Making Up for Lost Time (Part II)

In the craziness of leaving Tours, doing some travelling with limited access to internet, and returning to school, I forgot to upload my final blog post, so here it is!

At the risk of sounding trite, I can’t believe that it’s over!  Even though it hasn’t been that long, it’s so strange writing this from the United States and thinking back on my time in France.  It was such an amazing experience and so far out of my everyday life that it’s a little bit hard to believe I was actually abroad this summer.

My host family has a tradition that they ask each student to make a traditional dish from their country the week before they leave.  The Japanese student who was also staying with my family made okonomiyaki, which is somewhere between a crepe and an omelette, with pork and cuttlefish.  I made brownies (pronounced “broo-NEE” in French!) for dessert, and although American foods are well-known enough in France that they were already familiar with them, they were excited to try the homemade variety!

The night before I left, I went to la guinguette with my Chilean friend.  A “guinguette” is a bit like an open-air bar or restaurant, and there is often live music and dancing.  They are very common along the Loire River; in fact, Degas painted lots of them in his works.  I was excited to go there, because I had not yet experienced la guinguette, which is an important part of French culture.  Although there were threatening rain clouds all afternoon, we only got sprinkled on a little bit, and being there was more than worth it!

I adjusted to life in Tours so fast that it seemed very natural to me, and it was hard to leave my classmates, my host family, and the place that had become a home for me for over a month.  I made some amazing friends who helped me practice my French (and who weren’t afraid to correct me when I said something that made no sense!), and I will certainly miss them.  This summer was an opportunity to fall even more in love than I already was the French language, culture, and countryside, and I loved every minute of it!  I am so grateful for this opportunity!

It’s a Small World

Recently, I visited the Compagnonnage Museum in Tours.  Compagnonnage is when artisans travel around the country, learning regional techniques and honing their abilities before becoming masters of their trades.  After this, they complete a chef d’oeuvre, showing off their talent in a creative way.  Tours has a museum with a vast collection of such works, ranging from ornately carved sabots to sugar pagodas.  Although there were some works that were completed at a normal scale or bigger than normal, most of them were miniatures. 

The museum housed pieces created by artisans of all kinds, but my favorite section was definitely the one on carpentry.  Many of their chefs d’oeuvre incorporated unusual architectural forms, such as cones intersecting with spheres or other cones.  There was something graceful yet oddly whimsical about many of the works.  This was a chance for the artisans to show off their skill, so the results were often incredibly striking.


A carpenter’s chef d’oeuvre

Today was my last day of class.  I can’t believe my time in Tours is already practically over.  My five weeks went by far too fast, but at the same time I’ve come to feel very much at home here.  I’m leaving this weekend, so I’ll be putting up my last post shortly after that.  A la prochaine!


Around the World

Between classes and living in with a French family, I really feel like I’ve learned a lot over the past four weeks.  Beyond the progress I’ve made in my my French, however, I also feel like the fact of being in an international environment has been a huge education.  There are students from all over the world at l’Institut, so I’ve had the opportunity to get to know people from different cultural backgrounds in a way that I’ve never before experienced.  Obviously Notre Dame has its fair share of foreign students, but that doesn’t quite compare with the student body here in Tours.  And although there have been several large contingents from American universities recently, I’ve actually had relatively few Americans in my classes.

Two of my closest friends in Tours are from Chile and Liechtenstein, respectively.  It’s been so interesting to talk to them and learn what their countries are like.  Coming from a country where you can drive for hours and still be in the same state, it has been fascinating to hear about one where it’s a 30 minute drive from north to south.  And when I mentioned that I missed seeing mountains, my friend Paola told me that there are always mountains visible in Chile, no matter where you are.  

I’ve learned so much about French culture since I’ve arrived, but through class discussions, presentations, and conversations outside of class, I’ve also learned a lot about other places and cultures.  Having never travelled to Europe before, this trip definitely put me outside of my comfort zone, but that’s exactly what I needed in order to encounter the new and unfamiliar.  My adventure in Tours is almost coming to an end, so I’m trying to savor whatever exciting new experiences come my way this week.  A la prochaine!


Music and Merriment

This past weekend, I played board games with my Chilean classmate, Paola, and a few of her friends.  Aside from Paola and me, everyone was a native French speaker, which was challenging but also immensely satisfying when I realized that I could understand basically everything that was going on.  Being there and talking with them really helped me see how much I’ve progressed since arriving.  My oral comprehension is far beyond what it was a month ago.  I’ve picked up on a lot of slang as well, which I’m very excited about, because one of my objectives for the summer was to know when informal French was appropriate and be able to speak it.  Thankfully, I got placed in a host family where I’ve had the opportunity to practice this a lot.  My host dad really likes slang, and he’s been really good about explaining the register of the words that I’ve picked up.  It has really helped me in informal, conversational situations like the get-together last Sunday.  

