Tours Week 6 – Final Week!

My final week of classes at L’Institut was by far the most difficult week! I moved up a level in my course work and my new professors spoke much more quickly and had little tolerance for any grammatical mistakes.

Because many students departed midday Friday for weekend excursions, my last night with all my friends was Thursday so we went to the La Ginguette to celebrate. Waking up on Friday for my final day of class was bittersweet. My time at the L’Institut de Touraine has been the best 6 weeks of my life and I could not believe I already had to say goodbye to the professors and students I had become so close to. I cried saying farewell to my friends and host family but am so grateful for the Tours experience.


While I expected and hoped to improve my spoken, written and oral comprehension of the French language at L’Institut, I did not expect the profound impact the cultural immersion had on me. The experience of learning and living with students from all different countries and all different ages changed my world view by constantly presenting different perspectives to my daily activities. I was forced many times to leave my comfort zone and known cultural norms and in doing so learned more about my beliefs and myself. It was these relationships with the professors, students and country of France that ingrained in me a drive to continue my international studies. Exploring the French culture and language this summer was truly one of the most wonderful times of my life, especially with my two great friends from the program, Joob from Thailand and Christian from Ireland.


My first day home in the United States was a different type of culture shock; I craved the life I left behind in France. Yet it was comforting and a bit surreal to return to the United States just before July 4th, a time when the nation’s patriotism is most tangible and the pride in its founding principles most on display. The celebration of our country made me remember how proud and lucky I am to be an American citizen. Learning about other cultures and living in another country changed my world view but also made me appreciate my home to a greater degree.


I remember getting off the train in Tours to meet my host family, nervous and actually shaking, uncertain if I could carry on a conversation in the car ride to their home. Now instead of experiencing fear or trepidation, I am so very excited to return to France at the end of August to begin my semester abroad in Angers. While initially apprehensive of living in Tours for 6 weeks in the summer followed by a subsequent 3.5 months in Angers, I now cannot wait to return and continue my immersion and education in France.

I feel I have met my initial goals to speak colloquial French confidently, to understand French news sources and the social issues discussed, to greatly advance my language study and gain a cultural understanding of France. Friends who previously studied abroad always mentioned the elusive “click” moment but I remained skeptical. My own click moment came during my first day of class in week 4 of the program. For me that “click” was not complete fluency yet but rather the change in how I mentally processed the language and responded with less effort in the French language.


While I have always harbored a love of the French language, the Institute also revealed many professional benefits. I learned in my diplomacy workshop about La Francophonie, a club of 57 countries that promotes a French-speaking heritage in the fields of culture, science, economy, justice, and peace. French is the “mother language” among these countries though many have a different native langauge, making French more ubiquitous than I realized.


To conclude I would love to thank my wonderful and kind host family, Martine and Richard Barriere. Words cannot express my gratitude for the amazing people they are and their kindness towards me. My host parents have hosted students for over 25 years and I was the in the final group they would ever host. For 25 years the family sacrificed much of their personal life to introduce students from all over the world to the French culture and language. Seeing firsthand their personal pride in their country and language was inspiring. It was in the conversations I had with my host parents, outside of the classroom setting wheere I found myself speaking my best French. I forgot to consciously think about grammar and before I knew it would slip into conversations from weather to food to politics that would last for hours. When the topic drifted to social issues, my host parents encouraged conversations that compared the views of the different nationalities at the table during my stay, between Saudia Arabia, Ireland, Japan, France and the United States (the nationalities of all the people that lived in my house during my stay). I found myself better able to clarify my position on these issues when exposed to multiple opinions of different nationalities because I was forced to explain the foundation of my own opinion on an issue.

Martine and Richard’s kindness transformed the house to a home and formed a family for me.

From personally taking me to school the first day to make sure I was fine and not lost, to making me my American-style black coffee each morning because she knew how much I missed it, cutting news articles and events from the paper she thought I would enjoy, to the funny conversations we had each morning as I grabbed breakfast to the delicious meals each night, Martine in particular went above and beyond. I wish them a peaceful retirement and I hope they realize how their generosity over the years has touched the lives of so many people like myself. I cannot wait to return to their home in September for a weekend visit!


Thanks to L’Institute de Touraine, I now have a newfound appreciation for the French language and its role in my personal and professional life. I have lifelong friends from all corners of the world. My host family, L’Institut and Tours will always hold a special place in my heart.

