Meschia, Camille

Name: Camille Meschia
Language: French
Location of Study: Tours, France
Program of Study: Institut de Touraine
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Nanovic Institute for European Studies

A brief personal bio:

I am currently a sophomore Science Pre-Professional Studies and English double major living in Welsh Family Hall. I took French throughout all four years of high school, and decided to continue this love in college. I hope to become proficient in French at the end of this SLA experience, and to incorporate it into my future career in medicine.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

At the end of my four years at Notre Dame, I hope to go on to medical school and become a doctor. It is my greatest desire to incorporate into my medical practice my academic interests in literature, public health, and global health. I feel strongly that a greater ability to communicate and empathize with people of different cultural backgrounds will improve my clinical ability regardless of specialty. This SLA grant gives me the opportunity to learn more about others outside of my personal cultural/linguistic background. In addition, it gives me the opportunity to improve my French to a level two semesters above what it currently is. In my medical career, I hope to do a lot of global work that would allow me to engage in the different healthcare systems of countries that are experiencing a deficiency of medical care. Some of these countries belong to the francophone world, and the SLA grant gives me the opportunity to increase my proficiency to a level that would better allow me to serve in the global community.

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

At the end of this grant, I hope to have increased my competency in oral communication. Through intensive language courses, participation in extracurricular activities, and living with a host family I feel that I can gain a better understanding of French. I hope to be more comfortable at speaking, gain a better understanding of the language, and to better my pronunciation.

In addition, I am extremely excited to experience the cultural aspects that living in France has to offer. My program is in Tours, France, and the school offers many opportunities to travel to the chateaus of the Loire valley, which I hope to take full advantage of. In addition, Paris is not far away. I look forward to visiting the city and its art museums.

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

  1. I will be more proficient at speaking French with native speakers in a casual setting so that it is more fluid and natural.
  2. I will be able to communicate deeper intellectual thoughts in French on topics of lifestyle, arts, and hopefully health.
  3. I will have improved my French to a level at least one semester above what it currently is.
  4. I will have further explored French literature, and picked up some new French authors to look into.
  5. I will be more versed in the political, cultural, and scientific current events by reading French newspapers.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

I will maximize my experience through living with a host family. This will give me a fully immersive experience. In addition, it will allow me to assimilate to the lifestyle more easily by letting me observe all the nuances of daily life. The school-run trips to the chateaus around the Loire valley will also allow me to practice conversational French while seeing the history and culture first hand.

Through the Institut de Tourraine I hope to also find other opportunities to engage with the Tours community possibly through volunteer works. I think that this is an important way to be able to engage with native speakers while understanding the ins and outs of daily life.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

After a lot of travel by plane and train, I arrived in Tours roughly nine days ago. It is truly a gorgeous city. There are beautiful old houses lining the squares, crêperies tuck themselves away, and bushels of flowers frame the windows. What is most shocking about arriving in Tours is how calm it is for a city. It has a nice, relaxed pace with minimal noise. It has all the things a big city would with the atmosphere of a small town.
The adjustment has been interesting. I have found that it is both challenging and a lot of fun trying to communicate in French. Oral comprehension and communication can be hit or miss, but is fun to work through any problems. Culturally, it has been pretty easy to adjust with few disparities – the food, level of familiarity, etc. My host family and I talk a lot about differences between the United States and France. We discuss mostly our differences in terms of healthcare, sports, education, and political structure. Living with a host family has been a fantastic experience because it really does force me to speak French after class, and engage in French culture first hand. I live with my host mom, host brother, and another American student. Everyone is extremely nice. In addition, my host mom is a fantastic cook and tries to introduce us to all the cultural food from France. Yesterday we had rabbit with cauliflower and a sugar/butter cake for dessert. She also takes care to point out all of the cheese specific to the region when we eat them after dinner. When they watch TV I try to join in as well. We watch a lot of the news, trivia, and the French Open.
The classes are going well too. I am taking a monthly course for now, which will be followed by a 2-week express course. It is set up so that I have two professors – one for writing and one for speaking. The professors are both very engaging, and integrate the classes into lessons on French culture and history, which makes it even more interesting. I have found the grammar lessons and phonetic labs to be the most helpful components so far. In addition, there are optional workshops in the afternoons. They are on a range of topics: literature, business, gastronomy, history, culture, and fashion. I go to as many as I possibly can. They are all so interesting! I especially love the history and literature ones. The professors are really fantastic, and get you to appreciate the beauty of French. One of the most exciting parts of class so far though has been interacting with the other students. Most of the students in my class are American, but there are also students form Ecuador, Korea, and Japan! It is the most amazing experience to be able to communicate with people from such different backgrounds with French as our common language. It’s incredible! Each day I learn something new. I already feel that I am have improved significantly compared to when I first arrived. I am so excited for the next five weeks, and to see how much I can improve. I also look forward to exploring Tours more. À bien tôt!

