Malewitz, Lea

Name: Lea Malewitz
Location of Study: Avignon, France
Program of Study: Institut d’études françaises d’Avignon
Sponsors: Cathy Stock & Patrick Keough


A brief personal bio:

I am pursuing the BA/MA program in French and Francophone Studies which I will finish in May 2013.  As an undergraduate, I majored in French and Arabic.  This past year, I worked on French/English translation projects with Professor Julia Douthwaite for Amnesty International’s Project Dignity and with Professor Bleck for her political science research in Mali.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

I intend to become a professor of French and francophone literature.  As I complete the BA/MA program in French, I will be teaching French to first year students at Notre Dame immediately following completion of my coursework at the Institut.  Achieving the increased language proficiency from this program will allow me to provide the best instruction for my students and to facilitate their interest and proficiency in the language.  I have never studied French in France and know that this opportunity would enable me to achieve greater fluency and competency for my professional pursuits at Notre Dame and in the years to come as I pursue a PhD.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

Since I have never studied French in France, I hope to greatly improve my accent and fluidity in speaking.  In addition, I would like to learn much more about French culture in order to share it with my students in the fall.  Staying with a host family will allow me to do this while also expanding my vocabulary beyond what I typically use in French literature courses.  In Avignon, I will have the unique opportunity to further my literary studies while working on my accent.  I hope to benefit from the advanced courses of the Institut while exploring a part of France that I have never visited before.  Thus, I will expand both my literary and cultural knowledge and vocabulary.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

Since I have never studied French in France, I hope to greatly improve my accent and fluidity in speaking.  In addition, I would like to learn much more about French culture in order to share it with my students in the fall.  Staying with a host family will allow me to do this while also expanding my vocabulary beyond what I typically use in French literature courses.  In Avignon, I will have the unique opportunity to further my literary studies while working on my accent.  I hope to benefit from the advanced courses of the Institut while exploring a part of France that I have never visited before.  Thus, I will expand both my literary and cultural knowledge and vocabulary.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

  1.   At the end of the summer, I will have expanded my vocabulary to include everyday terms that are not typically encountered in literature courses.
  2. At the end of the summer, I will have a much better accent to use in my own courses and in teaching.
  3.  At the end of the summer, I will have much greater fluidity in speaking French.

Reflective Journal Entry 1:

I have been in Avignon, France, for six days now and am just getting used to being here. I am staying with a host mother who was kind enough to take in a vegetarian. She sais she doesn’t eat much meat anyway, so we have had a lot of bread and cheese and olives. I have also had the chance to meet a lot of her family and her daughter who are all very welcoming and encouraging. My vocabulary for household things and foods is expanding quickly! There’s so much we just don’t say in literature class-like grapefruit or towel. At dinner, I learn other words, too, of course, and it’s wonderful to have someone correcting my grammar when necessary. With 8 years of French, I never had to learn how to say bat–but now I have a strong memory of how it was explained, so I know this kind of learning will stick. In French, bat is literally bald-mouse, which seems so funny since I don’t think they’re that bald!

We have had three days of classes–and while I do miss “coffee to go” that I usually bring to class in the United States, here I am happy to hear the opinions and accents of native speakers and other students who have studied in France already. It is also very interesting to spend so much time talking to French speakers about America. My host mother’s daughter was surprised I had never seen an episode of Friends while she has seen them all!

In addition to picking up the necesary vocabulary to get through the day, I am trying to get used to the customs. It is hard for me to eat dinner after 8 pm, or even 9 pm, but that’s when we eat…and we really do spend an hour at the table, which allows for plenty of time to practice my French. I am working on my “r” using the word “portefeille,” wallet, at the suggestion of my host mother’s daughter.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

I’ve just finished up my second week in Avignon. My accent sounds more American to me–but I’ve been told that’s just because I can hear it more now that I’m around native speakers all the time.

Outside of class, we have gone to visit several surrounding cities, ruins, and local sites–Arles, la Camargue, Vaison la Romaine, Palais de Pâpes, Palais du Roure…During these guided tours, I have learned a lot about Provencal, a local language that is closer to Latin than French. Within the Palais du Roure in which we have our classes, today we saw an old literary newspaper that was published in Provencal in an attempt to preserve the language when French became mandatory. It was called “L’Aioli” after a local garlic sauce. I couldn’t read much of it, but I could pick out a few words.

I talked to my host mother about Provencal as well. She is originally from the north of France, so she does not speak it, but she learned a few words while there (especially for special plates), and picked up the southern accent which may be influenced by Provencal. The southern French accent was a little disconcerting at first, but I am getting used to it, and to the rapid pace at which native speakers speak! Even though I am not here to learn Provencal, it is interesting to think about why we learn a certain variation of a language and not another.