Final day outside L'Institut de Touraine

Final day outside L’Institut de Touraine




Tours Week 5

Tuesday though was a day of celebration as Tours celebrated La Fete de la Musique. Again my host family served dinner earlier than usual so we could all return to town for this festival.  Hundred of musicians and bands lined the streets of Tours, representing every type of musical genre.  I spent the evening dancing to Reggae, French Pop, Disco and even Classical tunes, just to name a few!


This last full week in Tours, I rented bikes for a few hours with my two best friends on Wednesday, Christian from Ireland and Chana from Thailand. We explored the Loire bike path in another direction, pedaling along as the sun sparkled off the surface of the river.
After the bike session we made a spontaneous plan to visit Paris to celebrate my last weekend. We bought train tickets on Friday and left midday Saturday. In Paris we climbed the Eiffel Tower by foot to avoid the long elevator lines but the trip took over four hours! We had a little of the day left to explore some of the city and had a great time wandering the streets because of all the boisterous Euro Cup fans. Since we were in Paris on a gameday of the Euro Cup, there were three games at 3, 6 and 9 PM. Because France is the host country, the Eiffel Tower had a monstrous soccer ball dangling from its center and there is a large fan zone directly in front that broadcasts the games on a ginormous television screen. Fans from all different European countries were EVERYWHERE with their respective flags draped on their backs, chanting their teams’ cheers in all different languages. On Sunday we were able to quickly visit Notre Dame Cathedral before our return trip.


In Tours most restaurant and storeowners would converse with me in French, but in Paris most people would only answer me in English. I found their reluctance to speak in French frustrating because I was trying to become better, but the experience also made me realize the true meaning of fluency is a diction and pronunciation – my obvious American accent would always give me away.


That being said, this was the last week of my month long intensive course and I have noticed a definite improvement in my oral comprehension skills. I can actually now understand most of the recordings in my oral modules.  I have become very close with my classmates and teachers, and Friday, which was a goodbye day for many of the students, was very difficult emotionally. No one wanted to leave the Institute at the close of the school day and the common courtyard was full of friends and tears.


I am excited however to begin next week because my teacher moved me up a level which is proof of my improvement over the last 5 weeks.

Tours Week 4

I was so excited this week because I noticed a distinct improvement in my oral comprehension skills! Every week at school during my oral modules, I listen to French recordings and answer questions about what I heard. For me, oral comprehension was extremely difficult and I would struggle to understand most of the recording. Suddenly during this week I felt like something just clicked in my mind and I was able to answer almost every question correctly after each recording! In addition my conversations with my host family at breakfast and dinner has improved as well and I find myself more confident speaking in longer and more complex sentences.


My weekend trip to Bordeaux to view the Ireland soccer match was cancelled, so for the first time I had no weekend plans and was in Tours by myself. On Saturday I woke up very early to stroll around the town and explore new nooks and areas I had not visited. The town was quiet and relatively empty until 9 AM and suddenly people were flooding the streets and tents covered the streets with outdoor markets for flowers, clothes, accessories, food and more.  I spent over four hours meandering through the colorful stalls until I came to one very large indoor market, Les Halles, selling fresh spices, meats, cheeses, seafood. The French residents come to this market weekly to do their special shopping for groceries or gourmet items. As my host mom explained to me, the French almost always eat fresh food. On the weekends, they visit the outdoor markets and buy ingredients for meals for the upcoming week so as a result, meals are almost always composed of fresh ingredient and rarely processed. I then discovered an outdoor flea market, with the most random and miscellaneous items for sale.  I loved reading the vintage but used post cards, written in French and imagining the stories and travels behind the writer’s message.
Since this was also the first weekend without some rain, I decided on Sunday to not visit Angers but to return to Villandry to view the famous gardens again on a sunny day. I rented a bike so I could ride along the famous Loire à vélo bike path and found myself awestruck by the biking route.  In fact I was having such a wonderful time, I never made it as far as Villandry. For four hours I biked throughout the French countryside and discovered new treasures around every turn. My favorite was a community experimental garden called la Plaine de la Gloriette where I stopped briefly to converse with an older French gentleman about the garden. He explained to me that the garden was a celebration of the relationship between man and nature.


I realized how my time at L’Institut had unexpectedly prepared me for this weekend. I am not sure I would have been able to interact so easily with the merchants in the markets and the gentleman in the bike path four weeks ago.

Tours Week 3

I am simply in love with my life here in Tours!  It is such a unique and beautiful town… it is difficult not to be happy here.  After two weeks as a Tours resident, I know the layout of the town well and have located many sites that are already very special to me. There is a beautiful running park near my host house, funky boutiques to peruse in town and delicious cafes to taste French treats.  Wednesday I visited two more of the amazing chateaus, Langeais and Villandry.


