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!

SLA Post-Program Reflection

1. Reflect on your language learning and acculturation during your SLA Grant experience.

What insights did you gain into the language acquisition process? How did you engage and understand cultural differences. Did you meet your goals for language learning that you articulated on the blog before you started your program? Why or why not?

The language acquisition experience I have gained from this past summer is indeed quite different from my coursework at Notre Dame. Studying French where it is spoken made my learning more continuous through the entire six-week period, for there existed a much less obvious division between in-class and after-class time. More importantly, however, I have benefited from the advanced B2-level course for various linguistic nuances that I could not have picked up before this program. To make it short, therefore, the one-piece language acquisition takeaway from this summer experience is to be immersed into the language as often and continuous as I can.

Six weeks in Paris may still seem too brief for me to truly gain a deep understanding of cultural differences. However, the seemingly trivial details in everyday life such as late dinner time and Sunday store closures also reflect interesting French culture. Yet I have benefited most in cultural awareness by living with my host family, who not only provided me with delicious home dishes but also engaged me in interesting cross-cultural dialogues.

Looking back on the learning goals that I have set up before departure, I believe I have made progress in all of them. While it is hard to determine if I have truly “accomplished” these goals, especially without a systematic evaluation, I have during my stay corresponding experiences that give me confidence to assume my progress for all the four goals listed in my first post.

2. Reflect on your SLA Grant experience overall.

What insights have you brought back as a result of this experience? How has your summer language study abroad changed you and/or your worldview? What advice would you give to someone who was considering applying for an SLA Grant or preparing to start their own summer language study?

Before all I consider the diversity of Francophiles that I have observed as the most impressive and important insight I gained from this experience. As I have already mentioned in my previous blog entries, my class at CCFS shows an extremely interesting mix of people. We have a senior lady, foreign embassy employees, undergraduate and graduate students, a guitarist, housewives, etc. Ridiculous as it may sound, I have never had a full awareness of the huge world of Francophiles before this summer by insulating myself with the undergraduate class setting at Notre Dame.

Moreover, this perception of a fascinating diversity in people who continue their studies at various stages of life is more than encouraging. While cliché has it that studying is a lifelong thing, this SLA experience is indeed what allow me to put a human face onto these words; and thus I obtain a renewed confidence and passion to continue learning and thinking beyond my undergraduate years and even beyond my formal academic life.

As for advices for future SLA applicants or who are simply planning a summer language study, the most important thing I would say is “Do not hesitate to go abroad!” There are numerous ways that one can spend a summer, but language learning in a foreign country would be no doubt among the most rewarding ones.

Where do you go from here? How will you maintain, grow and/or apply what you have learned? How might you use your SLA Grant experience during the rest of your academic career and post-graduation. How will your SLA Grant experience inform you as you move forward academically, personally and professionally?

In the nearest future, I hope to continue my pursuit of proficiency in both written and spoken French. Hence this semester I am taking a French writing course to compensate for the relatively less training on this side during the summer. I also plan to have at least one French course for each of the semester remaining till graduation.

This improvement in French is crucial also for my academic pursuit, most visibly in that I hope to conduct research on the period around the French Revolution, a project which will very likely evolve into a senior thesis. Being able to access original versions of primary and secondary sources would thus be invaluable for me.

Apart from the more pragmatic plan for improving my French, however, I think this experience indeed builds up my confidence both in speaking the language and exploring in-depth a foreign culture. As an international student, I have had similar experience when coming to Notre Dame for the first time; however, this summer I had a more conscious observation of myself going into a new cultural environment. Thus I would hesitate even less in the future why my studies or work would require me to move into a whole new environment. In addition, I have always aspired to work for international organizations such as the United Nations, where the knowledge of French and English would both be crucial to expand my professional boundaries.


Signing Off

Well, this is the last hurrah. I’m sorry, but there are no pictures for this time.

It’s been quite an unforgettable time these last few weeks in Brest, and while I’m sad to leave my new friend(s) and host family, I am so excited to start my semester at Angers.