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

After two weeks of classes, I have started to get into the routine of things a bit more. I know my way around school and my part of town now. It’s really easy to find shopping, lunch, and places to hang out close to the school. One of my favorite places is along the Loire by Pont Wilson. The river is always so picturesque, and is a really nice spot to picnic by with a sandwich.

In addition to classes, this week has been filled with a lot of fun travelling. Through the Institute, students can sign up and go on excursions with the teachers to act as tour-guides. I went on two different excursions this week. The first one was to Château Chenonceau and a cave (wine cellar/production), and the second was to Mont Saint-Michel and Saint Malo. Since this is my first time in France, Chenonceau was the first château that I’ve seen. It is such an interesting château because of its unique design, beautiful furniture collection, and rich history. Chenonceau was home to many famous royals and women including Catherine de Medici. As we walked through the gardens and castle, one of the teachers pointed out the different family crests and symbols that were worked into the wallpaper, furniture, roof work, and tiling. We also learned that because of all the travelling that the royal families would do, the furniture was made out of wood so that it would be easily transported. After Chenonceau, we went to a local winery for a wine tasting and tour of their cave where they hold millions of bottles of wine. The cave specialized in white wine, and we got to taste the difference between dry, semi-dry, and sweet white wine.

The next trip I went on was with the class to Mont Saint-Michel and Saint Malo in the Normandy region of France. It was a little chilly for summer, but the sun was out and made for a great day! Mont Saint-Michel is probably my favorite place I have been to so far. It is a very tiny island town whose winding roads climb in a spiral fashion to the old abbey at the top. On the very top of the abbey, at the highest point of the town, is a statue of Saint Michael the archangel for whom the town is named after. The story is that it was at his request in a dream that Bishop Aubert was to build the abbey. The abbey has a beautiful garden and a lot of empty rooms within it where the monks would have wandered and meditated. Surrounded by water, any view from Mont Saint-Michel is spectacular. After, we visited Saint Malo, one of the nearby coastal cities. Saint Malo had beautiful beaches, but unfortunately we didn’t get to spend a lot of time there. I would love to go back one day and explore the city more.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

Since last week was devoted largely to exploring the chateaus near Tours, this week I decided to explore around Tours some more. I wandered around the old part of Tours, found some cute smaller stores, visited the Saint Martin’s Basilica, and the botanical garden of Tours. The botanical garden is quickly becoming another favorite place to go. It’s very close to where my host family lives so I like to take the occasional walk over. Like most botanical gardens, it houses beautiful arrangements of flowers, trees, and small ponds. However, this botanical garden also acts as a mini zoo. Inside you can find ducks, flamingos, guinea pigs, turtles, a hog, a donkey, chicken, roosters, kangaroos, a peacock, and an ostrich! Sometimes they unlock the gate to where the roosters, goats, and chickens are held, and you can go feed and pet the animals. I find the botanical garden so interesting because it goes against all my pre-conceived expectations of botanical gardens. Unlike in the gardens in the U.S., it’s a free area open to the public and acts as a combination of a zoo, park, and botanical garden all in one. They even have a small area dedicated to medicinal plants that the school and hospital use for research and educational purposes. Sometimes life in France seems so similar to life in the United States, and other times it seems completely estranged. However, finding the discrepancies have been the most fun parts of my trip so far.
There are a lot of slang words in French, and shortened phrases. A personal favorite is when “Je ne sais pas” is shortened into “J’ai pas”, which my host brother uses often. Then there are also a lot of envers/verlan words. These are inverted versions of the proper words. Femme becomes meuf; Homme becomes mec; Grand-mère becomes mère-grand. A lot of the verlan words are so common that all ages use them frequently. As French slang can be pretty extensive, for Task 1 I’m going to talk about the different things people say after someone sneezes instead. There’s pretty much one standard reply when someone sneezes in French “.À tes souhaits.” Similar to the English “Bless you”, it translates as “to your wishes.” However, in informal settings, if the same person continues to sneeze you can say something different for the second and third time. The second time the person sneezes, you can say “à tes amours!” This translates into “to your love,” and is an extension of the first blessing of to the person’s wishes. If the person sneezes again, the third time you can say “qu’ils durent toujours”, which means “may it (your love) endure forever.” My host family introduced this to me one dinner when one of my host brothers kept sneezing. I really enjoy this tradition because it’s both so similar and different from our tradition. Like in English, you give a blessing to the person sneezing; however, here it becomes more compounded and specific. It shows what kind of things the French hold as a culture believe are important – wishes and love.

