Name: Erin Thomassen
Location of Study: Tours, France
Program of Study: Institut de Touraine
A brief personal bio:
I am a freshman Program of Liberal Studies and French double major from a small town in Massachusetts. At Notre Dame, I have been able to pursue my passions for literature, history, and art inside and outside the classroom. As a member of both the University of Notre Dame Folk Choir and Dance and a writer for “The Observer,” the student newspaper, I have developed my skills in the performing and liberal arts. In my free time, I run around the lakes and play the guitar. Since I enjoy singing songs in French, I hope to get some recommendations from my host family this summer.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
As a French supplementary major who is interested in pursuing research at Notre Dame and in the professional realm, this program is an invaluable experience. The classes will help me perfect my phonetics and grammar, and the extracurricular opportunities will deepen my knowledge of French culture and history. This program will also largely prepare me to study abroad in Angers, since I aspire to take classes at the Université Catholique de l’Ouest (UCO) alongside native French speakers. In my senior year at Notre Dame, I plan on applying for a Fulbright grant to teach in France. This program will not only set me apart from my peers, but will also help me acquire the skills I will need to live and teach in France.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
During these six weeks, I will immerse myself in a month-long intensive French program followed by a two-week long program. At the end, I will take a test that will allow me to earn certificate from the Brevet Institute of French Studies. For 15 hours per week, I will take speaking, listening, writing, and reading classes. Two hours per week will be dedicated strictly to phonetics, and three hours will consist of literature and civilization classes. Since I learned French in an American school, I have not had as many opportunities to perfect my phonetics as much as my written grammar. Classes are limited to 15 students, ensuring that I will be able to fully participate and have individual attention.
In my senior year of high school, I took a French Literature and Civilization class, so I am eager to return to the world of Charles Martel and Chrétien de Troyes. Similar to the French course I am taking this semester, these classes will discuss both past and present French culture, providing me with a comprehensive francophone education.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
1. At the end of the summer, I will have learned to three more French songs to sing and play on the guitar.
2. By the end of my trip, I will be able to communicate confidently in French with native speakers about French literature and history.
3. During the course of my trip, I will view and blog about two French plays from the Festival D’Avignon.
4. By the end of my trip, I will be able to speak French as well as I can read and write.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
While in Tours, I plan to attend Mass with my host family and join the church choir. I also plan taking dance classes at Studio Arabesque, a dance studio within walking distance of the Institut de Touraine. These classes will provide me with ample opportunity to interact with and befriend native French speakers, possibly creating contacts for future trips to France.
As a theater enthusiast, I am eager to visit the Festival d’Avignon during one or two weekends in July when I am in Tours. During the Festival d’Avignon, international artists come together to perform plays based on a specific theme in the month of July. Since its conception in 1947, it has become one of the most well known cultural events in France. Some plays are original works, while others are new adaptations of originals, which will allow me to study the progression of theater in France. I am interested in researching how French plays affected politics for my Honors Senior Thesis, so taking notes and blogging about these plays will influence and enrich my future scholarship.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
A week ago on my 19th birthday, I boarded a plane for Tours, France. Before I left, I knew little about the culture and history of Tours; it was simply a French town on a map that I had researched on the Internet. After a week of living in Tours, I feel I have learned a lot about the city and its past and present inhabitants. I am excited to see how much more I will learn about Tours and the greater country of France in the five weeks to come.
My first interaction of note with native French speakers came at the Charles De Gaulle airport right after I landed. I had slept through the “breakfast snack” (an American version of a croissant that I don’t think the French enjoyed) served by American Airlines, so I was starving. I stopped at Brioche Dorée, a popular French chain, and bought a yogurt parfait. To my surprise, the vendor spoke to me in French, even after he realized I was American. I was extremely excited; over spring break, I visited Paris, eager to practice my French. Once the French realized I was a foreigner, though, they spoke to me in English. This time, I was off to a good start. Despite the fact that I was in the Paris airport, a place full of tourists, the French spoke to me in French. I had high hopes that the habitants at Tours would converse with me in French as well.
I was not disappointed. When I got off the TGV train at Tours, my host mother greeted me in French. It turned out that she did not speak English at all. We chatted on the way home, asking each other basic getting-to-know you questions. Throughout the trip, most of the new people I met would ask me similar questions, such as “What is your name?” and “Where are you from?” I now realized why professors in French focus on teaching their students how to introduce themselves; in Tours, I have done so at least three times per day.
Though I got to practice my French a little with my host mother, I noticed my French, especially my oral comprehension, improved once I started classes the next day. I placed into level 8, also known as B2/ B2+ in France. This means I can take the DELF B2 in the month of July at the Institute of Touraine. If I pass, I would be certified to take classes at any French university. Once I realized how helpful passing the exam would be in years to come, I became even more motivated to immerse myself fully in the language so that I can perform as well as possible on the exam.
