Name: Katherine Woodrum
Location of Study: Tours, France
Program of Study: General Intensive French
A brief personal bio:
I’m currently a sophomore majoring in accounting with a supplementary major in French. Before I began attending Notre Dame, I had never taken a French class in my life. However, I originally needed to fulfill a language requirement, so I chose French, the language my mother had studied in college. After the first two semesters, I loved the classes and wanted to eventually be able to converse in a second language.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
During my time at Notre Dame, I plan to synthesize my French studies along with my interest in education. I have in interest in researching and critically comparing the differences between the French and American approaches to education. Specifically, I would analyze the success of the baccalaureate exam in allowing equal access to French universities, despite a family’s economic situation. Receiving an SLA grant would allow me to gain the necessarily preliminary language skills to pursue this research further. My complete immersion into the French language and total focus on its components would allow to gain the abilities to converse more comfortably and even interview French students on their educational experiences.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
Since I’ve only taken French classes for 2 years, I’m not completely confidant carrying a conversation in the language. Over the summer, I plan to speak French to other students outside of class and when touring the city. Additionally, the Institut de Touraine is located extremely close to Angers, where I hope to study abroad during my junior year. While in France over the summer, I would initiate contact with Odette Menyard at the Centre International d’Etudes Francaises. Remaining in contact with her, I would be able to speak with professors and conduct my research during my stay in Angers.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak more French more comfortably in a casual setting and understand conversations outside of the classroom.
- Additionally, I will stay up to date with local newspapers and discover a favorite French author.
- By the beginning of my fall semester, I will be able to place in the 300 level on my proficiency testing in Angers.
- Throughout the summer, I will begin preliminary research comparing the French and American educational systems, specifically within regards to social mobility.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
My biggest concern at the Institut de Touraine is also one of the aspects I am most looking forward to. While I encounter an immersion experience during my French classes at Notre Dame, I can easily slip back into an English-speaking comfort zone as soon as I exit the classroom. With the host program in Tours, I will be completely immersed into the language and be forced to voice my wants, needs and daily emotions in a completely new way. Despite my anxiety over this new experience, I believe it will be the best way to progress in my oral French skills. I plan to limit my English outside of the classroom and when speaking with my host family. I also intend to stay up to date on current events and see issues that are more talked about in the country.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
When I first stepped off the train and met my host family in Tours, I realized just how big of adjustment staying in France would be. When I learned that no one in my host family could speak English, I suddenly had no safety net to fall back on if I couldn’t remember a specific word. However, as the week progressed, I became incredibly grateful that I was forced into complete immersion experience. As my host parents described traditional dishes, my vocabulary grew as I tried to remember each ingredient to talk about during the next dinner. When they referenced specific holidays or stores in the city, it also became easier for me to adjust when I was alone in the city. Even after just a week, I began to pick up more concepts and details in the stories my host parents told. While they would often stop and explain words they thought I wouldn’t know, I began to recognize new words more easily after I became accustomed to the faster speed and authentic accent. My proudest moment of the week came when I had to purchase a monthly tram pass for my stay. I went to the travel bureau and was forced to explain what I needed and show my proof of identity all while speaking French. I felt accomplished that I could somewhat voice my needs to a French official without having an English comfort zone to fall back on. However, my limited vocabulary and the slower pace in which I talk still can be frustrating. For our oral comprehension class, students must make 20-minute presentations in French about controversial topics within their countries. Afterwards, there is a discussion so all of the students can voice their opinions and the customs of their different countries. In English, I can describe and defend my beliefs more freely. However, I’m forced to simplify these opinions during class discussions and I’m not yet able to describe any gray areas in these topics. Even after the first discussion, I’ve realized it’s challenged me to think on my feet and improvise in voicing my opinions within my current vocabulary.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
