Name: Meredith Cullen
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 freshman living in Pangborn Hall. I’m pursuing a double major in International Economics and Political Science. I grew up in Iowa City Iowa and therefore I was born and bred an Iowa Hawkeye fan. On campus I am part of Pangborn’s flag fooball team and volunteer with Teamwork for Tomorrow. In my free time I love attending various sporting events to cheer on the Fighting Irish. I hope to use my language skills and my interest in International Relations to work in France some day.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
I had the opportunity to travel to France and stay with a host family during my junior year of high school and I gained an invaluable experience being immersed in the French culture. My language skills improved dramatically in just two shorts weeks, so I know spending eight weeks in France this summer will help me improve my French so much more.
Thanks to the Nanovic Institute and the CSLC, this opportunity will help me tremendously to prepare for my future studies and career. I want to study abroad at the Institut d’études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) during my junior year. To be prepared for my study abroad experience, I need to achieve a much higher level of French than I am currently at before I take upper-level courses in Politics and Economics. Furthermore, after my education at the University of Notre Dame I would like to apply for a yearlong teaching position in France through the French embassy.
This opportunity to study at the Institut de Touraine for eight weeks during the summer will prepare me to keep up with native French speakers during my study abroad and in my future career.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
During my eight weeks at the Institute de Touraine, I will make tremendous strides in my progress towards fluency in the French language. I will be taking classes for 20 hours each week, dedicated towards improving speaking, listening comprehension, reading comprehension and writing. I would like to focus on my improving my grammar and pronunciation the most, which I expect I will be able to do in small classes with individualized attention.
Furthermore, I want to take advantage of living with a French host family. Total immersion will help me improve my French skills outside of the formal classroom. I also look forward to experiencing and learning more about French culture. Living in the Loire Valley, I also want to take the opportunity to learn more about the history of France by visiting the historical sites and beautiful castles that the Loire Valley has to offer.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to discuss complex topics, such as France’s current political and economic state, and social issues with native French speakers.
- At the end of the summer, I will know more about French culture, including popular cuisine, traditional festivals and holidays, and famous French music and cinema.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to read and understand classical French literature without relying on a dictionary.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak, read, write, and listen at a level of proficiency equal to one semester beyond my current French coursework placement at Notre Dame.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
I want to take full advantage of my experience in Tours, France with little things, such as helping my host family cook traditional French dinners, watching the news in French at night, buying French novels from a local bookstore or visiting historical sites in the Loire Valley, all to help me learn about French culture and improve my language skills. I will also be in France during Bastille Day, so I am looking forward to celebrating that holiday as the native French do with my host family.
I chose to study in Tours, France because I wanted to interact with the local population on a more intimate level. I hope to do this by getting to know my instructors at the Institute de Touraine and chatting with people I meet around town, such as my waiter at a restaurant or people I meet in cafes. The Institute de Touraine attracts students from all around the world, so I hope to interact with students from many different countries as well and broaden my familiarity with other cultures. More than just helping me use my French, I will be able to learn of others’ backgrounds; opening my eyes to different ideas and opinions than my own to help me grow personally and not just academically.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
Time has flown by so far in Tours! It has already been two weeks and I can’t believe it. I have been taking a lot of opportunities to travel. The Institut de Touraine organizes excursions for the international students every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday. Compared to the price of a train ticket and admission to these various sites, the price for the excursions are really good. I have been able to see many castles, which the Loire Valley is famous for. The first excursion I went on was on the first Saturday. We went to Chambord and Cheverny. The drive was only about an hour from Tours. These châteaus were both amazing! Cheverny is smaller, I found it fascinating that a family still owns the château and lives in it. Chambord is much bigger and was the hunting residence of King François I. The castle is mostly empty because it was unfinished and was only used seven or 8 times by François. However, the exterior was filled with intricate details. My favorite part was being able to go onto the roof and walk along up there.