Reflecting on this sudden burst of motivation, I realized I am largely a goal-driven person. If I set goals that have limited dates, I perform better. This is not limited to the academic realm. If I tell myself I want to clean my room well in 10 minutes, I clean faster and more thoroughly. Moreover, I enjoy the challenge. I realized I like tests because I enjoy having an evaluation to work towards. When I have an exam approaching, I try to learn as much as thoroughly as possible so that I will be able to perform well. I enjoy learning because I am a naturally curious person, but I am a more effective learner if I have deadlines to keep me accountable. I enjoy learning French because the language is beautiful, but also because it will help me communicate with others and open opportunities for travel and employment in the future.
I have been immersing myself in French so much that it is actually a bit painful for me to write this in English. All my classes, including Art History and Civilization, are taught by native French professors who speak quickly and add witty jokes to their lectures on gothic cathedrals.. They have inspired me to read the news in French on my iPhone and take note of the new words I learn. I picked up Pascal’s “Discours sur les passions d’amour” and found that I could read it almost as quickly as I could if it were written in English. I also went to a Gilles Caron photography exhibit at the Tour of Charlemagne, also known as the Chateaux de Tours. Today, after I write this blog entry, I am going to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, since it is free on the first Sunday of every month. I am so glad I chose to come to Tours; it is a city that offers tons of opportunities to learn about French culture and language.
For example, my friend Jianna and I read French books outside yesterday for the Festival de Rayon Frais. The event coordinators played great French music and gladly gave us the names of the songs. I am excited to have more French music to listen to so that I can learn to sing it and play it on guitar, which was one of my pre-departure goals. I love singing, so I was excited when my phonetics professor told me that it is a great way to work on pronunciation.
Luckily, I have heard a lot of music since I’ve been in Tours. Last night, I attended a concert with my host mother and roommate at l’Eglise St. Julien de Tours. The chorale sang some songs in latin I knew from my Folk Choir repertoire, as well as songs in French I had never heard, such as “Aujourd’hui, revêtu de lumière.” A flutist and dancer accompanied the chorale, moving around the church to interpret the music. It made me realize that even if the French are traditionally Catholic, they are inspired by traditions from other religions and are open to integrated ceremonies.
They also sang songs with Arabian undertones, which surprised me since Le Monde says France is not the most welcoming place for minorities right now. It is possible that journalists exaggerate France’s xenophobia to sell newspapers, but it’s true that the far right party is gaining popularity in France, partially due to the economic downturn. Maybe different sections of the France are more or less open to foreigners. I am looking forward to learning more about how the political and economic situation in France is affecting minorities in my civilization class and by observing people’s interactions on the streets.
This morning, I had the opportunity to talk to some racial minorities when I attended a Baptist church with Claudia, one of my roommates from Venezuela. I had never been to a Baptist church before, so I was surprised when people in the congregation randomly started praying out loud. Their voices were full of emotion and many of them were crying. Most of them were saying, “Jesus, take my life. I give it all to you,” in French. The congregation was mostly French Africans who sang contemporary Christian music accompanied by drums, guitar, and bass. It’s impossible for me to hear music and not sing, so I had a fun time following along. One of the songs, “Dieu d’Eténité,” was a Chris Tomlin song translated into French. I had never heard the other songs, so it is quite possible that they were French originals. I had no idea that there was such a strong community of Protestants in France, much less such a variety of French contemporary music.
At the end of the service, the pastor asked if there were any visitors. I was too scared to raise my hand, but after I saw various people getting up and introducing themselves in French to the congregation, I nudged my friend Claudia and asked if she would stand up with me. We raised our hands and introduced ourselves together in French. When we were walking out, a few people from the congregation came to talk to us. It was great to practice talking to native speakers and ask them about their experience in France as a racial minority. As we were about to leave, they complimented us on our French, which made us smile.
On a different note, I want to make a note of all the random things that have surprised me so far on the trip. In other words, here is a list of how France differs from the United States in ways big and small.
1. The French are much more conscious about conserving water and electricity, though for economic rather than environmental reasons. My host mother came downstairs one morning and found me writing with the blinds closed and the light on.
“Ah! Qu’est-ce que tu fais, ma fille! L’éléctricité, c’est cher.”
I had never heard anyone say electricity was expensive before. I apologized and blushed, making a mental note to avoid making faux pas in the future if possible.
