McQueen, Miranda


Randi McQueen

Name: Randi McQueen
Location of Study: Tours, Loire Valley, France
Program of Study: Institut de Touraine
Sponsors: Nanovic



A brief personal bio:

Hello, my name is Randi, and I am currently a Freshman at Notre Dame living in Badin Hall.  Go Bullfrogs!  Originally, I am from Morristown, Indiana, a small rural town southeast of Indianapolis.  I am an Architecture major and, I am pursuing a Supplementary Major in French.  Outside of the classroom, I enjoy traveling, doing anything artistic, and playing with my Bernese Mountain dog, Keely, back at home.  I began my French studies my Freshman year of high school, and I hope to become fluent so I can possibly work at a firm in France down the road.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

From the first day of French my freshman year of high school, I have been captivated by the elegance of the French language.  I would fantasize about crossing the bridge to Mont St. Michel, and I could only dream of conversing with natives in cafés along the streets of Paris.  I am eager to make this longtime dream a reality this summer.

I have always enjoyed the challenges of learning French, from pronunciation of slurred phrases to spelling words with mostly silent letters.  This passion has inspired me to pursue a Supplementary Major in French, which will be particularly difficult to complete as an Architecture major.

My primary goal is to improve my spoken French significantly, so I will more confidently participate in future classes.  I anticipate interacting with my host family and other natives while improving my own pronunciation, fluency, and comprehension.  Additionally, I hope to deepen my comprehension of French literature and media.  I am confident the Institut de Touraine will help me achieve these goals through its emphasis on spoken French and its extensive multimedia lab.

I hope to use my experience at Institut de Touraine to apply for another grant through the Nanovic Institute to do research on French architecture.  I would also love to apply for the Palladio prize in architecture to do a summer internship in Paris.  In the future, I can see myself working in France as an architect.

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

On a broad spectrum, I hope to greatly improve my fluency and confidence when speaking French.  In addition, I hope to improve my writing and oral comprehension.  I believe that if I give my full effort and participate abundantly both in and out of the classroom, I can achieve these goals.  Living with a host family in the city of Tours, where spoken French is commonplace, will put me in the ideal setting for improvement.

Furthermore, I am excited to take advantage of this opportunity of living in France for six weeks by visiting as many castles as I can in the Loire Valley.  I plan on taking “beaucoup de photos” and sketches of the various castles, homes, monuments, and other town buildings in and around Tours.  This experience will most definitely increase and diversify my experience in classical architecture.

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

  1. At the end of the summer, I will be able to more consistently apply my knowledge of French grammatical structures, particularly verb tenses, to my conversational French.
  2. At the end of the summer, I will be able to more fluently and accurately analyze and convey my opinion in topics such as literature, art, and architecture in French.
  3. At the end of the summer, I will feel more comfortable initiating conversation in French with native speakers and in the classroom for the remainder of my French coursework at Notre Dame and beyond college.
  4. At the end of the summer, I will be able to improve my pronunciation by conversing with French natives and paying close attention to their accents while asking questions when necessary.
  5. At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak, read, write, and listen at a level of proficiency one semester beyond my current French coursework placement at Notre Dame.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

Other than taking French classes, I believe it is equally important to take advantage of the cultural and interpersonal opportunities present in studying abroad.  I plan on staying with a host family to deepen my level of immersion.  I am confident this will significantly improve my French, as I will not be tempted to speak English if I were to stay in dorms or a hotel.

Additionally, I hope to get involved in some volunteer work in Tours.  Getting to physically help and converse with even more countless natives through volunteering in the local community will be a priceless experience I will cherish.

I have intentionally scheduled my stay so I may celebrate Bastille Day in Tours. I look forward to attending festivals for the holiday with my host family.  Bastille Day will be filled with French culture from cuisine to traditional customs and more.

Finally, by studying at Institut de Touraine, I will have the opportunity to go on excursions to Mont St. Michel and Paris.  Within Tours, I will have the freedom to explore castles in Loire Valley.  I anticipate spending most of my time free time discovering everything France has to offer by walking around town or venturing even further by bike.



