Name: Justin Brill
Location of Study: Tours, France
Program of Study: Institut de Touraine
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Nanovic Institute for European Studies
A brief personal bio:
I am currently a sophomore majoring in biological sciences with a supplemental major in French language and culture. I’m a research assistant on campus, focusing on the development of basicranial osteoblasts in mice. I am planning on attending medical school to pursue an M.D. after completing my undergraduate work at Notre Dame. I’m currently involved with the Bridge Project, a group trying to enrich the connection between the University and the city of South Bend. I’ve also begun volunteering in the emergency department of St. Joseph Regional Medical Center. I enjoy playing piano, cycling, fiction writing, and photography.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
Since starting French in high school I have always been increasingly interested with the French language, and have decided to further my study of the language with a supplemental major in language and culture. The study of French will not only help my academic goals within my supplemental major, but also with my career goals. I am primarily a biological sciences major with intent on studying at medical school after graduation. Furthering my fluency in French will broaden the horizons of the service I will be able to provide to others in the medical field. It would open opportunities to practice medicine in different environments, and to converse with non-English speaking patients at a more intimate level without the need for an interpreter. Since French is the second major international scientific language, increasing my knowledge will also help me better connect with future colleagues from around the world through conferences or through reading international papers in their original language. This summer language program, with its ability to take an elective course in medical French to increase my scientific vocabulary would be vital in my future career plans as a physician.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
A realistic expectation for myself is that I will be able to increase my confidence and proficiency with oral French. With the courses that I have taken, I mainly developed strong skills in written French as well as listening comprehension. My weakness in my study of French is my oral fluency. I believe that with this grant to study French in Tours, the immersion of the experience of living for six continuous weeks will do wonders for my proficiency. I recently took a one-week pilgrimage to Le Mans and Paris through Campus Ministries, and even though there was not a French focus, I gained a large amount of confidence speaking French from interacting with our hosts. To study at the Institute de Touraine for six full weeks would increase this effect exponentially. The intensive coursework in the classroom, solely dedicated to the study of French will also do wonders for my written understanding of the language, and help understand more of the nuances of the French language.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- By the end of the summer, I will be able to be confident in navigating independently through France, especially through customs and travel offices.
- I will be able to maintain a comfortable conversation with native French speakers while in France and after returning home to the United States.
- By the end of the summer, I will have learned an adequate amount of medical French to feel comfortable in a clinical setting.
- I will be able to increase my fluency and ability to convey my opinion and thoughts about certain topics, especially literature and culture.
- By the end of the summer, I will be able to read/listen to French news and media, whether through television, internet, or radio. I would like to do this so that I can gain a better insight into current events and French culture.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
I’ve chosen Tours as the location for my summer program because of its central location in France, but also an acceptable distance away from Paris to promote better immersion. The central location of Tours would allow weekend excursions to other regions of France to gain a better understanding of French culture. I think beginning with the two-week course will be very beneficial to allow myself to acclimate to Tours and to the teaching style at the Institute. The course will also be able to give me a kick-start improving my proficiency, and increase the starting level of my monthly course. The phonetics sessions will be vital to my goals for the summer program because of the focus on speaking skills. There can be a large degree of participation due to the small class size. The elective course in medical French will also be extremely helpful in my career goals of becoming a physician and being able to connect with both francophone patients and colleagues.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
Wow, I really can’t believe that it has already been one week since I arrived in Tours. It’s been an absolutely amazing time so far, however there definitely have been a couple bumps along the way. I found out the hard way that when you make plans to catch a train after arriving in Paris, you need to leave yourself plenty of time to get through customs. I ended up running through the airport as fast as I could to catch my train, and luckily the train was a little behind schedule so it was still loading up with passengers when I got to the platform.
When we arrived for our first day of class on Monday, we had a quick oral proficiency test that we had to take with one of the professors at the Institute. I was pretty nervous during the proficiency exam, and I was worried I did poorly since the professor only asked me two questions before deciding he had enough information to place me in a class. It had turned out that all of my worries from that morning were for nothing though, I ended up being placed in one of the higher-level courses at the Institute. I was placed in the B2+/C1 level express course, which is right between the Intermediate and Advanced levels of French knowledge and proficiency.