2. The French take an hour or two for lunch. At the Institute, I get out of class at 12:25 and do not have class again until 1:30 or 2:30 (also known as 13h30 and 14h30 in French time). This is an entirely new experience for me. I get to explore the town with my foreign friends and search for tasty and inexpensive places for le déjeuner. If you’re ever in Tours, stop by La Grignotte, meaning “the snack,” which sells tasty croque monsieurs for 4 euros. Also note that many stores who do not sell food are closed between 12 and 2. For an American who is used to 24-hour stores, it was quite a shock to realize that the post office closes for two hours in the middle of the day and is not open at all on Tuesdays.
3. Many French people think they are bad at other languages. My professors constantly mention how hard it is for them to lose their French accent. When I spoke with some French teenagers who were complaining about a similar difficulty, I explained to them that Americans think it is cute when they pronounce things with a French accent. I then said I wish the French thought the American accent was cute. They surprised me by saying that it was, though I wasn’t sure if they were kidding. I always assumed that the French hated the American accent and am still not convinced that it is otherwise.
4. It stays light out in France until around 22h, or 10 p.m., in the summer. I have never been somewhere where it is completely light out three hours after dinner (the French also eat later than I’m used to- around 7 p.m.).
5. The French hang out smoking in the streets. I have never been asked for a lighter before, but in the one week I’ve been here, I’ve had two men ask me if I had “un briquet.” I find it strange that they would think I have one; very few 19-year old girls who I know in the United States smoke, much less carry a lighter on them. I suppose it’s just a cultural difference, though, because most of the French teenage girls who I’ve seen on the weekends are smoking and probably do carry a lighter with them.
Sometimes I wonder why they smoke. Don’t they know how bad it is for their health? I have to remember, though, that tons of teenage girls in the United States go tanning despite repeated health warnings about skin cancer. I suppose each culture weighs risks and benefits differently. Maybe the French would rather smoke than have healthy lungs and Americans would rather tan than protect their skin. It is also possible that both groups of teens think about the immediate pleasure of smoking or being tan rather than the possible future consequences.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
There’s a reason the French call Bastille Day “La Fête Nationale,” which translates to “The National Party.” On July 14, almost every single person has the day off. That means that the stores are all closed. In the States, when there is a holiday such as Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve, the mall is full of eager shoppers and less-enthusiastic cashiers.The French would never dream of making so many people work on their national holiday. They would not spend the day shopping, either.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The French love to shop. The entire month of July is a month of “soldes,” or sales that range from 30-70% off; instead of Black Friday, the French have Black July. On July 14th, the French break from their normal routine of earning and spending to spend the day with their friends and family.
In my “Preparation for the DELF B2” class, we read an essay about the importance of traditional holidays in France. The author lamented the loss of religious meaning in national holidays such as the Assumption. “The basic structure of the holiday is the same, but citizens have lost sight of why the day is regarded as sacred in the first place,” the author notes—in French, of course.
It’s comforting to know that the French aren’t perfect, but I can’t help feeling they have retained the meaning of holidays better than Americans. The French “national parties” have not turned into commercial conventions like American holidays have. Businesses in the United States are most likely open for even longer hours on some holidays to attract consumers who are usually too busy to shop. This is a good business move, but it makes the difference in French and American priorities blaringly obvious. The French view holidays as bona fide days of rest, while Americans see it as a golden opportunity to make a profit or hit up a sale.
The United States is capitalist and the French state is socialist. This could mean that the US values individual hard work more and the French honor social tradition more. To fall back on an explanatory cliché, it seems Americans live to work while the French work to live. I’m not saying either of these is inherently better in anyone’s personal opinion, but I feel an inherent sickness at the idea that businessmen would rather make money than allow their employees to have a day of rest.
I am not advocating socialism. Capitalism is better for the poor sometimes since it leads to less unemployment and poverty. In reverse, it means less welfare and benefits for people who are struggling. Offering less unemployment benefits, though, encourages people to find a job.
In France, there are more unemployment benefits, which are necessary since it is extremely hard for certain minorities to find jobs. When I went to the St. Martin Cathédrale on Sunday, I saw a poor woman sitting on the steps of the church, unobtrusive but guilt-inducing just the same. How could I justify going into church and not giving her money? I would feel extremely hypocritical. Part of me wanted to brush her off and tell myself she was manipulative, playing on people’s guilt to earn a living. The other, better half of me reminded me that she was trusting in God to provide; she counted on faithful people to actually listen to Jesus and give to the poor.
My friend in France told me about how she and her mother had given a beggar in Paris money, only to have her chase them down and demand more. The woman in front of me did not seem aggressive. Moreover, I was in front of a church, and there were two parishioner men inside who could see the scene and would help me if I needed it. I told her “un moment, s’il vous plaît,” went inside, grabbed some money from my purse, and left my bag inside. I ventured back out, the money folded in my hand, to talk to her.