If I could share perhaps the most important thing that I realized about language learning, it’s that immersion is immensely important. I feel that a huge difference has been made in my speech, comprehension, and reading having spent so much time only using French. In fact, I imagine the same courses that I took would have less efficacy had I taken them say in the United States or another non-French speaking area. Such is the importance of the immersion in my books, just my two cents (and there’s a Euro coin for that here strangely enough, I don’t see why but there is).

As for cultural differences, I thought the ones I had to deal with were quite easy to manage if one had an open mind. There were big examples, like the bathing suit controversy I had, to smaller things like when we ate, what was acceptable to say, and how to interact with strangers. I found that just being a friendly, outgoing, and most importantly willing to learn American was sufficient to get by and have people like you.

To recap, my goals were to speak confidently, express myself with greater sophistication, read more quickly, and better understand the grammar and style of French writing. I would say that I can do all those things, and this became particularly evident when I introduced myself to my host family here at Angers and we immediately had a lengthy dinner featuring many fluidly flowing conversations about myself, my aspirations, and my opinions.

Yet, I am hesitant to say that I am fully ready to accomplish my overarching goal of writing on some aspect of French history. As I mentioned in my grant report, while certainly the SLA was vastly helpful, it was not the entirety of my plan, as I am spending a semester in the ND Angers program. Further into the semester, I think I will more fully know if I am truly ready to produce significant academic writing using my French.

When I reflect on the SLA Grant overall, I realize how much I took for granted back home. The daily things in my life from a car, to AC, late night snacks, and ESPN are so much more precious to me now knowing what it’s like without them. Also, like a LOT of people smoke in France, so having mostly fresh air back home is another thing I miss. This summer abroad has also changed my worldview of Europe. I really thought that everybody liked America in Europe, but that is not the case. In lieu of the universally agreed upon great nation and promoter of democracy, some people here had more negative views like environmentally wasteful, politically meddlesome, and culturally ignorant. To each his own.

And so to advise any potential applicants or study abroad folks who end up reading my blog, I would say prepare for a time where you don’t have a lot of the same things like back home, and people don’t necessarily think the same way as you. But those aren’t huge things, you can get over it really quickly.

Lastly, to build on my summer, I will be studying abroad in France for a semester as well. I hope that by my return, I can then use this combined experience to write scholarly works using my French language skills. I am not certain on the historical writing, as this experience really showed how much of a ways I had to go before mastering French, but at the very least I plan to pursue a supplementary major in French as well. Thus, if not used for history, I will at least have gained conversational fluency with a second language to be used for other academia. Further down the line, I believe my French skills will be useful for building my marketability and value in my intended future profession as a lawyer. Not just on in a linguistic/academic sense, but spending some time in France has imparted valuable personal/professional insights on culture which will also be invaluably useful.

I thank you, valued reader of my blog, for keeping up with me so far. Its over now, and so I say, Cheers to you, Good Night and Good Luck.

Le Finale: Adieu et A bientôt

“Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure
Les jours s’en vont je demeure”

– Guillaume APOLLINAIRE, Alcools

My days in Paris could not have passed more quickly. Like all wondrous summer nights, the first morning breeze always comes early to dispel the remaining dreams. As I was writing before my departure to school, I still felt as if I was on my first day of arrival, with a huge unfamiliar city awaiting in front of me. Now recalling once more Hemingway’s famous quote, that “… Paris is a moveable feast,” I cannot help feeling bittersweet precisely because I have started to understand his words better. With my previous journal entries, I hope I have done an acceptable job sharing with you a five-course French feast. Yet for myself, I am certain that my taste buds would trap for a long time the taste of Paris.

The Entire Class in Jardin du Luxembourg for a "Farewell" Picnic

The Entire Class in Jardin du Luxembourg for a “Farewell” Picnic

For my last two weeks in Paris, I have finished my studies at CCFS and waved goodbye to my amazing classmates. An extra surprise on the last day of class was that our professor took us out to a picnic in Jardin du Luxembourg! Even thought the elegant garden is only five-minute on foot from our classroom, it is indeed the first time I spent a fair amount of time there. One of our classmate happened to be a great classical guitarist. Thus amid the pleasant August sunshine and shades, we sat along, shared foods and listened to wonderful music. The scene was indeed like one of those lovely movies, and I could certainly say my six weeks at CCFS ended in perfect joy and company. Looking back on the six weeks, no doubt I have picked up numerous nuanced language points. Yet more importantly, in daily action with my classmates I became used to speak French more at ease. As I have repetitively noted in my previous entries, French came alive during my time in Paris from what was once only learned in classroom.