Reflective Journal Entry 1:

I can’t believe that I have already been in Tours for a whole week! My expectations have been exceeded these few days alone, and I can’t wait for what is to come the next five weeks. The architecture is beautiful, the food is amazing, and the people are friendly. However, within the first hour I was in France, I experienced an unfortunate, but key aspect of French politics- les grèves, or in Engish, “strikes.”

Upon arrival to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, my train to Tours was unfortunately canceled due to the train strikes. I had heard a little bit about these strikes before, but I was not expecting to run into any problems since I only had to take one train and I had purchased my ticket beforehand. I was mistaken! Instead, I took a cab from the airport to Montparnasse Train Station in Paris, where I had my first encounter with a native French speaker. I tried my best to communicate to him that I couldn’t afford him to drive me all the way to Tours, but it took him awhile to fully comprehend. Finally, mid-drive, we agreed that he would take me to Monparnasse.

At Montparnasse I had to speak with several employees before I caught the correct train to Tours. I was utterly confused because no one checked my ticket, and people weren’t sitting in their assigned seats at all. Apparently during the strikes, the rules of the trains change. It is very unorganized, but luckily there was an older French couple that took me under their wings. Finally, I got on a train that stopped at Saint Pierre des Corps in Tours. From Saint Pierre des Corps, my host mother, Claire Séchet, picked me up and drove me to her house, my new home for the next 6 weeks.

It has been quite a culture shock transitioning from English to French. Everyone and everything is written in French, and everyone speaks quickly. The first couple of days were the most difficult, but I am already a lot more comfortable speaking with my family, in class, and with vendors. Sometimes it is intimidating when someone catches you off-guard and blurts out French 100 miles per hour in your face, native accent and all, but I know that it will continue to become easier to understand the longer I live here.

Other than the culture shock of language-immersion, I have picked up on some other cultural differences between France and America. First of all, everyone seems to live more simply, and they are more concerned about the environment than us Americans who recklessly use fuel, water, and food. Food isn’t wasted, water is conserved during showers and when doing the laundry, and public transportation is abundant. The homes and apartments are small due to the limited space available and the high cost of living. This is quite opposite of American homes with large, open floor plans and huge backyards. I appreciate the simpler lifestyle here, and it makes me think twice before making new purchases.

Interestingly, after speaking with another French teen outside of my host family, I learned that French first names can determine social class or religion. For example, my host sister’s name is Domitille. According to Perrine, “Domitille” is a very proper Catholic name that most likely indicates she is of a higher social class. And sure enough, the family has Catholic relics in their home! I can’t think of any American names that I would associate with a religion or social class. Very interesting!

In addition, I have been blessed with a host mother who is an amazing cook! My first dinner included a quiche, pasta salad, cucumber and salmon salad, and chocolate cake. For breakfast, the children and I eat traditional French cuisine: baguette, brioche, cake, cereal, or yogurt with chocolat chaud (hot chocolate with milk), juice, or café du lait (coffee with milk). I have noticed the French love bread, cheese, eggs, and ham. It seems to be incorporated into an array of recipes in some way! I have had ham, cheese and egg pizza and galette (a savory style of crêpe). I have also had the pleasure of eating other traditional French food such as macaroons, crêpes with nutella, croque monsieur, and chocolate tarte. C’est délicieux!

I am excited to continue exploring the beautiful city of Tours from architecture to cuisine, and I can’t wait for many more adventures here in France. Every day I continue to improve!

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

I’ve experienced yet another successful and exciting week living in Tours! The food is still great, I am continuing to become more comfortable speaking with my family members, and class is getting a little bit easier to understand.

Monday I decided I would try to conquer French public transportation yet again for the first time after the train strike catastrophe. After studying map of bus lines in tours, I hopped onto two different buses to get to the swimming pool a few miles from my home in the southern part of Tours. I felt very out of place because I didn’t have a bus ticket like every other person. I tried asking a man how I should pay without one, but he couldn’t understand me. I did end up paying a couple more euros than I needed to, but I did make it to the swimming pool! However, it was closed for the week for a seasonal cleaning. Well I guess I figured out how the buses work so it wasn’t completely a waste.