It was hard to understand her, for she spoke with a Romanian accent. I asked her if she needed money, an obvious question, to get the conversation started. She nodded and said yes. She was not holding the cup out to me, though, or pressuring me to give her any. She simply acknowledged the fact with a calm but sad grimace. I asked her what she needed the money for. She said she had trouble buying food because she couldn’t find a job in France. I knew enough from my culture class that it was hard for Romanians to find work, since they were often stereotyped as untrustworthy pickpockets. I slipped the money in her palm and she smiled, this time with less sadness than before. She blessed me. It was the best use of that money I could think of. No material possession could have given me that feeling or helped someone in a simple, quick way.
I spend my life saying I want to help people, but when I cross people like her on the street, I avoid them. When I went into the church, I saw a stained glass painting of Saint Martin kissing a leper. I realized why we revere people like Saint Martin- people who actually listen to Jesus’ call and care for the poor in the most direct way possible.
This was the first time I had given money to someone by myself and had actually had a conversation with them. I was not risking my safety, for as I said earlier, I did not bring my bag with my credit card in it with me and there were a few men inside who would have helped me if anything went wrong. I realized that if I had a heart to help, God would help me find a safe way to do so. I just had to stop making excuses.
This Bastille Day, I will kayak on the Loire river with my friends from the Institute and watch fireworks over the Loire at night. I hope I will remember it on Bastille Days to come, even if I am back in the states, where July 14th is just an ordinary workday.
On Bastille Days to come, I hope I remember how the French poor rebelled against tyranny by storming the prison. I hope I think about how the French actually spend their holidays resting. Most of all, I hope I remember the woman on the steps of the church, as sappy as that sounds.
As I continue my intensive language training and rigorous liberal arts education, I will read up on political policies and scour economic charts. I will reflect on the problem of evil and ponder the meaning of life. In the midst of my intellectual development, I hope I will hold on to my heart.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
This past week in Tours has been full of surprises. I’ll try to narrow it down to the three best highlights.
1. I performed in my Institute’s talent show, meaning I got to sing and play guitar at a French bar on Thursday night. I never thought I’d get to perform in front of so many people, especially so many francophones!
I had the opportunity to converse with natives before and after the show, which went better than expected. At the beginning of my trip, I would mostly nod and smile when a native talked to me, not really understanding the words they were saying, but getting the gist of their sentiments. This time, though, I understood their individual words. C’est chouette!
Listening to the radio here has really helped my oral comprehension- radio announcers talk quickly, but so does the average French citizen. I am glad to see that the effort I put in inside and outside of class is paying off.
2. I took and passed the DELF B2. I was quite nervous while taking it- French exam monitors can be quite intimidating- but I scored almost double what I needed to pass. Since I passed the DELF B2, universities will know that I have a high enough level of French to take classes for native French students. This means my goal of studying at l’Université Catholique de l’Ouest can become a reality. Additionally, the DELF B2 indicates that I am well qualified to use French in a professional setting, which will help me get a job when I graduate. Hooray for tests and the benefits they bring.
3. I started reading “Candide” by Voltaire in French. I used quotes from “Candide” in my final paper for my history seminar in the fall, but I didn’t finish the whole book. Now, I get to read it in French, the original language.
To my surprise, I can read it almost as quickly as I can read novels in English. That was definitely not the case when I arrived in Tours; I remember taking an hour to read 10 pages in French for my class at Notre Dame, but now I can do it in half the time
Since Voltaire wrote the book, I decided to visit the chateau he frequented when he was near the Loire- the Château de Chenonceau. I love that I can decide to ride my bike to such a historical monument.
Walking through the rooms full of Flemish tapestries and elaborate fireplaces, I tuned into my French audioguide to learn more about the château’s history. It said that Voltaire went there often because the owner, Mme. Dupin, liked to surround herself with intelligent luminaries. She collaborated with Rousseau on a treatise to prove the equality of the sexes through history, science, and logic.
I rather like Mme. Dupin. I found myself staring at her portrait, wondering how brave she must have been to pursue knowledge and fight for women’s intellectual equality in a male-dominated world. I found a book called “Le Portefeuille de Mme. Dupin” that contains her letters and works. I want to read it in French- after I finish “Candide” of course!
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
I feel so lucky to be here. Walking around the Institute, I see posters advertising fun opportunities to develop my French skills. Recently, I saw an advertisement for the “Concours de Poésie,” or poetry competition. I love poetry, but I had never attempted to write a poem in French. What a better time to try than now, when I’m in France?