My first excursion was so great that I immediately signed up for the next excursion on Wednesday. With other students from the Institut de Touraine, I went to Chenonceau, another castle, and a cave where wine is made. Chenonceau was very impressive. It was first built in the Middle Ages and then added on by Catherine de Medici. Her Italian heritage inspired the Renaissance-looking style of the château. Half of the château is built across water. It was very impressive to see such great architectural talent developed so long ago. After touring the castle and hearing about the history from a tour guide who spoke completely in French, we went to a famous vineyard near Tours. The Institut arranged a little wine tasting and tour of the cave. The wine tasted amazing and the cave was very impressive. It was three kilometers of different passages, completely underground. We were also able to see how wine was made in the factory. It was a great afternoon and I can’t wait to join more excursions arranged by the Institut de Touraine.
This past weekend my host family’s grandmother organized a reunion for their family. I was able to go with them to the region Bourgogne. It’s in eastern France and took about five hours to drive from Tours. The region is very well-known for their wine, so I saw many vineyards throughout the car ride. The weekend was very relaxing, although hard to keep up with the family’s rapid French. They were kind enough to speak clearly and repeat sentences for me, but when they were chatting with each other it was very hard to understand what they were saying because with family they spoke so fast. My host sisters had three smaller cousins, all girls, also join. The youngest, Sarah, who was 10 years old, liked to talk to me and tell me about her friends and what she was doing at school. She had a high voice so it was hard to understand her, but her sentences were also less-structured than adult French speakers. I played in the pool and watched “Frozen” with her, learning many new vocabulary words in the process. My host family was kind enough to show me the region during the weekend as well. We walked around a town called Chalon, Mersault and Beaune in Bourgogne. They were all very old towns with amazing architecture. The family always insisted that I try various cheeses and wines. They were all very good and I was able to experience French cuisine specialized in a different region.
For my first cultural immersion task I wanted to discuss a controversial social topic with my host family. Because Bruce Jenner’s magazine cover had just come out and was generating a lot of discussion, I discussed France’s views on transgender and gays with my host family. Much like in the United States, the younger generation has a much accepting view towards people no matter what their sexual orientation is. Both of my host sisters said they thought transgender and homosexual people should be given the same rights as everyone else. My host parents thought the same, but they told me that they have friends who are more conservative and don’t accept them. This led to discussing the French law allowing gay marriage that was passed recently in 2013. France is much more progressive than the United States in this sense. I really enjoyed this cultural immersion task because I didn’t realize how progressive France was until after discussion these issues with my host family. As a Political Science major, it was exciting for me to be able to talk about a controversial social and political topic. I look forward to completing more cultural immersion tasks and seeing what else I learn about France.
So far my classes at the Institut de Touraine have been great. I can tell I am improving dramatically, and it has only been two weeks. My listening and reading comprehension are much better than they had been before coming to France. Writing and speaking is coming more slowly, but I can tell those areas are improving as well. Today during my oral class, I had to give a 20 minute exposée on a topic of my choice. I researched an talked about the French political system and how it is different from the United States. It was something I was very interested in learning about because I am a Political Science major. I was first very nervous to have to give a presentation for 20 minutes in French. I knew I would have a hard time talking for 20 minutes in English, let along French! But the presentation went really well. It really helped me improve my improvisation skills and clarity when I speak. Before my progress with the SLA grant I would have had a hard time speaking for 20 minutes in French, but with my improvement in just two weeks, it went very well! I can’t wait to see what the next week has in store for me!
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
This week has been quite an eventful one in France. There was a terrorist attack in Lyon over the weekend, which killed one person. Fortunately, i was not in France at the time of the attack, but I made sure to keep up with what was happening through the U.S. Embassy and various news outlets. When I returned to France, it was older news, but my family didn’t say much about it. They thought it was as big of an attack as the news made it seem. I didn’t realize Lyon was a threat for terrorist attacks, but I was very happy to see the follow-up made by Notre Dame International and the U.S. Embassy. Furthermore, there were protests in Paris over the weekend. The taxi drivers were protesting the use of the app “Uber.” Just like in the United States, more and more people in France are using this app to find taxi rides. Therefore the traditional taxi drivers are losing business. On top of those two events, it was so hot in France that there was a heat advisory. It got up to 40 degrees celsius, equivalent to about 104 degrees fahrenheit for multiple days. There were cities all over France that had new temperature records. Almost all of the French houses don’t have air conditioning, so I tried to stay in libraries or stores that had air conditioning. On Wednesday, I went to the pool with some of my American friends from the Institut. A trip to the pool was certainly necessary to survive the 104-degree heat. On Tuesday, I went to the cinema with my host family. There was a “fête du cinéma,” meaning a movie festival, where tickets were half-price. We saw the movie “Spy” with Melissa McCarthy, Jude Law and Jason Statham. It was really funny and I was surprised how much I was able to understand it in French.