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

Week 4:
This week was the last week of my monthly session. As such, all of the students that were only here for the month left on Friday and Saturday. We hung out all together for the last time at the Guinguette and Place plume on Thursday night. It was a little sad to watch the students that I had gotten to know well over the month part ways. J’espère rencontre encore à l’avenir, mes amis.

I really enjoyed the monthly course. The way that it was taught was informal enough to spark a lot of discussions, while also following a set pattern for oral comprehension/production and written comprehension/production. It has been so exciting to watch myself get better in all aspects in very tangible ways. We took two tests of oral and written comprehension/production over the course, and the improvement was quite substantial. Due to my progress, I’ll be able to move up a level for my express course, which I’m pretty excited about. It’s also gotten a lot easier to communicate with my host family and other native speakers around Tours. This week, I went with my host mom to see Comme un avion, a film about a man in his middle-ages who loves airplanes and becomes obsessed with the idea of kayaking. We went to the movie theatre for its premiere, and the lead actor came to answer questions after the film ended. It was a pretty funny movie with a lot of different themes of aging and identity woven into it. Mostly, it was so nice to be able to watch a movie without subtitles and still understand what was happening. I think that experience really marks my improvement through the monthly course. I can’t imagine that I would have been able to fair nearly as well had it been four weeks ago.

This Sunday was also a national holiday- fête de la musique. This holiday celebrates music in all forms and originated in 1982, and has been celebrated ever since in France and around the world. It occurs every year on summer solstice, or the longest day of the year. My host mom told me that when the holiday first started it was a lot more spontaneous. She said that you would just walk down the streets, and see people playing instruments and singing. In the modern version, there is an online program and map that mark out which bands will be playing where and when. While the more modern version is more structured, anyone who wants to can still sign up to participate. It was a really cool experience walking around the city while the fête de la musique was happening. In every street corner there was a different band often with completely different music genres and sounds. In the off-shooting streets of place plume there was a jazz-flute folk band, a reggae band, DJ, and an electric-brass band.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

Week 5:

This week I started my two-week express course, and moved up a level. As most students take the monthly courses, and the next one doesn’t start until next week, the institute was really empty. The express course so far has some notable differences. It is not only much smaller than my monthly course, but also less structured. The teachers come with general grammar that they want to cover, but the topics are up to us. Also, the express courses, while also being 20hr/wk. seem to be less of a time commitment because there are no ateliers (workshops) and no phonetic labs to take in addition to class time. As I had more time, I got to know the library and mediatech a lot more. I wish I had gone to the mediatech sooner. It is incredibly useful, and has a bunch of oral comprehension exercises and movies open to students. I definitely plan to take advantage of it more in the week to come. Also, this week’s class went so well that I will be moving up another level for my last week! I am really excited to be forced into a more challenging class for my last week in France. I feel like it will really help me to put everything I’ve learned over the past five weeks together more cohesively.