My first poem was inspired by the Gilles Carron photography exhibit I went to in the Château de Tours. When I was there, I noticed a series of photos of manifestations in Ireland, France, and the Middle East. I noticed something interesting about the population: they were almost all young people, specifically in their late teens and early twenties. I started wondering: what is it about young people that makes them more likely to protest? In my poem, I wrote about how young people seek adventure and still believe in ideals. I hypothesized that as they get older, they become disillusioned with the political world and with how much time and effort it takes to change anything. I suggested that, as they took on familial and professional responsibilities, they no longer have time or energy for civic involvement. This could result in the lack of middle-aged or elderly protesters.
It’s very possible that my hypothesis was wrong, but it was a lot of fun to jot my ideas down in French and try to make them rhyme. I remembered reading Apollinaire in my Art of Interpretation: Paris class, and I imitated some of his rhyme schemes. The librarian helped me edit the piece, and after three drafts, it was done. I ended up winning second place, which included a free t-shirt, two French books, and macaroons. My friends devoured the dessert, and I “devoured” one of the books, called “Les charmes de l’amitié” by Charles de Saint-Evremond.
The little pink book included three essays from the 17th century that discuss the problems subjects face when trying to befriend their king, the idea that love is an economic transaction, and why humans crave friendship. Though I do not have a monarch who I am trying to befriend, I could identify to his struggle to be friends with someone higher up on the social/ political hierarchy. For example, should we really give the king our honest opinion, or should we flatter him with false praises? In the modern world, it’s similar to when girls go shopping together, and the more “popular” one asks if she looks good in a dress. It was so interesting to see that problems from the 17th century persist today, even if they manifest themselves differently.
Speaking of old problems persisting, I just finished “Candide” by Voltaire, and was amazed at how my philosophy professor from last year discussed the optimistic philosophy Voltaire mocked in his book. By telling a humorous story about a Candide, a naïve young man, Voltaire manages to critique Leibnitz’s solution to the problem of evil in his biting, witty way. Voltaire mocks Leibniz’ idea that this world is the best of all worlds by having Candide experience terrible situations, yet continue to state that the evil that happens to him is just “shadows in a beautiful tableau.” It is actually quite funny, and on the way, Voltaire manages to make fun of religious or political authorities who snubbed him in the past.
The problem with enjoying ancient French literature is that I started using ancient vocabulary. I said the word “coquin” in class, and my professor looked at me quizzically. “Where did you learn that word?” he asked, a smile spreading across his face. “No one uses it anymore.” Whoops. I figured I’d better read fewer ancient works and talk to more young people. So, that’s what I did!
Last night, I went to the Guingette (the bar by the Loire where all the young people hang out at night) to interact with natives at Café des Langues, a place where people come together to practice all kinds of languages. I learned some useful slang words, such as “mec,” “type,” and “gars” for “boy” and modern pronunciations, such as “Jshay- pas” for “Je ne sais pas,” or “I don’t know.” I am starting to speak like a French teen, and not like a French writer from the 17th century. Progress is being made.
I also got some great song suggestions, such as “Dernière Danse” by Indila, “Ca Ira” by Joyce Jonathan, and “Game Over” by Vitaa (it’s in French, so I’m not sure why the title is in English. Apparently, lots of French songs use English titles.) My favorite by far is “Formidable” by Stromae- it was stuck in my head all day today.
My professor recommended the artist Tal to me, and she is like the French Taylor Swift! I am glad to have a full French playlist that I will be able to listen to all year, ensuring that I keep up my oral comprehension skills. It will also help me prepare to French songs with my friend Annemarie at an Acousticafé at Notre Dame this fall. This was one of my goals for the trip, so I am glad to say: mission accomplished.
Last but not least, I discovered my new favorite food: Galettes. I had one at St. Malo that was stuffed with hot apples and cinnamon. My taste-buds were very happy.
That’s all for now- à toute à l’heure!
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
I’ve been in Tours for five weeks now, but I still don’t feel completely at home here. I feel comfortable at the Institute and certain parts of the town, but when I walk home at night, sudden noises and lonely shadows pacing the street startle me, even if I’m with my two other roommates.
Why do I feel this way? I grew up in a small New England town, where there was little to no crime. There was not much traffic on my street; instead, there were horses. Moving out to Notre Dame wasn’t too different, because as college campuses go, Notre Dame is extremely safe. I could walk home alone at night without calling SafeWalk, even though my friends encouraged (and sometimes demanded) that I call and get driven home on a golf cart. Here, I need no encouragement. I try to avoid walking home by myself at night as much as possible, and if there was a SafeWalk here, I would call every night.
Even during the day, I’ve learned that I have to be careful talking to older French men. In the states, 40-year old men do not normally hit on 19-year old girls, but it’s apparently normal, or at least common, here. Many of my friends have been hassled, and I have had to leave uncomfortable conversations multiple times.