This week I noticed a huge improvement in my French language. I realized that I am no longer translating French to English in my head. Before this week, even though I knew what the French meant when I heard or read it, I would translate the phrase to English because that’s how I always learned French in class. However, translating everything to English was not practical. When I am watching television or a film, or listening to the radio, the French talk too fast that I don’t have time to translate to English. But as of this week I have officially stopped that habit. It has helped me a lot with listening comprehension. I am able to hear the French and understand it, without having to worry about translating it very quickly to English to understand. For me, this seems like a huge step in my language learning process. Even though I have already made so much progress, I still a few weeks in Tours. I am excited to see how I will feel with the language at the end of the summer.
This week I worked on the cultural immersion task regarding minorities in my country. I met and talked to two different people, a male and a female, who are minorities, and what I learned from them about their minority status was fascinating. Both of the people said that they don’t feel discriminated against personally in France. They both grew up in France and speak the language very well. It is also a diverse country that they don’t feel different from any others. However, they both told me interesting details about how French people recognize social classes. In the United States, it usually happens that you can tell a person’s heritage by their name. Studies have shown that if an employer reads a resumé of a female or a name that sounds ethnic, they are less likely to hire that person before they have even met them. As Americans, we assume a lot about one another by names. The minorities in France aren’t discriminated in the same way. The French don’t assume anything when they hear a name. That employer would be just as likely to pick the person with an ethnic name. However, the discrimination comes when that employer actually meets the applicant. According to these two people I talked to, immediately when a French speaker opens their mouth and starts talking, you can tell what social class they belong to. They don’t talk with a different accent necessarily, because there are accents all around France. The difference is in the intonation, or the raising and lowering of a person’s voice. Immediately when a person starts talking with a different intonation, the French assume they grew up in the bad parts of town and are poor. How people discriminate may be the same between France and the United States, but these two countries recognize minorities in a completely different way. I thought it was fascinating to hear from these people how they have been discriminated against and the challenges facing minorities in France today. Hearing their stories has certainly reaffirmed to me the importance of never assuming anything about a person or judging them before you get to know them. They may have an uncommon name or speak a little differently, but inside we are all human.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
My time in Tours has flown by. I can’t believe I only have two weeks left! The first half of my stay in France seemed to go by very slowly, but once I adjusted and found my footing, I want time to slow down. It has been amazing to be able to see how much my language has flourished. I am still shocked every time I can understand small conversations two French people have with each other or when they talk on the phone. I can’t help but eavesdrop a little on their conversations because it is so exciting to be able to understand what they are saying. Along with me learning French, I have been fascinated to see how many languages are spoken by Europeans. They learn many more languages in school than in the United States. However, learning more languages is necessary because European countries are so close to each other, the French frequently interact with English, Spanish, German or Italian speakers. One night at dinner, I played a language game with my host family. The parents would say a word in French and the kids would have to translate it to their respective languages. I spoke English, my host sister spoke Italian, one of my host brothers spoke Spanish, the other host brother spoke German and my other host sister spoke Chinese. It was a really fun activity and fascinating to see how normal it was for the French to speak many languages.
Staying in France during the current events this summer has given me a very interesting point of view. I make sure to keep up with the news and watch the television broadcasts every night with my host family. One event in particular, Greece’s financial problems, has been particularly interesting to experience in Europe. As the French are connected with Greece through the Euro, my host family always talks about how worried they are that Greece will bring down the value of their currency. François Hollande, the President of France, has been very active in the negotiations with Greece. I am really enjoying how I have been able to experience current events first-handedly while in France. It has been very interesting to be able to hear the French’s perspective and be very close to the action.