After meeting my classmates, I believe I was definitely placed in the right course. I’m a little weaker on my ability to speak French compared to the others, but the readings we’ve been given have been easy to understand and follow along with. I’m also very glad it has a small class size, only six students, so that everyone can participate easily in any of our discussions about readings or cultural issues we’ve thought about. We have become a fairly close-knit group of students after only one week, we generally go out to lunch together in-between our morning and afternoon class sessions, and we also have gone out in the evenings to explore and just be able to chat to get to know one another better. It’s a very diverse group of students, I’m the only American in the group and we have students from Switzerland, Colombia, England, and Sweden all in the same classroom. Whenever we’ve gone out we’ve always managed to keep speaking French instead of switching back to English. I think this has definitely been a very large help in my confidence to express myself in French. I have also been able to learn a lot about my other classmate’s cultures and how their lives have been like growing up in countries that are both alike and very different from the United States.
I think that my classes have already been working wonders in my confidence and ability to speak French, both with my classmates and native French speakers in Tours. Working through the assignments in class and participating in discussions has really helped to shake the rust off of my French skills. With the small class size, the professor encourages everyone to participate in the discussions which has been very helpful for me. At the beginning of the week, I stumbled over my words while responding quite often, or would have to ask some clarification questions to the professor before I could answer. But as the week went on, I became more comfortable discussing topics with my classmates and have needed less and less support from the professor. I’m really glad at how much progress I’ve been able to make so far, and I’m excited for what will be in-store for me during my second week of the express course.
I am still very fair from perfect when it comes to interacting with native French speakers though. It is one thing to spend time speaking in French with other students either in a classroom setting or around town, but it is definitely much more difficult to converse well with native speakers in Tours. I have noticed that I still have difficulty accurately listening to native speakers, because I’m not used to the speed at which they talk. This has led to some problems because I will easily miss one part of a sentence and then get lost trying to catch up again. I’ve found that being persistent has been key, and to try and overcome the anxiety of interacting with native French speakers. Even if they switch over to English, it’s good to keep responding in French and eventually the conversation will shift back. I am also at a slight disadvantage compared to my other classmates in this area because I chose to live in one of the student dormitories instead of with a host family. This means that when I’m finished with classes, I have significantly less exposure to French. Looking back, I probably should have chosen to stay with a host family for a better immersion experience, but I still think there are ways that I can work around living in a dormitory and still being able to be fully immersed in French. To help counterbalance this, I’m going to start involving myself more in the activities put on by the Institut de Touraine, and also to find a way to watch French television news or to listen to the radio during a portion of my day. Since I mainly struggle with my listening comprehension, I think these things will help me a lot down the road in the coming weeks in Tours.
Another great experience I’ve been able to have so far in the first week is that we went to visit two of the local Chateaus after class on Friday. One of my classmates, Daniel, had driven to Tours from Switzerland and offered to drive us around on his last day of being in France. We all gratefully accepted and had a wonderful time exploring Langeais and Villandry. The castles were absolutely breath-taking and the gardens at Villandry were incredible. We all ran around taking pictures all afternoon, like the tourists we were, but we were also able to learn a good amount about the history of these chateaus and the area itself. I’m glad that we were able to do that as a send-off for Daniel and also for the class to spend more time together outside of actual school-work.
Overall, I’ve been having an amazing time in Tours. The first week has passed by really well, and I’m very glad to see a large amount of improvement in my ability to speak and understand French. There’s still definitely room for improvement, but I think I have the resources and the ideas to help target my learning and increase the immersive aspect of this experience. It’s also the Fête de la Musique tomorrow, which is very exciting! It’s a national holiday where there are concerts and performances almost everywhere in France. I’m very glad I get to be in Tours during the festival. There’s still much ahead in my journey, and I’m very excited to see what will happen over the next five weeks! À Bientôt!