On a sports note… European people love, love soccer! My best memory so far was this past Saturday night, the opening game of the Euro Cup, France vs. Belgium.

The Euro Cup is an international soccer tournament between European countries that rotates host countries every four years. This year the host country happens to be France and the French team is predicted to do very well in the tournament so the excitement for the Euro Cup was very strong especially in France. My host family ate dinner early so my housemates and I could go into town to watch the game that started at 9.


In the center of Tours is an open square called Place Plumereau. This fun area is surrounded by small restaurants, shops and of course many, many pubs. The restaurants and pubs had all erected large screen televisions exhibiting the game and “Place Plume,” as it is nicknamed, was packed with fans. When I walked into the square, the French flag was instantly painted on both my cheeks. Just before 9, voices blared out the French national anthem and the game began.


Despite the extreme tension between the general French public and government right now, the French national pride was tangible. For the two hours of the game, nothing could be heard about the French chants. My favorite is : “Qui ne saute pas, n’est pas francais, hey!” (Who does not jump is not French). Everyone would chant the same line again and again and jump up and down. France ended up winning the game and the celebratory parades continued all night throughout town.


Standing in Place Plume with many of my new friends – all from different countries, bonding over the experience of learning French and sharing the experience of cheering for France with French nationals – is an experience I will cherish forever. No one wanted the night to end.


Tours Week 2

My month long intensive course began at the start of this week, which consists of oral, written and phonetics modules and two “ateliers” or workshops per week of my choice (I chose art and diplomacy).


Once again, I found myself to be one of the few Americans in my classes and encountered an unusual situation. Teachers and students alike were fascinated about my “roots,” or mixed heritage of Irish, Italian and German.  I never considered my cultural background unusual, but most of the international students and teachers here can trace their family history back through generations in one country.


My vocabulary mistakes are still common and often a subject of hilarity. I have mistakenly asked my host mother for “extra mold” on my sandwich, and somehow told her that I thought resembled a fat cow on the Vache qui rire package of cheese!  I realized I had a tendency to blurt out phrases with the hope that the general idea would be understood when I was uncertain of what to say.  Now I am trying to become more cognizant of my grammar and vocabulary that I use in conversation. As well as making an effort to speak in full sentences, if I do not know a word, I will make quick use of my Google Translate app or dictionary on my cell phone.  I have found this is an efficient and effective way to participate in conversational French.


This is also the week we began to venture out and explore outside Tours.  Wednesday I visited my first chateaux, Chenonceau, and toured a local wine cave where I learned that my favorite wine is Vouvray Brut!  Saturday I toured Mont Saint Michel and St. Malo in Northern France. I can honestly say I was absolutely amazed by both these breath-taking vistas.


Mont Saint Michel was by far the most spectacular site I have ever visited in my life. The small island commune surrounded by a beautiful bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site. At the top of the island a woman next to me cried because the view was so beautiful! Another highlight of Saturday was the food. Two of my favorite meals – omelet and mussels – turned out to be the local specialty so of course I ordered both during the day. When my omelet arrived for lunch I was very confused and thought I had the wrong meal, but learned that Mont Saint-Michel is famous for a unique omelet that is made from whipped egg and resembles a soufflé. I’m not sure if it was the hunger, locality or a mixture of both, but the mussels I ate for dinner never tasted so delicious.


On Sunday the color run came to Tours and I had a blast with many of my new friends running through the streets of the Tours to the sounds of French pop music, covered from head to toe in colored dye thrown on us along the route. After the run there was a huge outdoor music festival where we spent much of the afternoon dancing.


Its been only two weeks in Tours but yet I feel at home in school and with my host family. Because I am now enrolled in the month long course, I will have classes for the next 3 weeks with the same students and teachers who I already feel very close with after only one week. My best friend in the class is a girl my age from Switzerland who is a watchmaker – I told her she really fits the Swiss stereotype! It’s been an exhausting week in the best way and I am looking forward to another week of more adventures in beautiful Tours.


Tours Week 1

And so concludes the most memorable week of my life! Each day this week I tried at least one new food, met a person from a different country and learned new French vocabulary. I found myself lost multiple times and was accidentally tear-gassed by the French police. I attended mass in a cathedral built in the 300s and a wine festival featuring more wines than I thought was possible. As a result, it feels much longer than one week ago that I landed in Paris after an 8-hour flight from Washington, D.C and boarded the train for Tours.