Outside of class, this weekend, I went to Bordeaux on a road trip with my host mom to visit her oldest son. My host family showed me around Bordeaux, and we did a lot of touristy sightseeing and picnicked in front of the Hotel de Ville (City Hall). My favorite place that we visited was a street artist museum where the artists converted whole rooms into various themes. One of them was carnival; another was inside the human body. The venue was really interesting as well. The museum originally was built as a school for deaf children and served that purpose for many years prior. The history of the building remains on the outside walls that have the alphabet carved into it in sign language.

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

Week 6:
My last week in Tours, France.

It’s incredible to think that I have been in France for six weeks already. It still feels a bit surreal. In order to make the most of my last week in the Loire Valley, I decided to visit another chateau while I still had the chance. Wednesdays are short, so I went after class with some friends to visit Amboise – only a fifteen-minute train ride away. The Chateau d’Amboise is comparatively smaller than some of the other chateaus, but has an interesting layout. Another cool thing about the Chateau d’Amboise is that it’s the burial place of Leonardo da Vinci! If you take a short walk from the chateau, you can also visit the Château du Clos Lucé, the last place where Leonardo da Vinci lived before he died. Da Vinci lived in Amboise under the patronage of King Francois I and even worked in the king’s court. In Clos Lucé and in its gardens are life-sized replications of some of da Vinci’s inventions that you can interact with.

My last week of classes went well. It was a bit more difficult and faster paced than my previous weeks, but it helped me to really learn as much as possible. Unlike my previous classes, I was the only American student in this class. One of the most interesting things about studying at the institute has been interacting with people from all over the world; however, I previously had a majority of American students in each class. For this past week, though, the majority of students’ were Hispanic. It was cool to see by comparison the other students’ view of French and how they approached learning it.

Overall, these past six weeks have been amazing. I have improved a lot, but I have also gained a better gauge of how much more there is to learn. Each conversation over these six weeks has shown me not only how much I have grown, but also what I still have to learn. I am so excited to learn more and to incorporate French into my life to continue this growth and hopefully have more and more fluid conversations. Being in France, having real world interactions, has definitely amplified my motivation and desire to learn French. À la prochaine, France! Tu me manques deja.

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

I studied at the Institut de Touraine for six weeks this summer, and stayed with a host family. The whole program set up by the institute was very structured to help students with writing, speaking, and phonetics. I especially enjoyed the phonetics lessons because I had never experienced something like that before in the US. It really helped with pronunciation and oral comprehension. I mostly engaged and understood cultural differences through interactions with my host family, the teachers, and other locals. The institute also hosted a café des langues where students could meet the local people of Tours and casually converse in French and native languages. It was amazing to be able to talk to local people about French life and cultural in a casual setting. I met my goals of becoming more natural at speaking, gaining a better understanding of French culture, and drastically improving my French. In addition, I found a French author that I liked while there – Marguerite Duras. (I am currently reading her book, L’Amant)

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

Overall, it was simply fantastic. One unique aspect of the grant is that the whole experience is truly independent. You learn to navigate completely alone, and to be more self-responsible. It was challenging at first, but yielded greater confidence in independent travel. It made me into a more comfortable international traveller. I better know how to interact culturally, logistically, and linguistically. Having gained confidence and skill, I am ecstatic to see more of the world! I still remember how excited I was to go to France when I received my acceptance. However, that doesn’t hold a candle to my current excitement at the thought of returning. The more language and culture I learned, the more exhilarating life in France was. Language became less of a problem, and I began to better understand the French perspective. This experience has deepened my love for French and opened the Francophone world to me. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. I would advise anyone preparing to apply for an SLA Grant to talk to other people who have done the programs that you are looking into. Also, read, or skim, the SLA blogs under your target language. They are helpful for figuring out which program works best for you. Look into why each person chose a particular place and program.

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

From here, I hope to really hone my French – especially my oral comprehension and writing skills. I will maintain and grow what I have learned through additional classes at Notre Dame, deeper interaction with the French club, and more intense independent study. I really would love to use my SLA Grant experience in the future to aid my medical studies. I am especially interested in the fields of Global Health and Public Health. This experience should help me in future research within the Francophone world.