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
Another week has already gone by in Tours, it both feels like I have plenty of time left but at the same time it feels like that it’s slowly starting to run out. It’s a strange feeling, but I definitely keep looking forward to everything that is coming up and thinking about what has already passed during my time in Tours.
This was my last week of my express course, before starting up my month-long course at the Institute next week. It was another great week, and I think that I gained a lot from my time inside the classroom. It started off a little rough because my friends for my first week of class were moved down a level, though I stayed in the same advanced class with one of my former classmates. I’m very glad that I was still meeting all the expectations for the advanced classes and I think that is a good sign for my next placement into the monthly courses. This week there was a lot of oral comprehension work, even in my morning classes. I think that I’ve improved immensely from the beginning of this week. Working with the professor and other students to help understand the recordings has helped my comprehension and I’m no longer too intimidated by native speakers. I’m slowly starting to get accustomed to the fast pace in which natives speak, which has in turned helped me greatly in my time around town. Also I’ve become more comfortable participating in my French classes at the Institute and no longer shy away from questions like the beginning of my first week in Tours. This has been a problem for me at Notre Dame as well, and I hope I can continue this trend through the next month in Tours but also to bring that confidence in French back to Notre Dame as well.
Another large classroom breakthrough was that for my oral comprehension class this week, there was only two students placed in it. The majority of the B2+/C1 students were only signed up for the morning classes, so we had plenty of time and opportunity to participate in our class and discuss the cultural issues of the day. The highlight of the week was a thirty-minute long discussion that we had to prepare on a topic of our choice. I was nervous about having to present a topic for such a long amount of time, because I’ve never done anything like that before. But it actually went over extremely well, I couldn’t believe it at the time. I chose to discuss the differences between the French and American healthcare systems, and after a small amount of research I was able to hold my own for over thirty minutes with the professor and my classmate asking questions every now and then. I was really proud of how it turned out, and it helps show the amount of improvement that I’ve had in my speaking skills since I started taking classes at the Institute.
There was also plenty to do outside of class this week as well. Last Sunday was the “Fête de la Musique” in France, which is a nationwide music festival, where there are live music performances in just about every city in France. We all went out around town together to listen to various shows in the evening. I couldn’t believe how many different performances there were around Tours. You couldn’t walk 50 meters before hitting another band or artist performing in most of the major neighborhoods in Tours. There was a mix of American cover music, some music in French, and a lot of electronic music as well. It was definitely a large scope of the musical tastes present in France, I was a little disappointed there wasn’t more French music though, but maybe we just didn’t find the right part of town. This week I also visited the “Musée des Beaux-Arts” which was absolutely beautiful. They have a large collection of neoclassical paintings and also Italian primitives. The primitives are one of the collections the museum is known for, and they were stunning. There was also a small section of impressionist and post-impressionist art, which I was happy to find since it is my favorite style of painting to go see. The last major event during the week was that the Institute organized a white-water rafting trip, which I had never done before, but we all went down to the southern part of Tours as a class and went rafting down an artificial course. It was an amazing time, and I’m really glad that I went.
It has been a great two weeks in Tours, and I’m excited to start up my month-long course next week. I’ve heard that the monthly courses are more intensive than the express courses, which will help me continue improving my listening and speaking skills. Also there will be another batch of excursions to sign-up for, to visit various chateaus in the area, as well as a trip to Mont St-Michel, which I’m extremely excited to go on. Everything has been going very well here, and I’m looking forward to next week and writing all about it. À bientôt!
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
I can’t believe my stay here is already halfway finished, time seems to have really flown by the past week but it definitely wasn’t from lack of things to do. I’m still keeping myself very busy with my classes and evenings spent with other French students in Tours.