Last night during dinner, I talked with my family a little bit about stereotypes. We specifically discussed differences in cuisine between France and the United States. My host mom was making fun of my host dad that he eats a baguette with every meal. No matter if they are eating pizza, pasta, rice or any other carbohydrate-heavy dish, he always has his baguette. He eats bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He is certainly living up to the stereotype that the French eat bread with everything. My host family were surprised to hear that I don’t eat a big breakfast every day. They said when they think of Americans, they think that they always have a buffet of eggs, ham, bacon, toast and whatever else for breakfast every day. I told them, while those are common breakfast foods, a breakfast like that is usually reserved for special occasions. Most mornings I have little time to scarf down a yogurt or granola bar. My host family also asked me if I ate meals with my family. I responded, well of course! They were surprised because they thought Americans always eat in front of the television, or are always running off doing their own thing that they don’t have time to eat together. I told them, while that is true some days of the week when we are really busy, we always try to make an effort to sit down and eat together as a family.
Tuesday is Bastille Day in France! I am so excited to be able to experience the national holiday while in France. The 14th of July marks the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in Paris at the start of the French Revolution. For my cultural immersion task this week, I went to the Tourism Office to find out more about Bastille. My host dad actually works at the Tourism Office, so I was able to learn a lot about the holiday from him. My host dad said that on Bastille Day, there are parades and fireworks, a lot like our Independence Day in the United States. My host dad said that the Bastille Day celebrations are very important to show French pride and come together as a nation. However, my host mom had a different opinion about it. She doesn’t think the celebrations are that great. The parade always passes by their house, so she usually gets annoyed about all the loud noise from the parade. The difference in these two accounts was very interesting. I am excited to be able to experience Bastille Day for myself and compare it to our July 4th celebrations.
I am trying to cherish what little time I have left here in France. It has been an amazing journey, but I am not quite ready to go home just yet.
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
It is my last week in Tours, France! Time has flown by these last few weeks, but I am ready to come home. I have loved being able to spend my summer in France learning the language, but I know I will have to return to reality at some point. Looking back on my summer, it has been such an amazing experience filled with high highs and low lows. I am constantly frustrated at myself for making a simple grammatical mistake or not understanding a word hear or there, but I have to keep reminding myself how much progress I have already made. At the beginning of the summer, I was completely shocked when I arrived in France. Even though I thought I knew French pretty well, I could barely put two words together my first night. I was intimidated to speak to native speakers and completely overwhelmed when I heard rapid French on the television or radio. However, now I have the confidence to initiate conversations with native speakers and I love watching movies or television in French. In my journal, I kept track of all the vocabulary words or phrases I learned throughout my stay in France. On my list, I have over 700 entries. I have learned about 100 words or phrases a week while in France! That kind of progress would never have been possible in the United States. I will forever be grateful to the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures and the Nanovic Institute for European Studies at Notre Dame for providing me with this opportunity. I have made enormous progress in my French studies and learned so much during my summer.
The more I am learning French, the more I am finding myself falling in love with the language. For example, this past week in my writing class, we learned different conjunctions. They have been really important to spice up my writing so I don’t use the same sentence structure throughout all of my essays and bore readers. I learned there were very, very many ways to say “because” or “so that.” However, all these synonyms have different underlying meanings. For example, “grâce à,” “à cause de,” and “en raison de” all mean because. However, “grâce à” means because in a positive sense, “à cause de” means because in a negative sense and “en raison de” is a neutral statement. I didn’t really understand the difference until tonight at dinner. My host brother and his girlfriend stopped by the house before dinner, but distracted my host mother from getting dinner together so she was running a little late. When my host mother apologized for this, she used “à cause de Paul et Tara,” hinting that it was a bad thing they joined us, without directly saying that. My other host brother quickly chimed in and said, “à grâce de,” hinting that he was happy they came over. They mean the exact same thing in English, but using two different synonyms give so much more insight into what the speaker means without directly saying it. These little things that I am learning make a huge difference when I am speaking French, and are making me fall in love with the language so much more. You can only translate so much to English to understand what the French means, but these classes and living in France is necessary for me to fully understand the language.