During my second week in Tours, I was able to discover a few other regions of France. Many of the students at l’Institut de Touraine can opt in to go on different excursions throughout the week. On Wednesday, we traveled to the Chateau Chanonceau. The arched bridges and massive stonework spanned across the river. It’s amazing to try to grasp how these impressive Chateaus could be constructed without any modern equipment. The kitchen area alone was almost as big as my home in the United States with a different stone chamber dedicated to each food group. There was a room to cook meat in and another solely for bread. After we visited the Chateau, we traveled to a local winery for a wine tasting. The area around Tours is known for it’s white wine, because the vineyards receive limited sunlight. We toured the underground caves where all of the wine is aged and stored. The guides told us that they had to be careful about how the grapes are processed and how much sugar is added or the bottles will explode. The French take pride in their wine, and many have strong alliances with local wineries. That Saturday, we took another excursion to Mont Saint Michel. This was the trip I was most looking forward to. The view the mont in the distance was incredible, and we could distinguish the details of the buildings as we drove closer. The mont is surrounded by water, and the tide comes in each night to render the village inaccessible. It amazed me that all of these buildings were constructed so many years ago, yet they can still withstand the changes in water level. After we finished touring Mont Saint Michel, we travel to Saint Malo, near the sea in Normandy. During an air strike, the Germans attacked Saint Malo and virtually everything in the town was destroyed. However, the city was rebuilt and now it’s one of the most popular vacation destinations near the coast. The area is famous for its crepes and cider. We ate a dinner of these specialties with a view of the ocean and locals running across the beach. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of more of these excursions in the coming month.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
As my time in France increased, I became more accustomed to the faster pace in which everyone talked. However, I still had difficulty recognizing all of the words thrown at me. Since I had only been studying French for 2 years, I wasn’t yet exposed to the variety of words in a language that native speakers can use comfortably. I began making an effort to consume more French media and intentionally stumble upon more everyday words. I went to a local newsstand and purchased a French magazine for only 2 Euros. While I could mindlessly flip through a similar magazine in English, I struggled more than I thought I would at trying to understand the slang and idioms throughout the articles. Soon, my magazine became more heavily annotated than the novels I read for class. Since there weren’t any planned excursions this week, I had the opportunity to discover some of less traveled areas of Tours. When I took a turn onto a small street, I found a bookstore for children and young adults that grouped each book based on reading level. There, I found one of my favorite books from my childhood in French, A Series of Unfortunate Events. While I still couldn’t read first chapter without a dictionary handy, I noticed that the reading became easier as I more words within the author’s vocabulary. I was able to incorporate some of these words into my interactions with my host family. When the host mother showed me her wedding dress, I was able to point out the lace on the back since I recently learned that word in French. Throughout the duration of my trip, I plan to return to the bookstore and purchase more challenging books to gauge how my reading is progressing.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
After classes on Wednesday, the Institute arranged an international language café at a local nursing home. Many of the residents were bilingual, and they enjoyed being able to share the stories of their lives in another language. During the café, I spoke with an elderly French lady who learned English while living in Great Britain. She told me that her generation was a turning point in the concept of bilingualism. When she was growing up, the ability to speak two languages was just becoming more common. I told her that the culture in the United States is still very different, and the percentage of bilingual individuals is still relatively small. She also enjoyed talking about the history of the Loire River. She said that many of the chateaus were built around the river because it provided the best hunting grounds- something that was profitable for survival, but then hunting also became the premier sport for the upper class. After she learned I was primarily taking French classes while in Tours, we began to speak in French as well. As the conversation grew