As I started my third week in Tours, I started my month-long course here at the Institute. The monthly courses have a very different structure than the express courses I have been taking the first two weeks of my stay here. Instead of being separated into written and oral comprehension classes there are many more distinctions between written comprehension and production, oral comprehension and production, as well as adding a class on phonetics and culture workshops. The monthly course is also more intensive than the express course, with more work outside of the classroom with either short essays or oral presentations. The class size is also quite a lot larger than my express course, which was a little disappointing but I think it will still allow for a large amount of participation in the activities. There are now fifteen students in my class, coming from all around the world. One of the classes that I’m very excited about is my new weekly phonetics class, which is dedicated to improving our pronunciation of French and to help us form the proper accent. We work with a headset reciting a piece of writing that we can record and playback to see what needs to be changed, the professor is also listening in and giving us corrections and advice whenever we need it. This week we actually read a part of “La Malade Imaginaire” by Moliere, which was the French play put on last spring at Notre Dame. It was a funny coincidence for me, and I really enjoyed the activity.
Another new addition to my course schedule is the cultural workshops that we have three times a week at the Institute. They’re set up as non-graded lectures for either one or two hours, allowing us to delve into cultural topics we might not have been able to learn about outside of the classroom. There’s a large quantity of courses, but I chose to take a modern society course, a literature course, and an art history course. I had originally thought there would be a possibility to learn medical French in one of these workshops, but for some reason it is not being offered currently at the Institute. Either the specialized professor is not here this month, or perhaps I misunderstood the course offerings on the website. But I still think that these cultural courses are going to be both very interesting and informative. I decided on the literature course to help prepare myself for my upcoming literature survey course at Notre Dame, and getting a French perspective before heading back to Notre Dame will be invaluable to me. Our art history class is going to focus on different eras of French art, from the eighteenth century to the present. This week we discussed the work of Eugene Delacroix, especially “Liberty guiding the people”, and it was an absolutely amazing lecture exploring the vast amount of symbolism present in the painting.
My French has also been continually improving throughout my third week here in Tours, perhaps not as much as the initial jumpstart during my first week here, but it is definitely still improving. Through my participation in the classroom, and especially through the increased amount of oral presentations the ability to form sentences quickly in my head has improved greatly. Along with speaking French with my classmates outside of the classroom, when we are out around the town either for meals or just chatting, has helped my proficiency tremendously. I’m becoming very comfortable in going around town and talking with native speakers if I need to, and on a few different occasions this week I’ve been able to have short conversations with native speakers without much hesitation whenever they need help or had a question to ask me while I was walking around.
I’ve also been keeping myself occupied outside of the classroom as well, either with meeting friends after dinner or through more excursions to visit chateaus in the area. The other day we took a train to Blois to go see the chateau of Chambord in the countryside. I went with about half a dozen other students on our own excursion, not through the Institute, and it was an amazing time being able to see the chateau and the preserved interior. It was architecturally breathtaking, with incredibly ornate decorations both inside and outside of the chateau. Also last week there was another swing dancing night down on the riverside, which was a really great time. I went down with a couple other friends and we stayed to listen to the music and dance a little. It was still amazing to see how international swing dancing is, and to be able to join in with the tourangeaux (natives of Tours) was a lot of fun.
I can barely believe it has already been three weeks here in Tours, but there is still three more exciting weeks ahead of me. With more cultural classes, oral presentations, and more excursions to other castles in the area. I’m really looking forward to it, and then writing about it for you all next week. À bientôt!
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
It’s officially been a month in Tours! Time is absolutely flying by here, but I’m still enjoying every second of it. The end of the week was a little rough though, because a handful of my classmates that I had gotten to know very well headed back home because there were only here for four weeks. They were all really amazing people and I’ll miss them, but hopefully we’ll be able to stay in touch. There is still a lot of others here for the next two weeks, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with them.
My classes have been coming along really well, though they are still proving to be more challenging than my previous classes here at the Institute. The longer days and larger emphasis on listening exercises has been a little straining from time to time, but I think that I’m starting to see a lot of progress in my ability to comprehend audio recordings of French. There is still some room for improvement (like always) but I’m glad to see some initial progress after the first couple weeks of my month course. I’ve also decided to reapply myself to start listening to the radio in French, and to find a French news website to practice on my own outside of class. I think that will help me out greatly, and help me keep improving my scores.