It’s hard, because I don’t want to be impolite, but I don’t want to put myself in danger, either. When I was reading on a bench outside of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, a middle-aged French man sat next to me and started talking to me. At first, I didn’t mind; it was a good chance to practice speaking with a native. However, the conversation soon became uncomfortable. He started asking me weird questions, such as if I was a model, and he commented on my appearance in bizarre ways. There were a few other people in the park, so I didn’t feel threatened, but I didn’t feel at ease, either. I made up an excuse for why I had to leave, and went home, glancing over my shoulder every few minutes to make sure he wasn’t following me.
The Musée is in a safe, wealthy area. It is surrounded by gardens, and police cars drive by often, since it is the center of town, right next to the Cathedral. I thought it was a one-time thing, but then I remembered that the first time I read there, a man came up to me asking to take my picture, because he wanted pictures of “beautiful girls.” He was not necessarily harmful, but that’s not something I’m used to; I don’t think that that would be socially acceptable in the US.
Here, I think it is more acceptable for older men to flirt with younger girls. Two of the films I have seen since I’ve been here (“Le Petit Nicholas” and “Au Bout du Conte”) involve a younger girl flirting with a much older man. It is a cultural difference that I can’t say I like- it makes me uncomfortable whenever I talk to an adult man here, because I am not sure where he thinks the conversation might go.
I thought it might be a European phenomenon, but when I had the chance to go to Amsterdam one weekend, I learned that was not the case. The older men there were friendly, but not creepy or flirtatious. Maybe I’m simply paranoid because I did not grow up here and I am not used to it. It’s possible that these men have no strange or bad intentions, but I’d rather stay on the safe side.
My experience here made me wonder: do my friends who immigrated to the US feel the same about the states? I asked my friend Jianna who moved to the US from Korea, and she said yes. She said that even though she goes to University in the states, she does not feel completely at home there, or like she completely belongs.
I was surprised at first, because whenever I saw her this past year, she seemed at ease. I do not feel completely at home here, though, even though I seem, and even feel, comfortable in certain places.
This new feeling has made me appreciate and sympathize with immigrants much more than I did before. I never considered that people who moved to the US might feel alienated or out of place. My stepmother is from Brazil- does she feel like this is her home? My professors at Notre Dame come from all over the world- do they feel at home at Notre Dame, in the US?
Living abroad has allowed me to feel a little bit of what other people living abroad feel. Now I know: it’s not easy. It’s good that I am pushed out of my comfort zone and am acquiring new experiences, but it can be difficult sometimes. Many, and sometimes most, new experiences and lessons learned are hard at first. Yes, I’m learning how to speak a language fluently, but I’m also learning to navigate a different culture, which offers its own merits and challenges. Per usual, I want to learn as much as I can, so in my last week here, I say: bring on the cultural challenges.
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
I didn’t sleep too much on Friday night; I wanted to do the most possible on my last night in France. One of the professors at the institute who organizes the “animations” (aka organized activities) at the school invited me and two other students over to eat dinner with his girlfriend. I got to know them well when we went kayaking on the Loire for Bastille Day, and I am so lucky to know them; they are probably the two nicest French people whom I’ve met on this trip.
They welcomed us into their apartment, fed us delicious potatoes (I’m Irish, so anyone can win my heart with potatoes), and a homemade chocolate tart. Like a typical French couple, they had a cat, but this cat was far from typical. He performed circus tricks, such as balancing on people’s heads. It was an enjoyable evening.
Happily, I have their home address since I had to walk there. That means I can send them letters in French to keep in touch. We are friends on Facebook, but when I started writing postcards and letters to my friends and family back home, I realized how fun it is to use snail mail (even when international letters take a few weeks to arrive).
Now the sad part: my trip is about to end. The happy part: I can now recount the four tasks I got to complete on this trip. I didn’t do them in order, so please excuse the strange numbering system!
Task 4: At first, I was scared to approach French people to interview them. Even waiters seemed intimidating. They’re not tipped here, so they’re not the friendliest, since they don’t get paid extra for good service. Needless to say, I was a little scared to inquire about how my meal was prepared. However, I took it as a chance to stretch my amygdala and learn a little more about French culture from a native.
When my mustached waiter was filling my water, I took a gulp and asked him how they prepared the galettes I was enjoying.
He responded with a surprisingly thorough response. First, he told me they make the batter with flour, sea salt, water, and eggs. Then, they refrigerate it for six hours. After, they pour it out on a buttered griddle, making sure they pour out enough to cover the whole bottom of the pan. After two minutes, the chef flips it over gently. Some chefs are rushed because they have too many customers, and flip the galette too quickly. Then, it can rip, and they either start over or try their best to mend the holes, depending on how concerned the chef is with pleasing his or her customers.