As for local holidays, and my host mother has said that on the 24 of June, people carry fires up mountains for the Fête de St. Jean…I asked which Jean and apparently this is for St. Jean-Baptise. She was surprised I had never heard of this holiday, which is celebrated with the summer solstice. While I didn’t get to see any of the fires, it was still interesting to learn about the tradition.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

I have just finished my third week in France and find that my French is coming much easier now. I respond in French without thinking about it, and even find myself thinking in French. One of the things I haven’t gotten used to is the difference in personal space limits. I often feel that people are too close to me when they talk to me or stand next to me in line…Although I must qualify that we don’t really stand in lines here. I’ve had to learn to be much more aggressive if I ever want to place an order.

I’ve talked to my host mom about the recent Supreme Court decisions on the Arizona immigration law and health care. Both of these laws are already basically in effect in France–the police can demand anyone’s papers, though she assured me that they only ask when people are making trouble. She said that she can’t imagine not having socialized health care, but that dental care is not included. In addition, France just legalized gay marriage, which I explained is currently being decided state by state in the United States but that Obama has said he supports it. I’ve tried to explain the parties in the United States, but of course the Left is much farther left in France than it was here. She did seem surprised that I knew there had recently been a presidential election here. She explained that her impression of Americans is that we do not follow European politics. We also had the chance to talk about the 4th of July yesterday. I explained how we celebrated it, and she explained Bastille day a little bit to me. Instead of parades, there are orchestras in the streets and then fireworks at night. I will luckily get to experience that next week!

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

Yesterday I had the chance to celebrate Bastille Day with my host family. At first, I kept trying to ask about “Jour de Bastille” or something like that, but much as Americans refer to Independence Day as the Fourth of July, in France Bastille Day is simply “le 14 juillet.”
Interestingly, my host mother said there is no typical dish served on Bastille Day like a Fourth of July barbecue. Last week when I was at a Lyon’s Club luncheon, we were served a Roman spice cake. I asked one of the other diners if “Roman” referred to from the time of Roman rule or simply from Rome in this case, and she assured me that it meant from the time the Romans ruled the region. Thus, I was expecting some traditional plates for the 14th.
Instead, my host mom asked me to prepare something Mexican, since I had mentioned earlier that I prepared a lot of Mexican food for myself at home. Unfortunately, I do not know how to prepare actual Mexican food, but an Americanized and vegetarianized version, but we decided to try it anyway. I made quesadillas and black bean tacos–which ended up being red bean tacos because we couldn’t find black beans.
For the quesadillas, I asked for shredded mozzarella cheese, and my host mom came back with shredded gruyère cheese and blocks of mozzarella in water. I ended up using the mozzarella, pulling it to pieces myself, but the water kind of came out while I was cooking the quesadillas, so the cheese didn’t quite melt the same way.
For the appetizer, I made a huge bowl of guacamole, as I was feeding 9 people. My host mother put out a tiny bowl of tortilla chips, what I would have put out for 2 people, but we didn’t even finish them! The French guests each ate probably two chips and two spoonfuls of guacamole, so we didn’t need nearly as much as I had thought.
For dessert, I made Mexican wedding cake cookies which are a favorite in my family. This, too, was an adventure because when I asked my host mom for a stick of butter and 1 cup of flour, I learned that the French do not sell butter in individual sticks, and the units of measurement are completely different. She doesn’t have any measuring cups or spoons, or even a scale to use the kg measurements that are more common, but instead estimates. So that is what I did, and actually they turned out great–even though we used a packet of vanilla sugar instead of liquid vanilla extract.
In presenting my version of Mexican food, we had an interesting conversation about food in general. A couple from Paris who had travelled in the United States commented that it is interesting to them how popular Mexican restaurants are there. For me in France, I am surprised at how much couscous and Tabbouleh I have eaten! For all of us, visiting a foreign country means encountering the minority populations as well.
After dinner, we went to watch the fireworks. I was surprised that there wasn’t a parade in Avignon, but only one in Paris. My host mother’s daughter asked if there are fireworks for Independence in the US, and I assured her that there were. She said that there are fireworks on the 14th of July and the 15th of August here. When I asked why they had fireworks on the 15th of August, she couldn’t remember and asked her friend who said it was for the Ascension of Mary and that those are only set off in some parts of the country–which reminded me of my earlier discussion of the holiday for St. Jean.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

This week I had a discussion with my host mother about nuclear power. I told her another group from the program went on a field trip to a nuclear plant. She showed me a pamphlet for an anti-nuclear protest she had received. Apparently, many people in France are would like to shut down their nuclear plants after the disaster in Japan since there is also a fault line running through their country. The French definitely think about electricity more than Americans. Those of us staying with host families are constantly having to be reminded to turn off the lights and turn of the fans, and I even do my homework in natural light as much as possible since she once remarked that it was ‘very American’ that I turned on a light in the morning to read. I will definitely be more conscious of this when I return home.