During class we’ve mostly been working on transitions between phrases in French, which is one point of grammar that I’ve always had a hard time incorporating into my own French. So the intense focus on working with consequences, causes, and comparisons the past couple of weeks has been extremely helpful in improving my written French in all of the essays I’ve been writing while I’ve been here, and hopefully I can keep incorporating them into my French when I return back to Notre Dame. Last week in class was also the time for my oral presentation in front of the class, and I think it went over really well. I’m glad to be feeling a little less apprehensive about speaking in front of my classmates, which I’ve had problems with before, but now I barely feel any anxiety about presenting in front of the class.
The culture classes have also been going extremely well at the Institute. This week we were discussing the existence of satire and free expression in French culture in my modern civilization course, and in my literature course we discussed an portion of “Verre Casse” which is a novel written by a Congolese author, which touches upon a lot of the problems within old colonial notions of France. The art history course that I take is still probably one of my favorites though, this week we discussed impressionism; how it’s structured and how it was greatly influenced by Japanese style paintings. It was incredibly interesting, and the professor here does an amazing job presenting the topics for us.
Life outside of class has been equally amazing this week, especially during the weekend. I took my first excursion trip with the Institute to visit the chateaus of Loches and Chenonceau, which were both incredible. Loches was a medieval royal fortress/castle, and it was actually the place where Joan of Arc implored Charles VII to have his coronation during the 100 years’ war after her victory in Orleans. Chenonceau was also breath-taking, it was originally built as a castle of a minister but then became a royal castle. The castle was later expanded to form a bridge over the river it is situated on, and eventually became an important piece of the French resistance during World War II since the river was the line of demarcation between Occupied and Vichy France. We also visited Amboise another day, just with a small group of friends, and I’ll be heading back there again later this week with the Institute. There’s just so much history hidden around in plain sight here in France, and being able to go discover it on short trips with my friends has been one of my favorite experiences here in France.
I’m looking forward to next week, since it will be Bastille Day next Tuesday! There’s going to be a lot of festivities going on all around the town, and I especially can’t wait to see the fireworks light up the Loire River! Everything is still going so well here, and I’m always looking forward to what’s going to come next in my last two weeks in France!
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
Finishing up my second-to-last week here in Tours has been a very strange experience for me. I’ve been here for long enough for my little dormitory room and the Institute to feel like a third home, everyday just feels like I just live here and that I’m not some tourist just passing through who doesn’t understand anything. It’s going to be very hard to leave the town next Saturday morning I think. It will be very nice to return home and see my parents and friends again, but leaving behind this amazing city and all of the people I’ve met over the past month is going to be difficult.
As with the other weeks, I’ve felt progressively more at ease with the language as I’ve been practicing everyday through classwork and interactions with my friends outside of the Institute. We are still working on some new nuances of French grammar that I think have been extremely helpful for me, still developing along the lines of transitions between sentences or comparing cause/effect in various ways instead of always having to say “because”, which will be very helpful down the road. There’s also been some vocabulary improvement as well, and my ability to discuss different ideas in class has been improving. However I’m still finding that I’m lacking a little bit in “small talk” phrases, which is something I’m going to focus on during my last week of being in Tours. I already know the simple responses and interjections, and my professor has been helping us out with them a few different times in class, but when I interact with native speakers in Tours I seem to default to the more basic responses, which is something I’d like to improve before my departure. My oral comprehension has also been coming along very well, dedicating some time to listen to French radio has been incredibly helpful, especially since most of our comprehension tests are based off of radio-style recordings. There was actually one time during a long bus ride when I was listening to the radio and was fooled by a satiric broadcast that I originally thought was serious (because I started listening to it mid-way through) which was quite a funny faux pas.
