Orlet, Gabriel

Name: Gabriel Orlet
Location of Study: France
Program of Study:
Sponsor(s): Earl Linehan

8 thoughts on “Orlet, Gabriel

  1. Well, my first week in Tours went off more or less without a hitch, save for a brief moment of confusion when my host mother first met me at the train station — she had expected an Irish student since I had sent all of my registration materials from Dublin, where I studied this past semester. Of course, I don’t think she minds having an American. Seeing as I came directly from Ireland, this transition to a new home was quite easy — what’s being away from the States for two months when I’ve already been gone the last five? The city of Tours is lovely right now, despite the doom and gloom that’s been preached by meteorologists all over the country the past weeks (or months, if you ask my grandparents living down in Biarritz).

    I must say, I was never very good at characterizing the ethos of a particular region or country when staying there, and this is my first time in France’s Loire Valley, so no pithy observations about the people here have bubbled to the surface yet, but I’ve encountered only the nicest folks so far. I think the French are much more low-key than Americans in general, which did not totally surprise me. After settling in at my host mother’s home my first evening here, I spent about ninety minutes walking around city-centre and determined that much of the town winds down after 8:00 or so, because it was rather quiet. Not that I am complaining; I chose to study in Tours rather than Paris because I am more accustomed to midsized cities than huge ones. I would compare Tours to South Bend in terms of size and scale, but certainly not in terms of temperament. It’s a good place to get to know intimately if you only have two months. It should be a very good two months.

  2. Having just completed my second week here, I am already settled in, probably more than I would have expected at this point. I think this town is conducive to such a quick adjustment, since everything here seems very small and intimate. For instance, nearly every day I will have an experience in which I take note of a random passer-by while walking through Tours, and then see that same person somewhere else, an hour or two later. It’s uncanny, and a bit surreal. It makes me feel more connected to the place, almost like a long-term resident rather than just a visitor.

    It’s sentiments like that make me reflect on how much of a “routine” my life in Tours has become so soon. For instance, I’m writing down this little treatise in a park not far from my home, around noon. It’s the same park I wrote my last reflection. It’s the same day of the week and time as well. I’m sitting under the same tree (practicing the same old cliché, I suppose). I can’t be certain of it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the mallard that just waddled up to me is the same that paid me a visit during my reflection session last week. Perhaps a bit eerily, I could swear that I saw the same young man sitting on a bench about twenty yards away.

    I like to think that all of these concurring events signal some kind of change in the way that I look at my place in the world, particularly with regards to my comfort level in different environments. When I was young I was no stranger to travel, taking numerous month-long trips around France and Europe with my family to revisit my heritage. But during those voyages, I clung fast to my family, daunted by the language barrier and fearing that I would stray too far from what was familiar. In the past couple years, however, and especially this spring and summer, I have developed the ability to be more independent from my companions when in unfamiliar places. I’m much better at making a new location my own. I can take my own path and my own excursions and still feel just as comfortable. I think it’s an evolution very typical to most young adults, and I think it’s a critical development, but I am nonetheless thankful for having made that transition.

  3. I sat down in one of the Institut’s common areas a couple of days ago, a long stately room with tables and couches. I had an hour-long break between classes so I lingered there and took a look at the posters lining the walls. These were some pretty cool displays about the history of the Institut – did you know that a future king of the Netherlands spent a few months here to hone his French skills? What engaged me most, actually, was the series of profiles on residents around the town. I read probably a dozen or so of them, each dedicated to someone who had immigrated to Tours from a foreign country as non-native speakers of French. India, China, Lebanon, Egypt, Brazil, the United States, Germany, South Africa… it seemed to represent just about every walk of life and every occupation: students, professors, restaurateurs, laborers, mothers, fathers, and retirees all shared their experiences with learning a new language and integrating into a new culture.

    They each struck me in their own way, each storyteller with their own pieces of advice for aspiring francophones. I liked what I read in those profiles. Everyone encouraged the reader to step out and explore that which was unfamiliar during their time in Tours. I took their recommendations rather seriously; after all, as immigrants and long-term residents of a new country, they must know a thing or two about getting to know an unfamiliar environment and language. These profiles represent a philosophy that I think is integral to a goal such as mine – that is, to feel comfortable speaking a foreign language in conversational, discursive, and professional capacities. For most, if not all of us, who learn French and are very serious about it, the idea of “leaving your comfort zone” to practice more is either pounded into our brains early on in your classes, or it’s simply innate. I think I need to renew that drive, it turns out. That’s not to say that I haven’t been speaking in French when class is in session, save for the minor hiccup or malapropism, or that my dinner conversation with my host mother have not been successful. However, my usual reserved and introverted personality tends to win out in public; I’m not ashamed of it but I would like to have my education encompass more of my daily life.

    So I’ll learn to treat Tours as my classroom. Those displays on the walls of the Institut are there to help students understand that their education never ends, and that this city is oriented towards their improvement. If someone drops something on the street, I actually say something to them as I pick it up and hand it back to them, rather than just nodding and moving on. Or when I’m at a restaurant, if I have a question about the food on the menu, I bring up with the server instead of ordering anyway and hoping to get lucky. It’s a little step, not necessarily easy. But it’s important, obviously.

