Name: Yiren Shen
Location of Study: France
Program of Study:
Sponsor(s): Bob Greco
Name: Yiren Shen
Name: Yiren Shen
Location of Study: France
Program of Study:
Sponsor(s): Bob Greco
My first day to Paris went not as smooth as I had hoped. In the beginning, the flight that I had booked was full, so I had to change to another plane. Instead of flying directly from Detroit to Paris according to the original plan, I now need to make a connection in Frankfurt in order to get the the city. Since I arrived at Paris with a big suitcase (I will go back to China after my study in France), the journey to my hotel became especailly tough for me. Through the Internet I had already learned in advance that the hotel that the school reserved for me was very hard to find, and now through my experience I proved that this piece of information cannot be more correct. The metro line in Paris is very complicated, so for one time I nearly got lost trying to transfer from one line to the other. I asked the person in the information center for the way in French, obviously the person understood me very well, and replied me with a very detailed description. However, the problem is that I cannot understand what he was saying except for a few words like “droite” and “gauche”! In the end he seemed te be amused by our awkward communication, so he laughed and gave me a map. Half by French and half by gestures, I finally knew the way to take the metro in order to get to La Défence, where my hotel is located.
Yet, not for long I encountered another difficulty: as I struggled through the metro station, I soon found that there was no elevator inside. The only way for me to get out of the station was to climbing up the stairs along with my large heavy suitcase, which seemed to be a “mission impossible.” Fortunately, Parisians are really friendly and some of them offered to help me with my baggage. Although sometimes I could not fully understand what they are talking to me, I am extremely thankful to their warm help.
After a two-hour wandering in La Défense, I eventually found the hotel, exhausted and tired. The staff in the hotel were very patient when I asked them about the information of the surrounding environment and the transportation. I was delighted that for this time I could understand most of their sentences and also that I could now speak French more fluently. Since my class will begin the next day in the morning, I had to go to bed early. Although the first day in Paris surely had worn me out, I was nonetheless excited about my stay here – after all, for the next one month, it will not be necessary for me to travel with my big luggage!
First day of class! I set out early in the morning in case that I could not find the right way to school. Perhaps because I had a good sleep last night, today everything became way more easy. Although it is a long way from the hotel to the school, what one simply has to do is to take the metro and transfer once to reach the destination. Without much effort, I arrived in front of the building of Alliance Française even before its opening time. As soon as the staff entered the office, I got my student ID at the reception desk and started my languaged learning at the level of B2.
This is a class of diverse background. I met another Chinese girl who had been staying in Paris for about a year and decided to study management here. There is also a lovely Japanese girl, who is smiling all the time and is always so eager to help others. A woman called Carlo is from Canada; she is very talkative and while speaking with her, I felt that my own passion of speaking French were brought out. Of course, the majority of the class are from European countries. Bruno, a Portuguese, is extremely outgoing, and we chatted (of course in French) a lot about sports, especially soccer, an interest shared by two of us. Marco, like me, is a new student in the class from Italy. He seems to be quiet at first, but later we find out that he is really funny. There are a couple of girls from Switzerland and Germany, and an humorous Italian man who looks a lot older than us. Obviously, since none of us is capable of understanding the mother languages of all people, we HAVE to speak French if we want to communicate with one another – this is indeed an effective way to improve our oral skills!
Our teacher, Lucie, is a kind French woman with a soft voice. In the beginning of the class she played a beautiful French song and then summarizes the grammar points and the uses of the words in the lyrics, which is very interesting and helpful, as we are all passionate about music. Today’s discussion topic is “art and artists,” and we are separated in groups to talk about this issue. Only until now did I realize how insufficient my oral French is. This awareness happened not only because I started to feel difficulties in expressing my ideas, but also for the reason that other classmates spoke much more fluently than I did. Though it seemed that I did better in things like grammar than they did, they could nonetheless choose the right words for talking naturally since their mother language are more or less similar to French. Also, most of them could understand the jokes of Lucie very well as she was sharing her life experiences, which made me a little awkward since for some time I could not “comprendre” anything she was saying! It was just curious that I could hear each words so clearly, but not able to understand the whole sentence. Fortunately, my new friends were all very nice and helped to explain most of the contents.
In the afternoon I went to the supermarket to buy some fruits and it is another new experience. When I collected all that I wanted to buy and was about to weigh them, I found that on the board above the balance there are a series of buttons representing different kinds of fruits that one ought to press in order to weigh the pounds. Without doubt, all the names of the fruits are written in French! Thus, I spent a relatively long time trying to figure out what my fruits were called so as to finish my shopping. Although in this day I became fully aware of my insufficiency in French, I felt happy for myself since I found my problem and am on the way of solving it. There is still plenty of time for that, and I am looking forward to seeing my improvement.
Taking class with a group of students of diverse background is certainly a most enjoyable experience, and, of course, since everyone speaks a different language, we are forced to communicate with each other in French even during the break – another excellent opportunity to improve the speaking skill. It is rather hilarious to see all of us stammering French words in weired accent and gesturing all the time to say things that we are not able to express by right phrases. Nonetheless, we manage to make ourselves understood in most of our conversation, which covers a wide range of topics such as the education systems, sports, and cultural features of various countries. We even teach each other how to salute and say goodbye in everyone’s own mother languages, which, when put into practice when the class ends, becomes extremely funny.