longer, I could tell she was becoming tired as she formed sentences by alternating words in French and English. It was very interesting to see the conditions of a nursing home in France- a distinctly different experience than in the US. I noticed that the nurses helped even the oldest residents to put on jewelry and look presentable before meals. Inspired by the stories of the Loire Valley, my friends and I decided to take a boat onto the river. We spent an hour passing by the places we could usually only see from the ground. The river was gorgeous, partially because there weren’t as many roads or developments as I’m accustomed to in the US. The next day, I decided to take a walk around Tours and possibly do a little souvenir shopping as well. However, I forgot about one of the biggest cultural differences when I stepped out of the house- everything isn’t open 24/7. Since it was a Sunday, almost all of the shops were closed. However, I stumbled into a car race on accident. There was a huge gathering of old and new cars racing around the closed off streets. It was amazing to see tiny, antique cars racing on the narrow cobblestone streets. As I’m becoming more familiar with the city, I’ve enjoyed being able to find smaller events such as these to attend.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
Between my two monthly classes at the Institut, I had a week of vacation and I was able to stay with my friend’s family in Switzerland. On the first day, my friend, Carly, showed me around Basel, the city where she lives, and we took a boat across the Rhine River. That night we watched the Switzerland-Honduras football match outdoors in a garden. It has been an incredibly interesting experience to see the FIFA tournament broadcast in multiple languages and how people gather together in different manners to watch the match. Each country has their own traditions when they gather together around the same sport. For instance, I’ve noticed that the French tend to be calmer than Americans, and the Swiss prefer to gather in larger groups in an open space. The following day, Carly and I took a train to Lausanne, a French-speaking city south of Basel. Since there are technically four official languages of Switzerland, the announcements on the train would switch languages depending on which area it was passing through. This culture of multilingualism is very different than that of the United States. Once we arrived in Lausanne, we visited a museum featuring L’Art Brut, or also known as art from the fringe. The museum featured self-taught artists who were somehow mentally unbalanced, such as those living in asylums or claiming inspiration from spiritualism. This was one of the most fascinating museums I had ever visited, and you could see the artists’ struggle and different manner of thinking by looking at their work. The following day, my friend’s parents rented a car and we drove around the French countryside. We tasted an assortment of white wines, while her dad explained the region’s methods of growing grapes and reasons for differences in taste. He told us that the most expensive grapes are actually grown on the side of a hill, which allows the plants to have more even sunlight during the day. Afterwards, Carly and I were dropped off in a small German city where we met a couple locals. One German man seemed especially disappointed to find out that my family didn’t own any horses despite being from Texas. As a perfect end to my travels in Switzerland, my friend’s mom prepared a traditional Swiss fondue. She informed me that she usually makes one for visitors, but we would have to eat it inside since it’s a huge faux pas to eat fondue in the summer. Even though Switzerland and France border each other, the differences in culture were distinct and an interesting European comparison.
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
This week, my friend and I planned one of the trips I was most looking forward to during my stay. Monday was Bastille Day, or the national holiday of France. SLA To celebrate, another recipient, Randi, and I decided to spend the weekend in Paris. We took a train into the city early Sunday morning and began our adventures in the Paris by walking around the Seine River. We quickly stumbled into Notre Dame Cathedral and immediate regretting not having any ND gear to take photos with in front of the Cathedral. However, we did opt to take a few pictures with the classic fighting Irish and touchdown Jesus poses. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to enter the building itself, since we had a limited amount of time, and there was an almost two hour-long wait to get inside. After wandering throughout the streets of Paris, we stopped in a small café for dinner. We both ordered pizza, which happened to be the restaurant’s specialty. In France, the pizzas are served with an egg, sunny side up, on the top. You can crack the egg, and the yolk runs all over the pizza. After dinner, we saw the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower. This proved to be a rather climactic end to the day, since a band was playing the national anthem as we approached the tower in honor of Bastille Day.