For my last cultural immersion assignment, I talked with French speakers about their views of Americans and the United States. Many of their responses didn’t surprise me, but I learned quite a bit during this task. Many of the older generation of French speakers I talked to said that they didn’t know Washington, D.C. was the capitol; they thought it was New York City. They think every thing is very spread out and very big in the United States. For example, I talked to my host family’s grandfather when he stayed the night this week. He said when he came to the United States, he was shocked to see our oak seeds. He said they were twice as big as the seeds in France. “Everything is just bigger in America!” he exclaimed. Another common stereotype that the French tell me is that they assume everyone lives in California. They think everyone surfs, has beach blonde hair and tans regularly. The French women regularly assume that Americans get a lot of plastic surgery. Of course, these stereotypes are all from what they see on the television. It was fun for me to learn their stereotypes of us. However, they all have a good view towards the United States. One of my teachers told me, because France tends to lean left on the political scale, when we have a Democrat in the White House, relations tend to be better between France and the United States. Today in class, I had a chance to discuss some stereotypes with my French professor. I told him that the Americans tend to think that the French don’t like them. Of course, after my stay in France, I knew this was absolutely untrue. However, I learned something very interesting. There are about 60 million people living in France, but over 80 million foreigners come to France each year as tourists. France is constantly flooded with tourists, most who don’t speak a word of French besides “bonjour.” When the French constantly have to deal with tourists who don’t know where they are going or don’t know what they are doing, it’s very easy for them to get frustrated. They don’t have a negative view towards Americans until an American tourists is in front of them in a line to get coffee and is taking a long time to order while they are running late. Dealing with over 80 million tourists a year is exhausting for the French to handle. My French professor reaffirmed that if tourists try to say a few words in French, even if they are just “bonjour” and “pain” if they are looking to buy bread, the French will instantly be nicer to them.
It has been an amazing summer in France filled with wonderful opportunities. I can’t comprehend how much I have grown and learned during my time in Tours. I am very much looking forward to continuing my French studies back in the United States with the hopes of someday returning to France or even Tours. I am looking forward to returning home, but I will never forget this incredible experience provided by the University of Notre Dame.
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
|Overall, the Summer Language Abroad Grant was a tremendous experience. I would never have been able to learn so much and grow as an individual without the generosity of everyone involved. It was extremely stressful and scary to jump into a foreign country all by myself. However, this made me grow so much and have confidence in myself. It was helpful to know previous Notre Dame students had been to the Institut de Touraine before me, and that other Notre Dame students would be there with me. The first week was nerve-racking being placed in a host family while barely being able to get a word of French out. But as my French improved and I felt more comfortable around my host family, I began to feel very close to them. If I would spend the weekend away, I would always start to miss them and want to come back and tell them all about my travels. I plan to stay in touch with my amazing host family in the years to come. I invited them to come see me in the United States, but if I make it back to France I hope to visit them again.|
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
|I am extremely excited to use everything I learned this summer in the future. Before this summer, I planned to study abroad my junior year at Sciences Po in Paris, France. However, the thought of being placed with native French speakers to learn complex ideas in Political Science and Economics was very intimidating with my previous level of French. After my summer studies, I am confident that I am speaking well enough to attend Sciences Po. Of course, it won’t be easy, but I will know so much more and have a much easier time studying abroad than if I had not received this SLA grant. In the future, I would like to pursue a career in International Affairs, to which I hope I can apply my French language skills. Knowing a second language is extremely useful in that field. As French is one of the official languages of the United Nations and spoken by millions across the world, I expect my French language skills to be very useful in my future career. Overall, with the SLA grant program, all of these possibilities with my study abroad and future career are possible for me. I learned so much and made huge strides towards being able to speak French fluently after my summer. I can’t wait to see where my French skills will take me in the future, and will always be appreciative of the people at Notre Dame who made it possible.|