Wednesday, I traveled outside of Tours for the first time since I’ve been living here the past two weeks. Fortunately for me, the Institut of Touraine offers weekly excursions to varies castles in the Loire Valley region of France. As an architecture major, I chose Tours as my language abroad destination partly due to the number of castles I could visit. We went to Blois, France, which is about an hour by bus. Chateau de Blois is actually 4 different buildings from separate centuries, but they are all connected. From the outside it just looks like one huge castle, but the different architectural styles are more obvious from the inner courtyard. We had a tour guide that explained everything to us from the history of the kings to the architectural history. At one point, she explained the progression of the orders of the columns on the classical building. They progressed from Doric to Ionic to Corinthian from bottom to top. I remember learning all about the classical orders in my second semester Analysis of Architectural Writings course so I especially appreciated that particular explanation.

Back at the house, my host mother’s friend from Germany came to visit for a few days and to pick up her daughter, who the Sechets were babysitting for the past few weeks. At one of the dinners, we had a discussion about the difference in drinking ages. In France and almost every other European country, the legal drinking age is 18. However, Germany is the only country where 16 year olds can legally purchase and drink alcohol. Claire explained to me that she lets her kids have wine at dinner on Sundays, even little Henri who is only about 10 years old. Although the legal drinking age is younger than America, I think that the European system is safer because most parents begin drinking with their children from a fairly young age. This way, when the kids reach their 18th birthday, they don’t go crazy and over indulge.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

Week 3
It’s hard to believe that yet another week has passed, and I am officially halfway through my time here in Tours! Every day continues to bring new learning experiences, new challenges, and more fun.

Monday my class was canceled due to the influx of new students arriving for the month long course and who needed to be tested for placement. I decided that I would try exploring a new city since I had the entire day to myself. Angers seemed like a nice place since it’s only about 45 minutes away by train, and it’s where numerous Notre Dame French-studying students choose to study abroad for the semester.

At first I was pretty nervous to take on the trains yet again, especially after all the trouble I had getting to Tours with the strikes. I quickly found out that I couldn’t use my American credit card to purchase a ticket at the kiosks, so I had to wait in line at the main desk, which nearly caused me to miss my train!

Fortunately, I made my train to Angers just in time! Everything went so smoothly on my way there, and I felt so proud of myself for conquering yet another form of foreign public transportation. In Angers, I went to an art museum, walked around and took some pictures, and then I did some shopping. Overall, I would definitely recommend making the trip if you happen to be in the Loire Valley. It’s such a cool city, and it’s very similar to Tours.

This week I also decided to purchase a book in French to attempt to read. Earlier in my trip, I purchased an Albert Camus book, but I decided that I needed to start off with something a bit simpler to keep my interest, so I chose the French version of the American story “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” I haven’t read too much of it yet, but it does seem easier than the other book so far! My new goal is to finish reading the book in these final three weeks.

This week also marked the beginning of the “Monthly” course. In other words, this type of class contains morning, afternoon, and sometimes even evening classes with both oral and written practice. I am also taking a class on Monday’s, which is all about French civilization and culture. One of the main discussion topics for the week was “generation y,” or those born between 1990 and now. It was interesting to discuss all of the positives and negatives of technology and new forms of communication in today’s world. French class is so much more interesting when we get to discuss and debate topics such as this!

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

Reflective Journal Entry 6:


Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

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

One thought on “McQueen, Miranda

  1. 4:
    This past weekend was incredibly busy with trips to both Mont Saint Michel with the Institut and a trip to Paris for Bastille Day with Kate Woodrum, another Notre Dame student studying at the Institut thanks to an SLA grant. Yay for three-day weekends filled with adventure!

