Name: Randi McQueen
Location of Study: Tours, Loire Valley, France
Program of Study: Institut de Touraine
A brief personal bio:
Hello, my name is Randi, and I am currently a Freshman at Notre Dame living in Badin Hall. Go Bullfrogs! Originally, I am from Morristown, Indiana, a small rural town southeast of Indianapolis. I am an Architecture major and, I am pursuing a Supplementary Major in French. Outside of the classroom, I enjoy traveling, doing anything artistic, and playing with my Bernese Mountain dog, Keely, back at home. I began my French studies my Freshman year of high school, and I hope to become fluent so I can possibly work at a firm in France down the road.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
From the first day of French my freshman year of high school, I have been captivated by the elegance of the French language. I would fantasize about crossing the bridge to Mont St. Michel, and I could only dream of conversing with natives in cafés along the streets of Paris. I am eager to make this longtime dream a reality this summer.
I have always enjoyed the challenges of learning French, from pronunciation of slurred phrases to spelling words with mostly silent letters. This passion has inspired me to pursue a Supplementary Major in French, which will be particularly difficult to complete as an Architecture major.
My primary goal is to improve my spoken French significantly, so I will more confidently participate in future classes. I anticipate interacting with my host family and other natives while improving my own pronunciation, fluency, and comprehension. Additionally, I hope to deepen my comprehension of French literature and media. I am confident the Institut de Touraine will help me achieve these goals through its emphasis on spoken French and its extensive multimedia lab.
I hope to use my experience at Institut de Touraine to apply for another grant through the Nanovic Institute to do research on French architecture. I would also love to apply for the Palladio prize in architecture to do a summer internship in Paris. In the future, I can see myself working in France as an architect.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
On a broad spectrum, I hope to greatly improve my fluency and confidence when speaking French. In addition, I hope to improve my writing and oral comprehension. I believe that if I give my full effort and participate abundantly both in and out of the classroom, I can achieve these goals. Living with a host family in the city of Tours, where spoken French is commonplace, will put me in the ideal setting for improvement.
Furthermore, I am excited to take advantage of this opportunity of living in France for six weeks by visiting as many castles as I can in the Loire Valley. I plan on taking “beaucoup de photos” and sketches of the various castles, homes, monuments, and other town buildings in and around Tours. This experience will most definitely increase and diversify my experience in classical architecture.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to more consistently apply my knowledge of French grammatical structures, particularly verb tenses, to my conversational French.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to more fluently and accurately analyze and convey my opinion in topics such as literature, art, and architecture in French.
- At the end of the summer, I will feel more comfortable initiating conversation in French with native speakers and in the classroom for the remainder of my French coursework at Notre Dame and beyond college.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to improve my pronunciation by conversing with French natives and paying close attention to their accents while asking questions when necessary.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak, read, write, and listen at a level of proficiency one semester beyond my current French coursework placement at Notre Dame.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
Other than taking French classes, I believe it is equally important to take advantage of the cultural and interpersonal opportunities present in studying abroad. I plan on staying with a host family to deepen my level of immersion. I am confident this will significantly improve my French, as I will not be tempted to speak English if I were to stay in dorms or a hotel.
Additionally, I hope to get involved in some volunteer work in Tours. Getting to physically help and converse with even more countless natives through volunteering in the local community will be a priceless experience I will cherish.
I have intentionally scheduled my stay so I may celebrate Bastille Day in Tours. I look forward to attending festivals for the holiday with my host family. Bastille Day will be filled with French culture from cuisine to traditional customs and more.
Finally, by studying at Institut de Touraine, I will have the opportunity to go on excursions to Mont St. Michel and Paris. Within Tours, I will have the freedom to explore castles in Loire Valley. I anticipate spending most of my time free time discovering everything France has to offer by walking around town or venturing even further by bike.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
I can’t believe that I have already been in Tours for a whole week! My expectations have been exceeded these few days alone, and I can’t wait for what is to come the next five weeks. The architecture is beautiful, the food is amazing, and the people are friendly. However, within the first hour I was in France, I experienced an unfortunate, but key aspect of French politics- les grèves, or in Engish, “strikes.”
Upon arrival to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, my train to Tours was unfortunately canceled due to the train strikes. I had heard a little bit about these strikes before, but I was not expecting to run into any problems since I only had to take one train and I had purchased my ticket beforehand. I was mistaken! Instead, I took a cab from the airport to Montparnasse Train Station in Paris, where I had my first encounter with a native French speaker. I tried my best to communicate to him that I couldn’t afford him to drive me all the way to Tours, but it took him awhile to fully comprehend. Finally, mid-drive, we agreed that he would take me to Monparnasse.
At Montparnasse I had to speak with several employees before I caught the correct train to Tours. I was utterly confused because no one checked my ticket, and people weren’t sitting in their assigned seats at all. Apparently during the strikes, the rules of the trains change. It is very unorganized, but luckily there was an older French couple that took me under their wings. Finally, I got on a train that stopped at Saint Pierre des Corps in Tours. From Saint Pierre des Corps, my host mother, Claire Séchet, picked me up and drove me to her house, my new home for the next 6 weeks.
It has been quite a culture shock transitioning from English to French. Everyone and everything is written in French, and everyone speaks quickly. The first couple of days were the most difficult, but I am already a lot more comfortable speaking with my family, in class, and with vendors. Sometimes it is intimidating when someone catches you off-guard and blurts out French 100 miles per hour in your face, native accent and all, but I know that it will continue to become easier to understand the longer I live here.