It seems to silly to me now how nervous I was as the train pulled up to the Tours train station, unsure of what the next six weeks would hold. While the first few days were definitely the hardest, every day has been an improvement and I already am noticing a vast improvement in my ability to understand and hold conversations in French. The second I saw my host parents, holding a home-made sign with my name, waving and smiling at me, I knew I had nothing to be worried about. They are a wonderful and kind couple that has hosted students for over twenty-five years!

That being said, my first couple days in Tours were definitely the hardest. While my host mom accompanied to school the first day on the tram, I decided for some reason to try the bus the next day. I assumed the bus and the tram would let off at the same location near my school, which I soon realized was not the case as I looked out the window and saw the Loire river below me as the bus left downtown Tours for the suburbs. As a result, I was 45 minutes late to the first official day of school. The bus mishap was only the first of many times I got lost. In addition I struggled conversing in French outside the comfort zone of my school and host family. A puzzled look coupled with the phrase “je ne vous comprends pas” was a common response I received the first couple days.

While initially I was frustrated by continually being lost and misunderstood, it was those processes that were actually the most rewarding. In being lost I stumbled across some of Tours’ best shops and in being misunderstood I gained a better understanding of French language. For example here is a word I will never forget: manifestation (protest).

During an extra long répose (break) last week I decided to return home in between classes on the tram, and on my return trip, the tram abruptly stopped in the center of town. When I asked the driver why the tram stopped, he pointed forward and said “manifestation” and then opened the tram doors and said “sortir.” Ignoring the first word because I did not know its meaning, I followed his directors to “sortir” (exit) the tram and began to walk to school, which happened to be in the same direction he pointed when he said manifestation. Suddenly I heard chanting in French as I was encircled by swarms of people holding signs and looking very angry all around me. Then I saw rows of armed guards slowly marching towards us and before I was able to get myself away from the protestors a huge cloud of white smoke engulfed us. Suddenly my eyes began to sting and everyone around me grabbed parts of their clothes to cover their faces. I soon realized the police were dispersing tear gas to break up the “manifestation.” I covered my face with my sweater and ran away from the gas as fast as I could. I was late for school but I when I explained to my teacher why, he seemed very happy I had this “first hand experience of the French revolutionary spirit!” He explained to me the definition of manifestation and how the French view the right of protest an integral part of their history. The manifestation I witnessed however was unusual in that its part of a larger movement against the new labor law implemented by the French government. Protests are occurring across the entire country of France in fact and many workers are on strike.

In addition I am learning the importance of phonetics to the French language. Often French words differ by the slightest phonetic change in a syllable. Outside of the classroom, I am not understood if I don’t pronounce the phonetics exactly. This happened when I tried to buy a watermelon (pastèque) but the seller thought I was calling his fruit plastic (plastique), and when someone asked me how my first cours (course) of school was and I began to explain the route I jog each morning because I thought they asked about running (courir) – (these were some of those puzzled looks and “je ne vous comprends pas” instances).

I lucked out though because my first week at school was a special week focused on oral skills and so by the end of the week already noticed a vast improvement in my ability to hold to a conversation!

I am also expanding my food palate. As my family and friends know well, I have never been an adventurous eater. My usual diet rarely detours from vegetables, chicken and fish. Yet in the past week, meats I have never had before in my life appeared on my plate each night. Much to my surprise, and I think more to the surprise of my family and friends, I found myself liking almost every meal. Of course it doesn’t hurt that my host mom comes from three generations of professional chefs and worked in a restaurant for twenty years herself!

One of the aspects I love most about my time in Tours so far has been my interaction with other cultures in my home and at school. At school the first week I was one of two Americans in my class. One activity in particular I enjoyed was finding advertisements from our respective countries and explaining them to the class. I chose to cover Superbowl advertisements, and people were shocked to learn that commercials could be so expensive and so many celebrates appeared in them.

While I was alone the first three nights in my house, I now have three housemates who are also students at L’Institut de Touraine. On my floor is a very sweet woman from Japan studying the French language and wine to improve her skills as a wine consultant in Japan. One the floor above me lives a boy my age from Ireland and a girl from the United States. We eat dinner together every night at 8 pm and talk only in French – the common language amongst us. Often the conversation turns into a comparison of cultures that goes well over one hour. The inevitable mix of culture, gastronomy and socializing of the meal has made dinner one of my favorite parts of Tours.

I love exploring Tours and all of its treasures, meeting new people and learning French. I cannot wait to begin my month long course on Monday and start excursions to other parts of France this week. À bientôt!