Me in the Twilight of Le Mont Saint-Michel

Me in the Twilight of Le Mont Saint-Michel

After the classes ended, however, I also continued to travel a little bit in and from Paris. Compared with my arrival, I found broadcasts on transportations much more accessible either from familiarly with its content or (I hope) my improvement in French. While not learning any more French deliberately, knowing the language made my travels so much more memorable as I could make sense of most signs and conversations around me. Rather than an isolated passer-by in completely foreign surroundings, France now seems to be more welcoming than when I visited it years ago.

Monet's Dreamlike Garden Slightly after Peak Blossom Period

Monet’s Dreamlike Garden Slightly after Peak Blossom Period

Coming back, I cannot wait to continue the study of French with another course. On the other hand, it is certain that this brief stay in France would be an irreplaceable experience of learning and living in a francophone environment. Now each time I unwittingly say short expressions such as “J’sais pas,” inevitably I am reminded of my time in Paris. Thus it is after returning that I felt a renewed gratitude for the funding that make this trip possible, and I am sure that it would remain a truly special memory.

Sometimes Less is More

I learned this week a cold lesson on French grading: if they don’t ask for it, they don’t want it. I just received my weekly test from last week to discover that I lost points on a particular section for writing too much. The section asked a true or false question, and then said (this is a translation), “justify your response with a quotation from the text.” And so I feel like that would mean to quote the text, then justify your choice talking about the text. But no, the professor just wanted the phrase from the text. So regardless of the fact that I CORRECTLY answered the question and CORRECTLY cited the text, I lost points. Thus I dropped from potentially having the highest score in the class…

Anyways, it hit me this week that I am closing in on the end of my time here in Brest. Time has really gone by so quickly! For me, I think once I started getting into the groove, the days just zoomed by. I especially noticed this week that time in class just seems to go by faster than the say first three weeks, perhaps because of my improvement it’s easier to stay absorbed in the material.


Things are looking good to me, also Brittany is a beautiful region

For my last community interaction, I discussed thoughts on the US with some acquaintances that I made here. They asked to remain anonymous, so to maintain their privacy, so I will rather generally describe my interviewees. One was a woman in her thirties with a kid (#1), one was an older lady in her fifties (#1), and the last was a male, 20 something master’s student (#3).

To begin, they all had an overall positive view of the United States, especially regarding our films and music. However, they had some interesting views on specific issues.

Interviewee #1 visited America, and found us to be quite friendly to strangers. Not to a fault per se, but just so friendly that it was strange. Like when she opened her map, people stopped to help/give directions, everyone smiled and waved when eyes met, stuff like that. I thought that was just being a normal person, but to her it was all weird. And I do get why that is, because no one here says anything unless spoken to, and no eye contact is made between strangers. Her biggest concern was the wasteful American environmental mentality, in example, the unnecessary AC blasting everywhere. She said she lived in SE Asia for a while, no AC, so Americans could live with some heat, it’s just a mental challenge. Also, the lack of public transportation was wasteful too, as everyone driving their own car is bad for the planet etc. We could stand to learn a few things on being green from Europe, with energy especially, because we all share the Earth. She, and pretty much everyone else I talked to, were accordingly shocked to learn that many people (Republicans) in the United States deny climate change.

Interviewee #2 had many criticisms on the United States. We may be an economically powerful country, but that has made the government rather focused on money and the people too US Centric in thinking. To her, that meant the political elites are all tied up in allegiance to some big companies and rich people, which stops progress for laws. As for the US focus, it leads to a general ignorance (not me though, she added haha) on other cultures and languages, which is frustrating for people like her, because Americans tend to think that things should be done a certain way (the American way) for everybody. Next, from watching the news (I assume with the police shootings, protests, gun violence), racism seems to be a big problem in the US. It is nonsensical how we can treat some of our citizens so poorly, yet try and change other countries too. Lastly, as an educator, she felt that the US public education system lacks all-around quality throughout the country, because it appears that at one end you had top schools filling up the best universities, while some schools can’t afford all the things they need.