Other than the culture shock of language-immersion, I have picked up on some other cultural differences between France and America. First of all, everyone seems to live more simply, and they are more concerned about the environment than us Americans who recklessly use fuel, water, and food. Food isn’t wasted, water is conserved during showers and when doing the laundry, and public transportation is abundant. The homes and apartments are small due to the limited space available and the high cost of living. This is quite opposite of American homes with large, open floor plans and huge backyards. I appreciate the simpler lifestyle here, and it makes me think twice before making new purchases.
Interestingly, after speaking with another French teen outside of my host family, I learned that French first names can determine social class or religion. For example, my host sister’s name is Domitille. According to Perrine, “Domitille” is a very proper Catholic name that most likely indicates she is of a higher social class. And sure enough, the family has Catholic relics in their home! I can’t think of any American names that I would associate with a religion or social class. Very interesting!
In addition, I have been blessed with a host mother who is an amazing cook! My first dinner included a quiche, pasta salad, cucumber and salmon salad, and chocolate cake. For breakfast, the children and I eat traditional French cuisine: baguette, brioche, cake, cereal, or yogurt with chocolat chaud (hot chocolate with milk), juice, or café du lait (coffee with milk). I have noticed the French love bread, cheese, eggs, and ham. It seems to be incorporated into an array of recipes in some way! I have had ham, cheese and egg pizza and galette (a savory style of crêpe). I have also had the pleasure of eating other traditional French food such as macaroons, crêpes with nutella, croque monsieur, and chocolate tarte. C’est délicieux!
I am excited to continue exploring the beautiful city of Tours from architecture to cuisine, and I can’t wait for many more adventures here in France. Every day I continue to improve!
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
I’ve experienced yet another successful and exciting week living in Tours! The food is still great, I am continuing to become more comfortable speaking with my family members, and class is getting a little bit easier to understand.
Monday I decided I would try to conquer French public transportation yet again for the first time after the train strike catastrophe. After studying map of bus lines in tours, I hopped onto two different buses to get to the swimming pool a few miles from my home in the southern part of Tours. I felt very out of place because I didn’t have a bus ticket like every other person. I tried asking a man how I should pay without one, but he couldn’t understand me. I did end up paying a couple more euros than I needed to, but I did make it to the swimming pool! However, it was closed for the week for a seasonal cleaning. Well I guess I figured out how the buses work so it wasn’t completely a waste.
Wednesday, I traveled outside of Tours for the first time since I’ve been living here the past two weeks. Fortunately for me, the Institut of Touraine offers weekly excursions to varies castles in the Loire Valley region of France. As an architecture major, I chose Tours as my language abroad destination partly due to the number of castles I could visit. We went to Blois, France, which is about an hour by bus. Chateau de Blois is actually 4 different buildings from separate centuries, but they are all connected. From the outside it just looks like one huge castle, but the different architectural styles are more obvious from the inner courtyard. We had a tour guide that explained everything to us from the history of the kings to the architectural history. At one point, she explained the progression of the orders of the columns on the classical building. They progressed from Doric to Ionic to Corinthian from bottom to top. I remember learning all about the classical orders in my second semester Analysis of Architectural Writings course so I especially appreciated that particular explanation.
Back at the house, my host mother’s friend from Germany came to visit for a few days and to pick up her daughter, who the Sechets were babysitting for the past few weeks. At one of the dinners, we had a discussion about the difference in drinking ages. In France and almost every other European country, the legal drinking age is 18. However, Germany is the only country where 16 year olds can legally purchase and drink alcohol. Claire explained to me that she lets her kids have wine at dinner on Sundays, even little Henri who is only about 10 years old. Although the legal drinking age is younger than America, I think that the European system is safer because most parents begin drinking with their children from a fairly young age. This way, when the kids reach their 18th birthday, they don’t go crazy and over indulge.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
It’s hard to believe that yet another week has passed, and I am officially halfway through my time here in Tours! Every day continues to bring new learning experiences, new challenges, and more fun.
Monday my class was canceled due to the influx of new students arriving for the month long course and who needed to be tested for placement. I decided that I would try exploring a new city since I had the entire day to myself. Angers seemed like a nice place since it’s only about 45 minutes away by train, and it’s where numerous Notre Dame French-studying students choose to study abroad for the semester.
At first I was pretty nervous to take on the trains yet again, especially after all the trouble I had getting to Tours with the strikes. I quickly found out that I couldn’t use my American credit card to purchase a ticket at the kiosks, so I had to wait in line at the main desk, which nearly caused me to miss my train!
Fortunately, I made my train to Angers just in time! Everything went so smoothly on my way there, and I felt so proud of myself for conquering yet another form of foreign public transportation. In Angers, I went to an art museum, walked around and took some pictures, and then I did some shopping. Overall, I would definitely recommend making the trip if you happen to be in the Loire Valley. It’s such a cool city, and it’s very similar to Tours.
This week I also decided to purchase a book in French to attempt to read. Earlier in my trip, I purchased an Albert Camus book, but I decided that I needed to start off with something a bit simpler to keep my interest, so I chose the French version of the American story “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” I haven’t read too much of it yet, but it does seem easier than the other book so far! My new goal is to finish reading the book in these final three weeks.
This week also marked the beginning of the “Monthly” course. In other words, this type of class contains morning, afternoon, and sometimes even evening classes with both oral and written practice. I am also taking a class on Monday’s, which is all about French civilization and culture. One of the main discussion topics for the week was “generation y,” or those born between 1990 and now. It was interesting to discuss all of the positives and negatives of technology and new forms of communication in today’s world. French class is so much more interesting when we get to discuss and debate topics such as this!
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Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future: