to figure out a new place while not being sure of if I was saying what I was supposed to or understanding things completely, talking to strangers in English seemed so easy. I gained a new sense of confidence. During one of my last nights in Paris, my friend and I were watching a live music show at Montmartre. A boy came up and started talking to my friend who does not speak any French. She directed him to me. We talked for about a half hour about random things. After he left my friend was like “woah that was so cool but I didn’t understand anything.” I thought I was saying such simple things and that anyone could understand somewhat of what we were talking about. It was the perfect end to my trip.

Now What?:

I learned more from one summer than I think I have my entire education. The most important lesson was just to go for it. There are so many things out there that seem scary but they may also be great opportunities. Before getting on my flight I remember thinking I really have no clue what is about to happen. All I knew was I was getting on a plane to France where I would hopefully meet up with the other students. I normally have many expectations for everything but for once in my life I had very few. It turned out better than I could have ever imagined. Speaking also had made me nervous, but it was another thing I just had to try. I know I sounded ridiculous so many times but it is the only way to learn. My host family would always correct me, and occasionally laugh at me. I was embarrassed at first but then I put myself in their place. If someone said something like “in America we put condoms in our food”, which one of my friends accidentally said , I think I’d laugh too. Also if I said something really wrong once, it would encourage me to learn the right way. I have such a strong desire to continue learning French. I was amazed by how many Europeans could speak multiple languages. I wished I had had the opportunity to start learning sooner.

This trip also made me so thankful for all of the wonderful learning opportunities I had. I am so fortunate to have had this experience. I had a bit of difficulty transitioning back into my life at home after returning. I just had to remind myself that not everyone has had the chances to do what I have done and that there would be things I couldn’t explain. It made me more aware of the importance of education, global perspective and open mindedness. I will  continue to expand my global mindedness and more understanding of others. After seeing a different culture, I’ve come to see that there are many ways of doing certain things, and both can be right.

I will continue to pursue my education. I did a final project for my culture class on poverty and medicine in France and francophone areas. I finally saw the link of how French would affect my life. I have a strong desire to do medical work in either Haiti or Africa. Both of these have strong French speaking populations. I would also love to work with the French organization Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). This experience has given me a solid foundation in French language and world travel that will be beneficial for my future.

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Watching the world cup games with out French assistant Guillaume.

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Colosseum in Nîmes

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Pont du Gare

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Cafe des Chats

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Bamboo forest

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La plage

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