When the galette is fully cooked, it is ready for it’s filling. Galettes can have a number of fillings, and they can either be sweet or salty, sucré or sale. In my case, I got to enjoy a sucré: a hot apple and cinnamon galette. It was delicious!
It was not especially nutritious, since there was no protein in it, but it did contain apples, so at least there was fruit in it. The waiter said the batter could be made healthier by using buckwheat flour, but the one I ate was made with all-purpose.
The waiter left before I had a chance to ask him more questions about the traditions and history of the galette, so I asked my professor the next day. She said the “Galette des rois” are famous for being eaten on the Epiphany, but those galettes do not look the same. They are cakelike, and the baker put a figurine in the batter. Whoever gets the piece of cake with the figurine in it is king for the day. This privilege comes with responsibility, though; the “monarch” has to become a baker the next day, and bake a new cake so that a new king can be chosen (and another cake enjoyed, of course). Other countries, such as Spain, participate in this tradition. I would love to bring it to Notre Dame!
The two slang words I chose were “mec” and “truc.” I asked my host mother if she knew what the two words meant. She looked at me indignantly, as if to say “of course I know what they mean.” She said “mec” meant a young man and “truc” was a vague word to describe anything when she couldn’t think of the word to use.
When I asked a young man of 21 what the two words meant, he said “mec” meant a guy, and encouraged me to listen to the song “Bella” if I wanted to hear the term used in context. Then, he said “truc” was the French equivalent of the English word for “thing.”
I realized that young people in France know more English than older people, so it makes sense that a young person would describe “truc” with an English word while an older person would use French words to describe it. I realized this meant that France put emphasis on teaching English to students more recently, when it became clear that English had become the main language of business, music, and research, and was going to stay that way for a while.
This realization made me think of a cultural question to ask French people: whether or not they thought it was a good idea that many French schools were requiring students to take English. The first woman I interviewed was middle-aged, and she was not particularly concerned about the subject. She said it didn’t really matter to her either way, since her kids had both already grown up and were out of the school system.
The older man I asked had a much stronger opinion. He was not happy about having English taught to most students, since he thought it would result in the weakening of the French language. He cited a few English words, such as “cool” and “loser,” that had already made it into the vernacular, though the Académie Française had not officially accepted them yet. He did not seem eager to have them accept them anytime soon… or ever.
The last girl I asked was 22. She was my friend’s friend who grew up and went to school in Tours. She had recently become a midwife who helped people give birth in their homes. She did not use English on a daily basis, but was glad for her background in the language, since her favorite artist, Rihanna, sang in English. I asked her if she was concerned about the French language being infiltrated by English, and she shrugged and said no. I was surprised at her response, and it showed on my face. She asked me why I thought she would mind, and I told her that I had been conditioned to think that French people didn’t really like English. She shook her head and laughed. “Not at all, we love your shows,” she said. House of Cards and Breaking Bad are apparently especially popular. I am glad she was honest and didn’t let my assumptions influence her response!
After talking to her, I realized English people use a few French words, such as chic and coup d’état, and we’re not worried about the English language disappearing. I realized it was silly of me to assume that every French person would dislike English because it was becoming more widespread. The French person who dislike English might be the exception, not the rule.
Luckily, I was in France for July 14th, Bastille Day. I knew the holiday was a bit like the French version of July 4th, but I didn’t know about it’s intricate history. I went to the Tours’ Office of Tourism to learn a bit more. The Office is conveniently located across from the train station, which was only a seven-minute walk from my house. Upon entering, the number of flyers and posters hung on the walls overwhelmed me. I made my way to the front to ask the person who worked there.
Side note: there were a few people in line ahead of me, asking about where to rent bikes. Luckily, I overheard the answer, and was able to go to the recommended bike store the next weekend to rent a bike to go to the Chateau de Chenonceau. It helps to listen to what the people in front of you say in line!
Back to Bastille Day: when it was my turn, I asked the girl working there about the holiday. She seemed a little surprised I didn’t already know all the history behind it. She said it was when the French stormed the Bastille to get the artillery to fight the monarchy. I knew the Bastille was a symbol of the French Revolution, but I didn’t know explicitly why.
Apparently, neither did the French person I asked who was standing outside the tourism office. He thought it was celebrating the prisoners that were let out of the Bastille. The girl at the tourist office informed me that that was a common misconception about Bastille Day. She said in reality, there were only seven prisoners being held there; their liberation was only a plus to procuring the ammunition.