  4. A kind of odd development came to me not long ago, that I might need to assess the way in which I look at myself in light of my first month here. Of the numerous experiences I have had in this country, this stay is by far the most unique. Two months is at least twice as long, I’m exponentially more independent from friends and family, and my focus is solely on linguistic advancement. So, I think I am in a position to see myself differently with regards to France now. Coming from French heritage is something I never really paid much mind to in my youth; I’ve more or less taken it for granted despite the weeks we would spend with my grandparents in Biarritz every couple of summers. Now, however, I might be Frencher than I previously thought (I made up that word, but I think it gets my point across effectively nonetheless). True, I already enjoyed explaining my mother’s accent (someone once asked me if she was from Indiana – no joke) or flashing my newly-minted EU passport at the airport. I feel much more integrated here now than ever before, or even at the beginning of summer. Or at least, I’m more convincing now in the eyes of others. Every one of my teachers so far has remarked on my dual-national status since it’s included in my personal data that they access. Whereas I would have expected it merely to be a novelty or curiosity, I often find myself elaborating on my background and my parentage. On one occasion I was alluded to as the “Franco-American” in an introduction by a teacher, as if my situation warranted a title of some sort.

    Now, I’m not denying anything or complaining at all, because I love attention – who doesn’t? And I’m proud of where I come from, like everyone else. It’s probably one of the reasons that the best-developed aspect of my language is my accent, because if I can’t speak French perfectly I might as well try to fake it for as long as possible. In more seriousness though, this new dynamic manifests itself in somewhat amusing ways. One of my fellow students from the Institut, another American, remarked during lunch that I always have such an “international air” about me, emphasizing my wardrobe choices. Looking down at my shorts bought in Tours (European shorts are just short enough to be a little uncomfortable) and my zipped sweater bought in Ireland, I actually didn’t feel overwhelmingly in agreement. Instead, I responded that my apparent global competancy was more likely a product of my considerable experience abroad, upon which I would have gladly expounded had my mouth not been stuffed with a kebab at the moment. Furthermore, another conversation with my host-mother yielded the apparently shocking revelation that I thoroughly enjoy blue cheese, since my grandfather comes from a family that made Roquefort. It seems that I am the first of my host’s many foreign guests to like that particularly strong variety, much to her delight, and mine as well: it makes me feel like my upbringing was, with regards to cuisine, almost geared towards this moment, when I feel genuinely French. Sure, that sentiment seems rather hokey to the observer, but hey – that’s what it’s all about, right?

  5. I had the good fortune this past weekend of being taken to a classical music concert courtesy of my host mother and her cousin. The venue is a local landmark of sorts; about twenty minutes outside of town sits what was once a big barn for storing grain and livestock. Now it is possibly the premier concert hall in Tours, hosting some truly amazing musicians from all over the world. This night proved no exception, and I marveled at the innovation of converting a nondescript agricultural building into a hall seemingly built for music (even the acoustics were surprisingly good). The pleasant development of seeing a classical concert, whereas a couple weeks ago I came to this town primarily for building my language skills, represents the transcendence of my experience in Tours from merely a French class to a culture class, and an inspiration for plenty of future endeavors.

    Now, I am at the point where I can learn more than just the language from my international experience. In my six months abroad, I’ve developed ideas for research related to history and culture, especially those linked with France (and Ireland, thanks to my semester in Dublin). I have reexamined my future and taken time to consider that paths which I want to pursue after poignant conversations with other nationals. I have wandered hitherto-unknown avenues of learning upon which I would not have otherwise stumbled. Heck, I’ve even been inspired to some creative projects, like stories and plays, thanks to seeing my identity and the world in a different light. It’s not always concrete things; sometimes, like the appreciation of a concert in a converted barn, it’s about new perspectives through which to look at art and functionality. Lessons like that might be learned anywhere, sure, but I think we all pick them up in different times and places. Likewise, having an international experience under my belt assures me a unique opportunity to learn and grow, and to develop those lessons long after I have returned home.

  6. Just a little over a week left until I take my leave of Tours – at least until next time, hopefully. I’m starting to take stock of the things I’ve left to do, or do again in many cases. Just three more stamps left remaining on my “carte de fidelité” before I get a free kebab at Cesar’s? Challenge accepted. In other news, my time here is giving new perspectives into more than just French culture. Not exactly news, really, since it’s what I’ve been experiencing and reporting the past seven weeks. But still, case in point: an expansion of interest into places and ideas that I’d never really thought much about before. I can thank the Institut for that in many cases. In one of my classes this week each student was to give a quick presentation on one aspect on their own country that may be little understood by those from other nations. I spoke about American higher education, an Italian talked about the state of tourism in his homeland, and there were other such discussions. My favorite subject, however, was brought up by two students from Colombia, who presented with a degree of pride the city of Medellin, a site of growing innovation of entrepreneurship. I loved hearing about the new architecture, the city’s bids to host various international functions like the Junior Olympics, and the intricacies of building a city nestled in the Colombian Andes.

    It’s so cool to still hear about these places. There’s a city larger than Chicago in the middle of Colombia, becoming a global economic center, and I had never heard of it until a few days ago. Are you serious? And there might be a dozen other cities just like it right now all over South America. I feel like I need to fly down there just to investigate. Not because I don’t actually believe them, but because I feel like the world is full of places and people that are waiting to be discovered by someone like me, even though they are already the center of so many other people’s worlds. Did you know that Medellin has some of the world’s longest escalators? Those presentations made me realize that there’s so much out there I still need to see, do, and learn. Probably too much, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give it a try.

    As a parting shot, I have taken to long walks around Tours, during which I have no destination in mind, only the directive being to explore neighborhoods and quarters where I have never been before. Now, walking through some beautiful parks on the other side of the river, or checking out a plaza with great cafés, makes me wish I had been more adventurous with this city. Not that I wasn’t adventurous anyway. Again, you can’t see it all, but you can give it a heck of a shot.