Outside of class has been equally amazing the past week. Again, it was the last week of a couple different friends of mine who have since headed back home (to Italy in this case), and it was hard for everyone to see them go, but thanks to modern technology I think it will be relatively easy to keep in touch. I’ve also kept up the tradition of going to small cafes and bakeries during the day for our lunch break along with my other classmates, where we try to keep polishing up our French with one another and with the native speakers. Sometimes it has been hard to avoid reverting back into English, especially since some of my friends are in a lower level of French than I am, but we’ve been trying to be diligent about everything.
This week was also absolutely full of different excursions, both with and without the help of the Institute. On Wednesday I went to see Amboise and Clos Luce with a group of students with one of our professors acting as a guide. It was amazing to see one of the oldest castles in the Loire Valley absolutely towering over the rest of the town, though it was very saddening to see how much of the castle has been destroyed and is no longer standing. We were also able to see the final resting place of Leonardo Da Vinci and also the chateau where he lived for the last four years of his life. They ever had a bunch of models of his inventions throughout a large park that was connected to the chateau. On Saturday I was able to go visit Mont St-Michel (which was one of my dreams for this trip!) and St. Malo. We weren’t able to walk along the sand towards St-Michel, but still being able to see the ancient abbey rising up from the absolutely flat countryside was amazing. I also learned about the special type of lamb that comes from Mont St-Michel called the “présalés” which are sheep raised in the plains next to Mont St-Michel. They’re special because of how the salt water from the sea seeps into their pastures and into the grass that they eat. Visiting the beach at St. Malo was also incredible, even though it was quick cold and windy that day, it was still nice to go to the beach and walk in the Atlantic for a short time before heading to get some traditional gallettes and crepes for dinner. On Sunday we were able to make our own excursion out to Saumur, a town nearby, and we visited the chateau there as well along with just walking around the central part of the city. It was an absolutely wonderful weekend, and I was exhausted after so much travelling!
I’m feeling good heading into my final week in Tours, I definitely do not have any doubts that this experience has been well worth it and that my French has improved incredibly because of it. I’m still a little afraid that I will not be able to get everything I want to do done in the next week, but I think I need to try not to worry too much and just enjoy my remaining time in France. There’s still plenty of time and plenty of things to do, and I’m looking forward to it! À bientôt!
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
Sitting back at home is such a crazy feeling right now, I can’t believe that my six weeks in France is already over. It was an absolutely incredible time, I don’t think I’ll ever forget this experience. It was nice to stop by a few other cities after my time in Tours though, my family actually came to visit and we went around and toured Paris and London for a few days before all heading back home together. The flight was a lot better going home than arriving in France, but it was still filled with very strange feelings about my summer abroad ending after so many weeks. It was definitely very bittersweet heading back to the United States.
As for the last week of Tours itself, it went over very well. Since our final exams were taken the week before on Friday, we mostly just got our results back on Monday and reviewed how we performed the previous week. I knocked the written comprehension and written production portions out of the park, and did fairly average on the oral comprehension component, comparable to all of my other classmates. Due to the overall problems in the class with oral comprehension, we spent the last week working on techniques to improve our abilities in that respect, especially since a portion of the class was taking the DALF at the end of the week (official test of French proficiency). We figured out through some practice tests that taking notes while listening about the general topics is one of the best techniques for overall efficiency, contrary to what we had been doing before which was following the questions and filling it in as the exam progressed. We all improved dramatically, I had wished we learned that before we took our last exams, but I suppose it is better to learn at the end rather than not learning at all. It’ll also be really helpful if I ever decide to undertake one of those DALF tests myself in the future. Our last day of class together was also really special, instead of sitting around the classroom on the final morning, we all went down to a café together and just chatted about our lives over a couple cups of coffee. Monique, our professor, paid for the whole thing which was incredibly nice of her. It was a really good way to spend the last day together, before we all headed our separate ways.