The afternoon of board games was an interesting test of my French in another way as well; one of the games we played required a pretty wide vocabulary.  It was a little like Pictionary, in that there were words that you have to get your teammates to guess.  It was frustrating sometimes when I knew exactly what the word was, just not in French.  They were really nice, though, and let me guess in English twice.  But it was really exciting that that was all I needed!

Then, Tuesday was la Fête de la Musique, known internationally as World Music Day.  It was started by the French Minister of Culture in the 80’s, and now it’s celebrated in countries all over the world.  There were free concerts organized all over the city, but there but anyone who wanted to could perform as well.  Before you were even out of earshot of one group, you’d come upon another.  

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If this doesn’t give you an idea of the kind of variety there was, nothing can

What I loved the most was that it really was a celebration for everyone.  I saw families, old couples, teenagers – people from all walks of life – come out to take part in the event.  It’s hard to describe the atmosphere, but I think the closest I can get is that the city was incredibly alive.  

My time at Tours is going far too fast, but I’ve still got lots to tell you about!  A la prochaine!

Apocalyptic Gardening for Dummies

This past Wednesday, I went to Chaumont to see the chateau and Garden Festival.  Even though Chaumont is not known as one of the most impressive chateaux in the Loire Valley, it was still breathtaking to turn a corner and see the drawbridge and white stone facade, especially since this is the first chateau I’ve visited so far.  I was there as part of the Institut’s excursion, so there was a professor who took us around inside and gave us some historical background.  It was very interesting, but I still found the exterior and the courtyard overlooking the Loire more impressive.


Proof that we got a little sun before it poured on the way back to Tours…


A pond on the grounds of the chateau

My favorite part of the afternoon, however, was the Garden Festival.  It’s an annual exhibition held on the grounds of the chateau, and the theme this summer was “Gardens of the Century to Come.”  The artists only have about two months to install their gardens, and they have to last from the end of April to the beginning of November.  It was fascinating to read the explanations of all the gardens and see how different artists interpreted the theme so differently.  Even so, I noticed a number of ideas – mainly ecological – start to emerge; there were several installations that fused gardens with houses, and there were also quite a few that touched on ecological disasters such as flooding and heat waves.  Although the chateau was very impressive, I wish I had left myself more time to wander the installations.  I’m not sure I got to all of them before I had to head back to the bus.


My favorite garden, which felt pretty appropriate after the recent flooding in France…

That’s all for now, but stay tuned – I can’t wait to tell you all about my weekend (hint: it involved French board games!).  A tout à l’heure!


Making up for lost time

Salut!  I can’t believe I’ve already been in Tours for two weeks.  I’ve been enjoying my stay so much that time has got away from me, so there’s a lot to tell about!  I got into Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, a train station in a suburb of Tours, on May 29th.  My host dad was there to pick me up and take me back to the house, where I met my host mom and got settled into my new room.  I’m currently the only student staying with my family, but there is a Japanese woman arriving this evening who will be staying until the beginning of July like me.  

It would be a bit of an exaggeration to say that I was thrown right into the midst of things at l’Institut de Touraine on Monday morning.  I and a lot of other people – including several large groups from American universities – arrived at the beginning of a module, so, contrary to what I expected, the Institut eased us into things with a few presentations and a tour of Old Town.  Classes started that afternoon, and I was very excited to be placed in an advanced class.  It’s proving to be a challenge, but I had really been looking forward to pushing myself.

Last weekend, I went on one of the Institut’s excursions to Mont Saint-Michel and Saint-Malo.  Coming from a country where 17th century buildings are considered practically ancient, it was breathtaking to see the abbey church – a collage of Romanesque and Gothic styles that was built and rebuilt over the course of hundreds of years, starting in the 11th century.  After seeing the abbey and village, we went to Saint-Malo, a coastal town about 50 km away, for dinner.  The weather, which had been pretty gloomy all day, decided to give us a break that evening when the sun finally came out from behind the clouds.  


Windows in the refectory at Mont Saint-Michel


A (somewhat foggy) view of Mont Saint-Michel Bay

The next day, I went to the Musée des Beaux Arts in centre ville.  Although relatively small, it contains works representing a wide variety of eras and styles.  I enjoyed wandering through the exhibits and doing a little bit of writing.  It was exciting to see how much of the placards I understood, but I must admit that my dictionary app did come in handy!

Even though I’ve only been here for two weeks, I already feel so at home in Tours.  I can’t wait to see what other adventures France has in store for me!  A tout à l’heure!