Salut, tout le monde! I write this blog post from the apartment of my home-stay host Bernadette—a nurse who lives with two cats in the 2ème arrondissement of Paris. I’ve been in Paris since Saturday, September 7 after spending the previous two weeks in Bordeaux, France.
My study-abroad program left on August 24 for Paris, and after a three-hour layover in Charles De Gaulle airport, we continued on to Bordeaux. Twenty-one jet-lagged students from Vassar, Wesleyan, Swarthmore, and Tufts arrived in Bordeaux on Sunday morning. We’d been advised to start speaking French upon meeting at the airport in order to ease our transition into the French lifestyle, but with twenty-something students and no chaperone, this rule was hard to reinforce. It was pretty clear that no one was ready to start speaking only French quite yet.
When I finally arrived in Bordeaux and saw my host-mother—or as I affectionately called her, my host-grandmother—holding up un petit panneau (sign) with my name on it, the whole experience felt surreal. (Of course, it didn’t help that it was 5:00 a.m. back in the U.S.) The only conversation I was prepared to have with Madame Corre upon our first meeting in the airport were the stilted, curt responses I gave to her enthusiastic questions. I had a massive brain fart, constantly stumped for French words and phrases. That first car ride to Mme. Corre’s house and the consequent lunch I had with her, Monsieur Corre, and Steven—another home-stay guest from Switzerland—were the biggest moments of culture shock for me. I couldn’t believe that I was in France and completely immersed in the French language and culture. That is to say, I couldn’t believe that everything was French.
The next day, our study-abroad program began classes at Alliance Française, a program/school in Bordeaux that offers intensive French language courses and organizes home-stays, as well as various excursions and activities, for students of all ages and nationalities. During the two weeks we spent in Bordeaux, we had four-hour classes from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. five days a week. We spent the rest of our afternoons taking a cooking class, tasting wine (la dégustation du vin-Bordeaux is world-renowned for its wine), and taking a trip to Arcachon and Dune du Pyla, the largest sand dune in Europe.
Bordeaux is an absolutely wonderful city—the perfect place in which to ease into my upcoming semester in Paris. Every morning, Maria—a student from Spain who was also staying at Madame Corre’s house—and I would take a 40-minute walk to Alliance Français, during which we would cut through Parc Bordelais, a big park dating from the 19th century. Alliance was near Place Gambetta, a busy square in the center of Bordeaux and the meeting spot for most of our outings. If you walked down the boulevard from Place Gambetta, you would hit the river and the quay (quai in French) where you could walk along the Garonne River. Place de la Bourse, by the river, was beautiful when lit up at night.
After my time in Bordeaux, I’ve already formed some really great friendships. Doing so is easy when you have two weeks together to explore a quaint little city that has so much to offer. Even as I type this entry in Paris, where my four-month journey begins, I’m missing Bordeaux. It feels like I’ve been in France for longer than two-and-a-half weeks.
Even so, there are still some aspects of living in Europe that I have yet to get used to. For starters, the 24-hour clock. I can manage to tell the time until after 14:00 (2:00 p.m. by the 12 hour-clock), which is when I get confused. I find myself constantly having to subtract in my head just so that I can tell what time it is in terms that I can understand.
Truthfully, when I left for France, I wasn’t exactly sure why I chose to study in Paris. I’m not a French major, and even though I’ve taken French since the seventh grade, I hardly had a truly valid reason to choose to spend my junior semester abroad in France. So why the trouble?
I can’t say that I know for sure at this moment. All I know is that after two-and-a-half weeks, I get excited when I can say something really quickly without thinking, or without first direct-translating in my head what I want to say in English. At dinner, I have conversations in French with my Parisian host about feminism, Jane Austen, and Frida Kahlo. They’re brief and simple, but I can tell that my language skills are improving (especially after Bernadette complimented my French). I Skyped with my parents last week and had the strongest inclination, without even thinking, to respond to their questions in French. I might not know exactly why I chose Paris, but I’m loving the effects that my study abroad experience is having on me thus far.