It seems the lay version emphasized the human heroism of letting the prisoners free, while the official version sticks to the cold, hard facts: the guns were wanted, and the liberation was just a side effect. I wonder if there are more official versions of the “heroic” American holidays that would differ from how I think about them now. I’m not sure if I would want to find out the truth- I might rather just enjoy the holiday. That’s why I didn’t tell the French man who told me about Bastille Day the truth- who was I to stain his conception of the holiday? Also, it would look rather funny if I asked him a question and then corrected his answer…
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
I can’t believe I am on the train pulling away from Tours. I had a wonderful, challenging six weeks here that I will remember and draw upon for the rest of my life. It was hard at first to venture out of my comfort zone, but attempting new kinds of adventures is good for me, especially while I’m young.
In high school, I learned that there is a part of the brain called the amygdala that predicts how well we deal with new situations. It works like a rubber band that stretches while we are young, but becomes less elastic as the years go on. I’m glad that I had the chance to explore a different country and culture when I am still young enough to stretch my amygdala, ensuring I will be willing and prepared to venture out of my comfort zone in the future.
On the official side, I earned a certificate this summer proving that I’m proficient in French (the DELF B2). The skills I have developed this summer, though, mean so much more than that piece of paper. When French natives speak to me now, I understand easily and can respond smoothly, even though I still have a bit of an American accent. Will I ever be able to get rid of it? I would like to try, but as my friends here remind me, almost everyone who speaks a foreign language has an accent. As long as it is easy to understand, it’s not a big deal. As the French say, “c’est pas grave.”
I am so glad that now I have a working knowledge of the language, rather than just reading and writing skills. When I thought about why I wanted to study French here in the first place, I knew I wanted to focus on improving my listening and speaking skills. My prior French training had centered on writing and grammar, and I was eager to improve my weaknesses.
Sitting here on the train, I am reassured that my listening skills have improved. I am listening to a French family fight, and I can’t help a smile from spreading across my face. It’s not that I enjoy their fight (I’m not that mean!), but I’m extremely excited to be able to understand the exacerbated parents and whiny toddlers. Understanding children is one of the hardest things to do, because their cute, high-pitches voices can be incomprehensible.
Here’s the play-by-play of the French family train fight, which is more entertaining than you might think. The toddlers here are waddling up and down the aisle, asking if we are at Paris yet. One of the fathers is quite annoyed: “Tais-toi et asseyes-toi” je says. “Arrête de parler. Je suis fâché,” he continues. Thanks to six weeks of intensive French, I can understand this French family feud, where one father says: “sit and be quiet, because I’m getting annoyed.” Now one child is crying while the other is screaming, and the mom took the one who was hitting her into the luggage and bathroom car of the train. It’s good to know French families fight too.
In fact, a general lesson I’ve learned here is that people and cultures are more similar than we might think. Yes, technology and increased communication has had something to do with it, but I think that even if technology did not exist, human nature would cause us to have similar pleasures, similar quarrels. We celebrate different historical events, but most celebrations include dance, music, food, drink, family, and friends. We wear different clothes, but for the similar reasons: tradition, aesthetic, utility, and individuality. When you look beyond the differences in what different cultures do and realize the similarities in why they do it, it’s much easier to realize that we’re all humans and all related. World peace becomes more feasible, causing beauty pageant queens everywhere to rejoice.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
This summer, I planned to learn about French language and culture, but I didn’t realize how learning French would be so different in France. At first, I felt I should be studying all the time, but then I realized the best way to learn in France was to amble around, speak with people, and see the sights. It was much more fun than reading a textbook, and I also learned skills that are much more practical for the real world (ie. Speaking and listening versus reading and writing.)
Before I come here, I didn’t think about how many international students I would meet at the Institut. I had roommates from Colombia, Venezuela, and Canada. I now have friends in Spain, Japan, and Germany. This trip has opened so many doors to me, since many of my new friends invited me to come visit them in their home country.
Most of all, I learned how to navigate a foreign city on my own as a young woman. It is not an easy thing to learn to do. I learned to balance adventure with safety, exploring with precaution. These are skills I will need for the rest of my life as I (hopefully) continue travelling.
On the silly side, now when I sing along to my French songs, I pronounce the words the way I am supposed to. I don’t get to speak French 24/7 anymore, but when I go for my daily jog, I listen to Stromae in order to make sure I don’t lose my listening skills. When I can understand French rap, I know I can understand rapid French speaking, full of slang and plays-on-words, I know I know French. I also run faster.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
This fall, I am signed up for a 60000-level French class, a class that is most often taken by graduate students. This is how much my French has improved over six weeks! I am eager to talk to employers about how I can communicate in French and inquire as to whether I will have the opportunity to use my intercultural skills in my future job. I am also still interested in applying for a Fulbright, which would allow me to live in France and teach English. Then, I would most definitely use the international knowledge I acquired this summer. I also plan on performing at an Acousticafé at Notre Dame, singing and playing all French songs. My aim is to convince Americans to listen to French music as the French listen to American music. Who knows? Maybe one day, we will all sing in the language of Stromae.