Interviewee #3 focused on the political problems as well. The media seemed to be the biggest issue. With the differences between say Fox News and the host of liberal outlets, how can we know what’s actually going on and good for the country? At the same time, everyone is so entrenched in their views from the two party system, it’s hard to have a conversation. But while that goes on, the political elites keep running the show, and it looks like average citizens have really little input on political life.

And that was it. It was tough, because internally, I wanted to defend my home you know, but they chose various, hard to argue points. Because it is true, we do have issues with media coverage, the government does have politicians backed by huge donors, and the US could reduce its environmental impact in my view. I’m glad at least that the whole every American is obese thing didn’t come up, what a relief. But I was a bit saddened to find that when people think of America, it was always “You’re great, but…” So the bad stuff outshone the good to non-Americans. C’est la vie.

That’s all for this week, final thoughts approaching in my final post!

France Post-Program Reflections

Reflecting back on my time in France, I think I can say I met most of my language goals. I already had a pretty good ability to communicate, but by the time I left I had the ability to articulate stories and arguments without someone re-explaining my ideas to make them clearer. I had to hone this skill even with very important and controversial arguments, since the French are more willing to bring them up without getting embarrassed or angry. Refreshing in one way but uncomfortable in another. But I think it helped me open up a little more. Most of what I learned honestly depended on the teacher, since only some of them were willing to do creative exercises and have intellectual discussions with us—the textbook only took us so far. With my immersion experience this summer, I think I might be fluent (if not, close to it).

Since this was my first time out of the country, I think the biggest change is that I’m simply stronger for having been so far away from home by myself for so long. I think I was expecting a more dramatic change in culture than I actually experienced—when you look below the surface of norms like how to deal with strangers and how to eat politely, there are just humans like you and me. To anyone else receiving an SLA grant in the future, I’d warn you that culture shock is in the little things—the ten minutes I spent trying to figure out how to work the plug adapter, the way the toilets look, the public library being closed on Mondays. If you’ve never been abroad by yourself before and have no idea what you’re doing, it’s a tough run, but I’m writing this now, so apparently it’s possible.

When I get back to Notre Dame, my improved fluency in French should definitely help me in finishing up my French major—especially in classes where oral participation is important, since I’ve always had more trouble speaking than writing even in English. I also have friends who enjoy speaking in French with me, so we can help each other improve mutually. When I graduate I want to be either a translator or a language teacher; while I was in France I tried translating some of my creative writing from English to French, and I actually had fun doing it, so that’s a good sign! It’s the little nuances that are hard to translate, but I like that, so hopefully my experience with real French speakers will help me interpret things for other people in the future.

A huge thank you to the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures for this amazing opportunity! This is something I never would have been able to do without your help.

Build Me Up Butter-Cake

Thanks for tuning in.

A little change here, I will start with my community interaction.

So, if you’ve been following along on my adventure thus far in Brittany, you’d recall that my host family dad and I had tried our hand at making the traditional Breton cake called Kouign Amann (literally ‘Butter cake’). Well here’s the second attempt, as you can see, a little less brown on top, but we don’t seem to have mastered the requisite creation of layers. Don’t get me wrong, it was still delicious by all means (sugar butter what’s not to like?), but perhaps a more rustic (read messy) in presentation.


Just my two cents, but this is definitely the best The Shirt of my three years here. #AlwaysReppin 

Unfettered by the disappointment of failure, I traveled to a local bakery to discuss this regional dish. In a short talk with the baker, I learned a little bit about the humble Kouign Amann. A couple highlights:

  • It was a 19th century creation made in a little town in Brittany (I found online the name to be Douarnenez, did not get the spelling right at the bakery)
  • A good Kouign Amann’s pastry is supposed to be airy, light, and flaky, similar to a croissant. So our thick, dense cake doesn’t quite fit the bill of a proper creation. We must not be doing something right; we sure aren’t missing any ingredients, because it’s just flour, sugar, and butter.
  • And he didn’t have to tell me why its popular, because I know these cakes are just freaking delicious. Although I will say that while the French are much more concerned with controlling portions and maintaining health in general (heck the end of their McDonald’s commercials feature warnings to eat 5 daily servings of veggies and not too much fat/sugar/salt), that kind of restraint does not seem to be present in the preparation of their pastries. I’m a stereotype fulfilling American, and I was surprised with the amount of butter and sugar we put into our stout-sized cake. I assume frequency of consumption is better managed.