    We had to be at the bus stop at 6:45 in the morning in time for our departure to Mont Saint Michel. The trip was about five hours long by bus each way, but it was completely worth the drive! I have dreamed of seeing this beautiful island since my freshman year of high school. I remember looking in awe at pictures of this place in my very first French classroom before I even knew what it was called! Lucky for me, I had an amazing teacher who introduced us to a wide assortment of French monuments and castles for four years.

    Touring the monastery atop Mont Saint Michel was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. My favorite part was at the very peak of the build where there was a lookout point where you could see the northern French countryside for miles. It was stunning to say the least. We even toured the different rooms of the monastery including the chapel and gardens. Besides the Paris, I think that Mont Saint Michel is one of the best places to visit in France!

    After returning late that Saturday night, we had to get up early yet again to make our train to Paris. The Institut did not sponsor this trip, but Kate and I thought it would be perfect to visit Paris on none other than Bastille Day, especially since neither of us had been to Paris before.

    One of the most memorable moments of our little two-day excursion was when we saw the Eiffel Tower for the very first time together. We had spent all morning and part of the afternoon walking along the Seine river while stopping for pictures at all the famous spots, including a “Touchdown Jesus picture” of us doing a “touchdown” arm signal in front of the real Cathedral of Notre Dame. It had been raining on and off, and we were exhausted, but we were so close to the Eiffel Tower! Finally, we could see the tip of the tower, and we were well on our way to the long courtyard you see in pictures of Paris. As we were beginning to round the corner toward the courtyard for a full view of the tower, we could hear what sounded like a symphony playing France’s national anthem. With each step we took, the music grew louder and louder! Finally, we made it to the edge of the courtyard to get a complete view, and the music was louder than ever. Both of us just stood and looked at the Eiffel Tower in silence until the song ended about 30 second later. Our timing could not have been more perfect, and now I’ll always have this great story to tell!

    We stayed in a cheap hotel Sunday night, and since we didn’t have class at the Insitut to honor Bastille Day, we were able to stay another day in Paris. We headed towards the Champs Elysees for the annual military parade. Kate and I were expecting a typical “American” parade with music and maybe a few floats. We were severely mistaken! After what seemed like miles walking to the Arc de Triomphe, we stopped to watch a fairly solemn procession of military vehicles drive down the Champs Elysees beginning from the under the arch. People were not dressed head to toe in tacky red, white, and blue outfits, and no one seemed overly intoxicated. Everyone just seemed to calmly watch the vehicles process in their normal, everyday clothing. It was all very different from our Independence Day! We later learned that the whole “celebration” part of Bastille Day occurs at night. Several fire stations open their gates for visitors who bring donations for drinks and dancing. Sadly, Kate and I didn’t get a chance to partake in this portion of the celebration due to class Tuesday morning, but we hope to some day!

    5:This week consisted of a lot of resting from last weekend’s excitement and adventure. I also decided to switch classes at the Institut because I wasn’t getting as much out of the “monthly” course as I was the “express” course. Initially, I registered to take the express course (which begins each week but topics and lessons always change) for two weeks, and then take the monthly course. After a week in the monthly course, I knew I had to get back into the express course. The monthly course seemed more like a typical American-taught class with a textbook and everything. It also seemed a lot easier, and I didn’t really like having all Americans and Canadians in my classes. I enjoyed the diversity of the express courses.

    The express course wasn’t really taught in the same way as the monthly course. There was no textbook, and it wasn’t strictly compartmentalized into comprehension, pronunciation, and writing as was the monthly course. Instead, we read articles, listen to real French radio stations with native speakers, and answer questions and discuss them. It was very difficult for me the first two weeks, but I knew I was really improving. So I asked my professor if I could change back into the express course (which is more real-life French). After explaining my case to the people at the front desk (all in French by the way) I was able to switch back for the same cost, and I even had my same professor, Paola. I was happy to be back in the more difficult course for my final two weeks!