The next morning, we ate beignets (French donuts) on the go as we walked to the Champs-Élysées for the parade. Everyone swarmed the streets as military tanks and trucks drove from the Arc de Triumph. The parade for Bastille Day was very different than those for the 4th of July. There weren’t any musicians or performers. Instead, there were multiple fly-overs with planes and helicopters, and military vehicles and personnel were everywhere. After the parade, we had to stop in Ladurée (a famous macaroon bakery), since were we right by the store. I chose two rose and caramel macaroons. They were definitely some of the most delicious pastries I had ever eaten. Before heading to the train station to go back to Tours, we had one final meal in the city. I had a traditional French dish, Brandade, which consisted of mashed potatoes and shredded cod with bread crumbs on top. At the end of the day, we were sad to leave Paris, but were thoroughly exhausted and ready to sleep in our beds in Tours.
Since my time in Tours was already running low, a couple girls from the Institut and I decided to bike to a Chateau in Villandry, a neighboring town. However, we forgot that many of the stores in the town closed for long lunch breaks each day, so we weren’t able to rent the bikes until the afternoon. By that time, it hit the hottest part of the day, and we soon realized we didn’t know the route as well as we thought. After an hour biking the wrong direction, we gave up and decided to just bike along the path near the Loire River. We had a picnic on the bank of the Loire and the day ended up being enjoyable despite never reaching our targeted destination.
However, we took a second, slightly more successful trip to the Chateau Chambord on Saturday. We took an early train to a nearby city, and our host mothers packed a picnic lunch for us. We saved our lunches to eat inside of the walls of the Chateau. This easily topped my list of most beautiful scenery I’ve seen while eating. The Chateau itself was enormous, and one of the biggest in the region. There was no guided path, so you were free to wander through the rooms in any order. Some were ornately decorated and others were left bare. In the center of the Chateau was a huge engraved, spiral stone staircase. I could imagine the lady of the Chateau making a grand entrance as all her friends watched. After we finished visiting all of the rooms, we walked through the grounds and there was a tiny wooden chapel on top of a hill. We then visited a little village within walking distance. One of the stores was a local bakery. We got to sample all of the cookies, and I finally settled on a box of meringues. Next, we went to a wine tasting of a local wine producer. He showed us pictures of the horses he used to till the ground and harvest the grapes. After we took a final look at the Chateau, we arrived at the bus station with a few minutes to spare- only to realize that we read the schedule incorrectly. We had missed our bus and the next one wasn’t coming for another hour. This meant we could miss our train back to Tours. Luckily, I was able to ask if the bus ever arrives early and described our problem in French. The bus driver said not to worry, and we could get there on time. So began the most terrifying bus ride down the French countryside. We sped through turns and even skipped one of the stops on the route completely. We smiled and thanked the driver, then ran to our train. This week, I learned that it really does pay off to plan trips farther in advance.
This week was my last in Tours, and my final opportunity to check everything off my summer bucket list. I searched online for some local museums in Tours that I wanted to visit. I decided to wait until towards the end of my trip, so I could read the excerpts next to displays more fluidly and I would be more familiar with the vocabulary. For my first stop, I headed to Le Centre de Création Comtemporaine, which held a rather modern exhibit. Once you stepped inside, the large, empty, white rooms gave the exhibit a warehouse type feel. In each room, there were 2 or 3 projectors (the kind teachers use to display notes) that emitted white light on the walls. To be honest, the meaning of the exhibit was a little lost on me. Next, I went to an exhibit centered on French bread during World War II. The French set up mobile boulangeries (bread bakeries) in order to feed the troops fresh bread. After the United States joined the war efforts, the military wasn’t satisfied with the amount of bread produced by the current boulangeries. The US then constructed the largest mobile bakery during the war- cranking out multiple tons of bread each day. Finally, I finished my tour de museums at the Musée du Compagnonnage. The museum featured the most skilled artists from different fields. There were displays of everything from cake decorating to metal welding. I was exited when I purchased my ticket. The lady at the front desk told me that she noticed my accent in French and asked where I was from. I decided this was a noticeable improvement from being automatically recognized by my American accent.