Since some students will finish their course this week, on Friday we hold a little farewell party for them. Though it rains heavily, our enthusiasm is unaffected when we arrived at the open air market to choose food for the party. Jiami, a chinese student with whom I am acquainted through the class, bought very delicious chicken legs, while our teacher Lucie takes us to a stand selling various kinds of cheese so that we can learn each of their names and tastes. Of course, a French meal cannot be without wines, so a couple of guys are in charge of bringing some alcohol. To be honest, I never find drinking wines a pleasure, but others obviously enjoys taking a sips or two while eating. However, those cheese are delicious, and I indeed have a good time chatting with these new friends that I have made!
Studying French in Paris provides me with a good chance of visiting abundant cultural heritages, but it turns out that the unpredictable weather of the city will reduce this pleasure from time to time. My visit to Eiffel Tower is exactly such an example. As soon as I reached the bottom of the tower, it began to rain. However, the heavily pouring rain does not cut down the length of the queue as many people were still waiting in lines like I was to buy the tickets for going up. Yet this long-time waiting is nothing at all when comparing to the temperature up on the tower: it was freezing! My fingers went numb every time I tried to take a photo, and my teeth could not stop chattering – really, one would think that it was still winter here. What consoled me was that the scenery was as clear as usual despite the rain, and even more beautiful when looking from the top of the tower. The tower itself does not lose its magnificence in the bad weather, either. Overall, this tour is worth the price of me catching a cold later on.
In the weekends I sometimes go to suburban areas like Fountainebleau and Versailles. The trips to these renowned palaces are my favorite experiences. I am always fascinated by the vicissitudes of French royal families and their roles in interacting with French people. In the tour, I learned much about the life of the Bourbons and of the Napoleons. Also, it was most delightful to take a walk at the huge royal gardens surrounding the palace – I feeled that I could sit on the grass and watch the canal water flow for a whole day to relax myself. As for the weather, it seems that I can have good luck once in a while. The day that I wen to Fountanebleau is terrific, and, although it was a little gloomy on the day that I went to Versailles, it did not begin to rain until both of my feet had stood on the train going back home.
As the course proceeds, I finally move from the B2 level to the C1 level class. In the meantime, we took an exam in order to test our command of the language being studied. It was quite clear that I did relatively well in the grammar part, but listening is still my weakness. Despite this awareness, I could feel that I am improving, since now I could gradually keep up with some very fast sentences. After entering C1 class, everyone in the classroom can tell that the content taught by the teacher is much much harder than the previous level. We started by listening to a scene in L’avare by Moliere; this time, even the best of us could not grasp the basic meaning of the text until he listened to it for three times. In spite of the difficulties that we encountered, the class is getting more and more interesting as we began to have more new topics to discuss.
It must be very fortunate to be study in France. Every afternoon after my class, I would go to various sites in Paris for sightseeing, and, just by showing the staff a student ID, I could almost enter all historical or cultural heritages “gratuitement,” that is, for free. This special treatment allowed me to spend several afternoons in Louvre, which is truly a visual feast for someone (like me) who appreciates the history and the development of art. Most interestingly, when I stopped to look at some egyptian ornaments an Italian old man came by and started talking with me. At first I was quite on guard since he was a stranger, but later I found that he is an extremely friendly person who also speaks brilliant French. We chatted a lot (in French, of course) about art and, as soon as he knew that my interest lies in the field of the middle ages and Renaissance art, he guided me through a few galleries depicting the time of Henry IV. This is surely the most unexpected surprise of the day, from which I not only learned more about a certain period of history, but also enhanced my French communication skills!
It is so hard to believe that my stay in Paris is over. This is the last day of class, and, as the tradition goes, a party is held for those who have finished their study here. Everyone brings a typical dish in their countries: I bring dumplings; the belgian girl brings a large basket of chocolate that she has just made by herself; one of my german friends brings a special kind of macaroni that I do not know the name, and my newly acquainted Japanese friend Kami brings Sushi, which are so delicious that we quickly consumed them. In the end, some girls even cried for having to depart from each other. Though only in a brief period of time, we have already established a strong bond among ourselves through communication and understanding.
Unlike other travel experiences, this stay in Paris also allows me to explore a single city most profoundly. I have had plenty of time to observe the life of French people, whenever and wherever, as well as learning the history and the development of this area by examining every single site where ordinary tourists won’t have opportunity to search for. Besides these unforgettable visits and the abundant exposure to French culture in class, every day I receive surprises that I have never thought before. I did not think of meeting my high school friend here, but somehow, she took a train from Compiegne to greet me, and I was there, sitting in a small cafe, hearing her talk about French cuisine, and how she made adjustment to adapt herself to a French environment. I did not even notice before coming to Paris that French Open took place at the time of my study here. Yet I managed to buy a ticket for Roland Garros, cheering in the match where Federer versus Tsonga. Although it was tough for me to see Roger lose with my own eyes, but the fervent atmosphere and the passionate way that the French audience cheered for their own players moved me so much that everything else became minor. I used to think that French are extremely proud and haughty, but much to my astonishment, I received help from numerous strangers and was welcomed here in the most pleasant way. As I get onto the train for leaving Paris, I take away with myself not only a bunch of newly learned grammars and idiomatic expressions, but also a deep friendship and respect for that rich culture.