I just began my fourth week (time is flying by!), after a week focused mostly on oral comprehension skills. It might be that I have acclimated to the learning environment and know how to make the most of my studies, but I noticed a greater rate of improvement during my third week than in the first two. I have advanced a level in the past three weeks, which is exciting!
To anyone who is interested in doing a language immersion program, I would definitely recommend studying on your own outside of class. Classes can move slowly or quickly, depending on what concepts you and other students know. Because everyone has had a different course of study, we all have different strengths and weaknesses. I find that my grasp on grammar is beyond the level of my course, but my speaking and listening comprehension skills are appropriately challenged. So to try and close the gap, I often practice reading syllable-by-syllable and making vocabulary flashcards.
On the weekends, I do some local travel and often get the opportunity to use my French on the road. A lot of people that I have started conversations have been really open to letting me speak French with them. Through these conversations, I have learned a lot about French culture. In my last post, I mentioned that I got the opportunity to speak with many local citizens about the political climate in France, through a class activity. I found it to be one of the most memorable things that I have done so far, and I really enjoy hearing the responses people give me. Thus, I have chosen to pursue the topic a little further and often try to start conversations about the protests and political situation in France.
The Nuit Debout movement is gathering momentum and while there is a definite tension (people are worried about travel, etc.) and I have seen protesters gathered outside the Hotel de Ville at night since I’ve gotten here, I think it is quite fascinating that many people are passionate about their opinions, even if they aren’t directly joining the protests. I met a group of young people who were traveling to Paris for a concert and decided to talk to them about what sort of social tensions currently exist in France. They had many interesting things to share about the protests and issues like racism in France, which seems very similar to the kinds of tensions that exist in the US. We spoke about US situations as well, like Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson. Having visited Ferguson and participated in the Social Concerns “Realities of Race” seminar, I am personally interested in race relations in the United States, but this is my first time really thinking about it in the context of a different culture and country. The people that engaged me in this conversation spoke a lot about geographic racism and segregation, which I found very interesting. What I gleaned from the conversation is that many immigrants are forced to move to outer parts of cities, often due to socioeconomic reasons that force the poor to move into housing projects. As in many cities in the US, these areas used to be occupied by the middle class, people who eventually deserted them because of the increasing poverty and immigration, moving to nicer suburban areas. In addition, these areas are often isolated by fewer transportation lines and thus higher unemployment rates. Based on what I discovered upon visiting St. Louis for my SCS, these situations are very similar. I wish I had more advanced French knowledge in order to be able to pursue the topic further with the lovely people that I met, and I definitely hope to do some more comprehensive reading on this topic. If you’re also interested, here is an interesting article I found that outlines the issues of race in Parisian suburbs better than I can articulate it: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/31/the-other-france.
As for more about my classes, I have switched from the intensive course (22.5 hours/week) to the standard course (15 hours/week) for this week. I originally signed up for it this way, and I hope to use my extra time to further explore the city and use my French in a daily context, which I think will be more beneficial for me than sitting in extra classes. Now that I know good methods for practicing phonetics, I hope to do more on my own. As I previously said, sometimes the pace of the class can hold you back, and self-motivation is key to more efficient improvement.
I have met other wonderful students, with whom I hope to attend a local music festival, picnic, and visit surrounding areas of Tours. Food is a huge part of the culture here, and I really enjoy getting lunch with my friends and dinnertime with the other students in my host family. I have done some grocery shopping for when I have to make my own lunches, and my staples definitely include the stereotypical baguette and cheese (favorite so far is camembert, even though the local speciality is chèvre). However, for dinner, my host makes a wonderful variety of delicious foods, always beginning with a salad and ending with a cheese plate. I have tried a variety of delicious crepes, quiches, and desserts, as well. Other cultural aspects that I have really enjoyed discovering include French music. I took a culture class two weeks ago that explained the different genres of French music and the popular artists of each genre. It was really engaging and now I try to mix my playlists of songs in English with those in French.
I can’t believe that three weeks have already flown by. I have felt an incredible amount of personal growth, which is really comforting after just completing my first year at Notre Dame. I am meeting so many cool people and love the challenge of being alone in a foreign country, surrounded by so many welcoming new friends is really special. I hope I can make the most of the next 2 and a half weeks! I don’t think I’ll want to leave.