And there you are, now turning to school.

Our group of B1.3 switched professors as a group of 40 Mexican collegiate students arrived Monday, so our last prof went to take some of them. However, I did get my test back from last week, and it was the highest I had ever gotten on a test (17/20 which is ok by US standards, but excellent in France).

Nothing truly new to report from the classroom, I feel like I’m learning a lot and making good progress. Perhaps what’s most indicative of that is my conversational ability with other international students. For example, my best buddy here is Swiss, and I feel like I just have a lot more I can say to him after five weeks. I remember the first week when we met, where I just could not always get a coherent message across, and now we can have a lengthy, much more fluid conversation.

On a related note, something that I’m most excited about is my fluency with the different tenses. I don’t feel afraid anymore of using the future, past conditional, or subjunctive tenses. Instead, quite naturally, I’ll just be talking and Whoop there it is just popping in like no biggie. Yay me!

And that’s all for this week. I haven’t decided the theme of next week quite yet, so I’ll leave my one reader in suspense for now.


4th Down and Goal to Go

A little sports reference there because I really miss being able to watch sports (less than one month for CFB!!!). It’s the Olympics, and I swear the people in charge of broadcasting in France must hate real entertainment, because I’ve been getting ping-pong instead of Team USA Basketball… just disgraceful.

Fun fact, I was chosen to speak to a local journalist about my school C.I.E.L Bretagne. However, I ended up mostly just talking to the director of the school about myself, as she gave all my info to the lady who wrote the article. Here’s the photo from that newspaper


Not ashamed to say that I love cargo shorts, but this is a bad picture. I was running late that day just threw things on…

I think by now I have pretty well adjusted to public transportation here in Brest. By that, I mean that I am no longer timidly getting on the bus, or struggling to find the stops. Also, in shops, people have mostly stopped replying to me in English when I speak French, so that seems good too. I can go in, order food, ask questions about prices, all in French. Next step is to get my hair cut…

This week in the higher level was great. The focus was on different tenses like the Anterior Future, the Conditional Past, which I had knowledge of, but not mastery, so as usual, it was time well spent. The oral comprehension is definitely less challenging now. I can now understand some parts of readings and priest’s homily at mass (which is up from absolutely nothing the first few masses). And at the dinner table, it’s also definitely a solid improvement as well, though the arguments are still not fully comprehensible. These oral comprehension gains have thus translated to my schooling as well. I struggled with those sections on my prior weekly assessments but I think I did much better this time around (when I get my test back we can confirm my suspicions).

On a side note I’ve found that in my spare time, (mostly weekend nights when I’m not going to the beach, walking around Brest, or spending time with my hosts), watching French movies/TV with French subtitles is really useful for learning and retaining vocabulary. If there are new words, I write them down, while seeing the ones I’ve learned thus far helps solidify my understanding and memorization. I’ll admit, I have what they say in French the heart of an artichoke, which is to say I’m a sucker for romantic stories. Thus, I really liked Les Emotifs Anonymes,  a fun lil’ Rom-Com on Netflix.

This week’s community interaction as actually really convenient to do at home, as I live with an immigrant family. My host dad is the son of 1st generation Portuguese immigrants, while my host mom came here from Vietnam as a child. I was relieved to learn that they did not think they were treated any differently here in Brittany for their ethnic minority statuses, except for a few remarks made towards my host mom in school (I totally understand that experience given my background as an Asian American. Even the week before I left for France, some elementary school kids at my neighborhood basketball court made imitations of Asiatic languages towards me, and said that I didn’t speak English. But I digress, that’s just bad parenting).

On the other hand, my hosts both agreed that racial discrimination and prejudice is stereotypically more prominent in southern France (think Marseille area, they noted), and it goes towards the Muslim Arabic communities, especially right now with the refugee crisis. I thought this might explain why my hosts didn’t receive particularly different treatment, because neither of my hosts are a part of this demographic.My hosts obviously were quick to condemn such behavior from their countrymen and the Front National, which they said was just no good. But based on that description, it would seem to me that the social climate here with Arabs is similar to that of the United States with African Americans, but perhaps not as historically problematic (as in there was no slavery or Jim Crow).