Later in the week, on Wednesday, the Institut hosted a talent show for the students at The Guingette (a popular spot to meet next to the Loire River). Since the Institut was international, many students chose to sing songs from their own countries. It became an interesting mix of musical styles, and gave me a chance to run into people outside of class one last time. Friday came sooner than expected, and it was now my last day in Tours. Since I would have to get up at 5am the next morning, lunch became my real last chance to say my goodbyes. We had one final picnic by the river, and feasted on all of the typical French foods for one last time- baguettes, cheese, and champagne. Making my way through the train stations in Paris, I realized just how much my French abilities had improved over 2 months. I no longer had that scared look, hoping nothing would go wrong- much like my arrival to Tours. Instead, I felt fairly comfortable maneuvering the French railway system, and I knew I had enough knowledge of the language to ask for directions if need be. I’ll miss Tours and all of the people I came to know. I feel proud of the progress I’ve made, and I feel confident that I can get even closer to fluency when I return to Angers in a month. However, after 2 cars, 2 trains, and 2 planes, I’m incredibly happy to be home and back with my family.
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
While being immersed into the French language during my stay at Tours, I realized that I was able to more naturally learn new vocabulary words. When the tram stopped on my way back home one day, I had to look up a few of the words I heard over an announcement to realize that there was an accident and a car hit the tram. After this experience, I had an emotional connection and could visualize what this vocabulary was. After a similar event happened weeks later, I was able to more easily recall these words and they were more engrained in my memory than when I simply memorized definitions at the university. In a similar way, I was able to better understand the subtle culture differences I had learned about prior to my immersion. For instance, I noticed that the French culture tends to be more reserved and they place a high value on quietness while in public, something very different than traditional Texas culture. While many perceive this different at being aloof or possibly rude, I was able to pick up on these differences and adjust my interactions accordingly. After the completion of my studies in Tours, I feel like a progressed significantly in my ability to converse in French and even speak with some of the locals about familiar topics. Additionally, I was able to read magazines and newspapers in French that helped me pick up on commonly used vocabulary. As I prepare my proficiency exam in Angers, I feel much more confident in my ability to take more difficult courses such as philosophy or literature in French.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
During my stay, I was able to realize how my effort in learning additional vocabulary and being immersed in the language had an impact on my ability to use French outside of the classroom. When I first arrived in France, I wasn’t able to understand many of the conversations my host family had at dinner. As my oral comprehension grew, I was able to follow along to general ideas, and eventually the details in what was being said. My advice to others would be to read French outside of class as well as listen to French movies and programming. Many times I was able to understand what someone was saying, having just looked up some of the words I saw in a book. My view of the French culture also changed as I spent more time within the country. Before my arrival in Tours, I was afraid that many of the locals wouldn’t be accepting of my different accent or limited vocabulary. Instead, many of the French people I met were happy to slow down a bit when they spoke and they were grateful that others were interested in learning about their culture. I realized that almost everyone I met during my travels over the summer were accepting and willing to communicate with me, as long as I showed a genuine interest and respect for their culture.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
After my studies in Tours, I will be returning to Angers, France in the fall for a semester. There, I will be able to utilize the oral languages skills I learned during my courses for the SLA grant. After 2 months in Tours, I became more accustomed to the faster pace of French and I began to pick up on common words used in every day speech. I plan to use my expanded vocabulary and oral comprehension to engage more frequently with native French speakers. I also believe that my study of French over the summer will allow me to place in a higher level in Angers, so I can take literature and history courses in French. After seeing the progress that I was able to make after only 2 months, I feel confident that I can make substantial improvements in my spoken French both next semester and at the university as I complete my supplementary major. During the spring, I spoke with a partner at the accounting firm that I will be interning with next summer. For the firm, she works in France for a couple weeks each year, combining her knowledge of French and US tax laws to complete audit work for the firm. She encouraged me to continue studying French, because this combination of skills is something that I would be able to use in my future career. The work and progress that I was able to achieve while immersed this summer gave me the confidence that I would be able to pursue a similar course as her if I continue my French studies.