    Back at the house, most several of the kids have been gone doing their various summer activities. Marie Alix and Domitille both went on a two-week long camping trip, Tiphaine stayed went on a trip for a week, and Henry was on a different week-long trip. This meant that dinners were a lot more quiet than usual. It was just me, my host mother Claire, and Foucauld, the youngest of the seven Séchet children.

    One night Foucauld was with a friend, and it was just me and Claire. This was the first time I had ever had a meal with just one other Séchet! I was intimidated at first, but it went well. I was able to hold conversation with her for about 20 minutes until we were both finished with our dinner and dessert.

    With all of this practice conversing with natives, I am feeling more and more confident in my French abilities. During class discussions, I am not nervous to speak like I have always been in high school and college French classes. I’m so pleased with me progress so far.

    I can’t believe it’s finally my last week in France! My family warned me that time would fly by abroad, but I really doubted them after the first few days. The first week was very scary, and the days seemed to never end, but since then, I have made friends from around the world, my French has drastically improved, I’ve adjusted to the French way of life, and I have become more comfortable with my host family. My family was right; the time really did fly by!

    I had to pack my bags prematurely because I planned a trip to Lyon to stay with my friend, Priscille, who stayed at my house for two weeks while she was an exchange student at my high school in Indianapolis back in 2010. I contacted her back in April when I found out I would be in France for six weeks, and she graciously offered to let me stay at her home a few days.

    Thursday was my last day of classes in Tours. It was so bittersweet leaving all of my new friends and my host family, but I was ready to come home and see my family again. I took a train to Lyon, the second largest city in France, that afternoon. At Lyon Perrache Train Station, I was happily greeted by Priscille and her mother.

    Friday afternoon, Priscille took me on a tour of Lyon, and it was nothing like I expected it to be! Immediately, I noticed that the architecture is completely different than the northern regions of France. Buildings are painted in warm colors, like shades of orange, yellow, and red, and almost all of them had reddish-orange Mediterranean style roof shingles. It reminded me of Italian architecture. Apparently that style of architecture is typical of southern France. I saw cathedrals, town squares, monuments, shops, and more with Priscille as my guide. She even showed me her high school. It was so nice of her to show me around all afternoon.

    That evening, her parents treated me to a lovely dinner in downtown Lyon. We each had the three-course selection with an appetizer, entree, and dessert. I ordered a tomato tarte with a poached egg on top and a small salad for my first course, the salmon fettuccine linguine as my entree, and the chocolate cake for my dessert. It was delicious, and I’m so grateful for their generosity.

    Saturday, we all drove to Priscille’s grandmother’s summer home on the France side of Lake Geneva. I experienced a traditional French lunch with several different courses because Priscille’s cousin and his friends were staying with her grandmother for a few days so there were about ten of us total. We had fruit, rice with tomato sauce, fresh fish from Lake Geneva, cheese and yogurt, and a special praline cake that Priscille’s father stopped to buy on the way. Each food was brought out to the table separately. It seemed to never end! I was pretty intimidated sitting at the table with so many French people I didn’t even know, so I stayed fairly quiet for that meal, but I was able to speak with each of them individually throughout the day.

    After we left her grandmother’s house, Priscille’s parents drove us to Switzerland to walk around Geneva for a couple of hours. It rained for most of the time, but it was still a beautiful place. Priscille’s parents explained to me that in Switzerland people speak French only in Geneva, and in other areas they speak two different forms of German. Some people in Switzerland even speak Italian. It’s really eye-opening that other countries speak a multitude of languages, but in the US, nearly everyone only speaks English. It really hit me that we are so isolated from other cultures in the states, unless you live in the southwest near Mexico.

    Sunday morning, Priscille’s dad drove me to the train station in Lyon at five in the morning so I could get to Paris in time for my flight that afternoon. After flights to Montreal and then Toronto, I had a long delay before my flight to Indianapolis. Finally, I made back to Indy, eager as ever to get off of that plane and see my family. I practically ran off the plane to meet my parents. My grandparents even showed up to surprise me! Overall, I had traveled over 26 hours through 3 countries from 5 am France time to 1 am Easter Time. What an adventure!