As for other controversial issues we have discussed, DSK came up and we talked a little bit about the cultural differences that might surround such misconduct. In addition to using too much electricity, I am often reminded that many Americans are obese and have been told three times by three different French people that peanut butter is extremely caloric, which, while true, always surprises me when it comes up while we are eating other calorie dense foods like cheese and olives.

I haven’t been able to pick up much slang, “argot,” since I live alone with a host mother and do a lot of homework, but I did have an interesting experience with the word “chouette.” I was going to be late for dinner because our excursion went longer than anticipated, but since I didn’t have my host mother’s home number on me and she doesn’t have a cell phone, I texted her daughter hoping that she would pass on the message. When she said she could, I was about to reply, “Chouette,” but one of the other students told me that was too fifties, so I did “super” instead. A few days later, the daughter came to dinner and said that while the rest of the text message was fine, I should have said “rentrer” instead of “retourner.” I thanked her, then laughed and said that I had almost put “chouette,” but she was surprised that I didn’t. Her grandmother also assured me that we could still say “chouette” and that it was not argot.

From the daughter, I have also been told texting slang: “A+” is short for “A plus tard” and “mdr” is “mort de rire.” I have also learned that “mince” is used instead of a swear word from both my host mom and professors, and that it is kind of like how “Sacre bleu” was used to replace “Sacre Dieu” to avoid blasphemy.

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

I’ve just returned to the States and have had a few days to reflect on my trip. It’s weird to speak English again-I almost asked a question in French at the library yesterday. Over our last dinner, my host mother and I discussed stereotypes that the French and Americans have of each other. In particular, we talked about how the French are much more ready to protest than Americans and about the TGV. In the last week, she had made another clafoutis (a dessert custard with fruit, usually cherries) since she knew I loved it–I told her it reminded me of cherry pie, and she told me she had tried apple pie and that they made something like that in the north.

Returning to the differences in opinion among different generations, I remember that not only did her daughter love American television and movies, she assured me that the English words sprinkled in her French conversations with the others around us were not there for my benefit, but always a part of her conversation. We then discussed some French words that are part of the English vocabulary, but obviously the average American’s expected knowledge of French is much less than the average French person’s knowledge of English–she had had to take 8 years of English in grade school and high school, but I hadn’t started French until high school, with Spanish for a few years before.

Coming back to the States has highlighted some of the things about French culture and Avignon culture for me. Things in France always started later in the morning than they would here, the size of the soda bottles at the airport in Montreal looked enormous compared to those in France…In packing up, I discovered that France has a special, much lower, “book rate” for shipping, which I think goes with how seriously they take their literature and culture.

At the Soirée des adieux, we ended by singing “Douce France” because, according to our program director, everything in France ends with song. One of the professors changed “Cher pays de mon enfance” to “Cher pays de mes vacances” for the foreign students (Dear country of my childhood to Dear country of my vacation)…I am looking forward to speaking French again when I return to Notre Dame!

Postcard(s) from Abroad:

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

The most striking aspect of learning French in Avignon was having to adapt so quickly to the accent and the pacing of the south of France. It was extremely hard to understand everyone at first, but I quickly adapted. Living with a host family was so important because it was with my ost mother that I expanded my vocabulary the most while going through my day and where we could discuss cultural differences regularly. When I was out and about, the French could tell I was a visitor and treated me as such because the south of France is such a tourist area. In contrast, living with a host, I was treated to a myriad of authentic cultural experiences all the time.  As for my goals, I definitely improved my fluidity of speaking–so much so that I accidentally spoke French when I first returned! My accent has improved as well–my host mom understood me better at the end of the session as well–, as has my vocabulary because I was forced to produce French words for everything.  While it wasn’t one of my soecific goals, my listening comprehension has improved greatly from the 4 hours of class daily.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

Before going to France, I had been a good student and had studied French for 8 yearshut nothing can replace the authentic use of a language in a country in which it is spoken. Nothing will make a word stick in your memory like a real-life experience with it.  It’s also exciting to see everything you have studied in use and to see the cultural differences for yourself. My advice for future students would be definitely to take the opportunity to go abroad if he or she is serious about improving proficiency, but I have to remind him or her that it does take effort even when you are abroad to use a foreign language. If your program has other English speakers, you have to try to use the foreign language with them as well, and you should be exhausted from using the language all day when you. Go to bed at night! That’s how you know you are learning.

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

This semester, I am already using my experience to provide cultural anecdotes for the French class that I am teaching here at Notre Dame.  It would have been really difficult to teach without such a background. I am continuing to use French this year in my own classes as well, and am luck to have the opportunity to keep it up. In the future, I would like to study in France again– perhaps as part of an exchange in law school.  It would have been really difficult to study in a French university without this immersion experience because the language itself would have been such a challenge. Now, I feel much more confident in my ability to use French professionally, whether I continue to teach the language and study French literature or enter a different field. In this increasingly globalized world, this cultural and language experience will prove invalabule in any career path. Before I return, I can continue to listen to the news in French online in order to keep the natural speed and intonation in my mind’s ear.