If I could give a comparison of my views as a denizen of Northern Virginia (as I cannot speak for all of the United States) with the views of my host family here, I would say the views are similar. We agree that racial discrimination is an abhorrent abomination upon free society, and acknowledge that at times, certain minorities have had a different experience than the majority population; while none at this house have been an outright target, we recognize that discrimination exists to this day.

Whew, that was an intense tea-time snack I’ll tell you that.

And there you go, another week gone. I’m officially over the hump! Thanks for reading.


Le Fromage et le dessert : A Trio-Museum Visit

My last week studying at CCFS is catching up fast, and before long it would be time to bid Paris a goodbye. On Saturday morning my lovely roommate has already left for United States, leaving the entire apartment and Coquine the cat to me. Yes, my host mother has parted for vacation in Sicily as well! Indeed we were discussing some time before that nowhere in France does this tradition of summer vacation seem that evident. Stores and news stands are closed; department stores are filled with beach outfits and Panama hats; even several professors at CCFS are leaving for vacation in the middle of the programs. Not that the school acts irresponsibly at all – CCFS ensures smooth transitions between professors – but indeed it is surprising at first to find out how vacation is an absolutely uncompromisable priority in French life.

Sculptures in Louvre at Dusk

Sculptures in Louvre at Dusk

I, on the other hand, hoped to take advantage of the slight space left by Parisians on vacation to visit all around more easily. A bit naive, I admit. Yet all the same I organized a trio-museum trip this weekend: Musée du Louvre, Musée de l’Orangerie, and Musée d’Orsay. Merely mentioning these three names suffices to predict a grand project, for I still remember how the 11-year-old me was almost dragged around Louvre to finish a classical route around it. Louvre remains immense even after almost ten years since my first visit. However, the Friday night when I entered Louvre turned out to be an incredibly beautiful one. Slowly sinking sun projected the enlarged shadows of sculptures against the walls of the Richelieu Wing. Sunlight bathed the grand marble sculptures with a sense of grandeur and vicissitudes in this spacious hall. I came to realize that the architecture layout of Louvre itself is perhaps a priceless precious when placed into interactions with its awe-striking collection.

Sunset clouds behind Tour Eiffel and Roue de Paris - From Jardin des Tuileries

Sunset clouds behind Tour Eiffel and Roue de Paris – From Jardin des Tuileries

Musée de l’Orangerie showed a completely different image. Undoubtedly the eight huge pieces of Monet’s waterlilies set the tone of this delicate museum located in Jardin des Tuileries. Its official guides says that Monet designed this collection of works to provide Parisians with a space where they could catch a breath. The natural light pouring in from the half-transparent domes is incredibly tender and soothing. Visitors would be embraced by waterlilies displayed all around the two oval halls. It is particularly intriguing to think, in retrospect, how it is only possible to detect the subtle fluid changes of light and shadow in the paintings by standing away from them. Distance facilitates us to “see the bigger picture.” I am not certain whether my whimsical idea would become any more philosophical, but indeed this “boutique” museum proves to be truly thought-provoking.

A Random Zoom-in of Monet's Waterlilies

A Random Zoom-in of Monet’s Waterlilies

Finally came Musée d’Orsay. It would be redundant for me to describe how Orsay is a huge feast for Impressionism lovers; and I happen to be one. Despite it being a Sunday when even public transport slowed down to some extent, Orsay was extremely popular all the same. What I found most fascinating from this visit in particular, however, is the numerous works here that bring me a sense of summer. Green fields, afternoon gardens, or even roses in the corner of delicate portraits show a pleasant and tranquil summer atmosphere. Crowded as it was, Orsay still calmed me down from the glaring sunlight outside.

Le ballon (The Ball) by Félix Vallotton at Musée d'Orsay

Le ballon (The Ball) by Félix Vallotton at Musée d’Orsay

With the few days left for my Paris stay, I would continue to try to soak every fascinating detail of the city. Looking back to my first post, it now seems almost naive not to hurry in Paris, for there are always so many things to see, however long one stays here.

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