Outside of class was almost hectic in a way, because we were all worried about missing out on one thing or another while in Tours. We tried the best to keep it out of our mind and just to enjoy our last week, but it was difficult at times. One of the days we ended up going to the museum of natural history, which had an exhibit on taxidermy and animal specimens, which was really cool. They had animals from around the world but also the local ecosystem in the Loire valley. I’ve always enjoyed those types of exhibits and I was really glad to be able to see it before leaving Tours. They also had a talent show of the students at the Institute down at the Guinguette, which was really nice to do midway through the week. It was interesting to see all the different talents that were represented through Institute students. Otherwise throughout the week we were just trying our best to spend as much time together as we could outside of the classroom, either going out to restaurants or hanging around town in the evenings.
I’m going to really miss Tours, and all of the amazing people that I’ve met throughout my stay here. It’s been such an incredibly experience and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I’m so incredibly lucky to have been able to do this at this time of my life. I’m hoping that with the miracles of the internet and Facebook that I’ll be able to keep in touch with all of the people I’ve met here, and potentially have a small reunion one day. But for now I guess that’s it for my adventure. There’s still plenty of exciting things to look forward to doing back home and at Notre Dame, but this chapter of my life has come to a close. A bientôt Tours!
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
The main thing that I’ve taken away from my experience in Tours is that practicing and immersing yourself in a language is one of the most important ways one can hope to improve your proficiency. Sitting in a lecture or discussion class for three hours a week (which is my standard at Notre Dame) is not going to be enough to keep progressing in my acquisition of the language. Just by living in France and experiencing the language on a more frequent basis was a tremendous help for me, and if I can try to emulate that experience again at Notre Dame I’ll keep up my progress.
Living in France was not too large of a culture shock, as compared to other countries in the world, but it was still good to head into everything with a very open mind. Trying to fully embrace aspects of a culture, even if they seem very different from yours, is incredibly important. Just by interacting with other students from different countries, native speakers around town, or hearing stories about host families, I was able to get a good experience of French culture.
I think that I was definitely able to achieve most of my goal for the experience, as I’ve become more comfortable in both speaking and listening to the language. I was not able to improve my medical French comprehension however due to the inaccessibility of the class in Tours.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
As I’ve previously mentioned, the importance of practicing my language as I return home to the United States has been a large take-away from this experience. I’ve definitely been inspired to try and seek out more opportunities at Notre Dame to express myself in French, like the monthly café and dinner table, as well as other French club activities. I think moving forward by trying to create an immersive environment for myself is a major insight on how to keep improving my French.
My worldview has definitely widened after my experience in Tours through the SLA program. Meeting different students from many different cultures, and experiencing the differences in France itself has definitely shown me different aspects of life that I can try to incorporate into my own. Such as the environmentalism of the French, or the different understanding of meals as an important social event rather than simple nutrition. I’ve also found that a lot of European cultures are more relaxed in a way, instead of focusing on time constraints and always needing to be preoccupied with a task, which might be a better way to go through life with less strain from stress.
My advice for anyone considering an SLA grant is to definitely try to take advantage of it, you will not regret it! To anyone who is preparing to start their own experience is to dive head-first into the experience, being nervous is normal but jumping right in and immersing yourself in the people and culture is the best way to make the most out of this type of opportunity.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
I’m going to try my best to keep moving forward in my quest for fluency in French, whether through participating more actively in the classroom or through extracurricular activities outside of lectures and discussions. I might even consider the French play sometime in the future! Also I’m incredibly interested in journeying to Quebec to gain some understanding into the unique francophone culture there as well as a fairly different dialect and accent. I think that expanding my knowledge of other francophone regions will also be incredibly helpful to me in my future endeavors.
I am also very interested in pursuing the DALF examination next summer, it’s the only official way to demonstrate your proficiency in French internationally, either in the business or scientific world. I was surprised that I had never really heard about it at Notre Dame beforehand, so perhaps I will try to spread that information to other classmates as well.
The confidence that I’ve gained through this experience will definitely translate to more participation in my classes at Notre Dame, which will help me continue to improve my academic performance in French. All of the nuances of written French that I picked up over the course of my studies in Tours will also help my ability to write academic papers.
I’m greatly looking forward to finding new and exciting ways to incorporate my French skills into my daily life, whether academically, personally, or professionally. It’ll be the next great adventure for me.