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.


Chateau (Sha-Tow) Villandry field trip

After a month of hesitation, I’ve finally signed up for a château (castle) tour offered at the Institute de Touraine—and I’ll never regret that I did! Tours is a village that embraces the Loire valley, the only natural river that flows from the sea straight through the heart of France. Probably because I walk past the river every day, I have grown used to its roaring body of water, but if you zoom out on a map until tours is merely a point on the line that resembles the river, you’ll see that old, amazing castles dots the river all along the way. These castles date all the way back to the middle ages and they look as if they popped out of a fairytale book.

A profile of me in front of Chateau Villandry in Tours, France.

A profile of me in front of Chateau Villandry in Tours, France.

Castles are a great part of the culture at Tours—it is what draws tourists from all across France and from all the world. A bike tour following the river is rated one of the best family vacation ideas since the Loire du Velo project, which built safe and well-guided biking trails along connecting all the castles, was launched.

The one that I went to this week is Chateau Villandry, which is well-know for its magnificent gardens. It is rumored that the botanist who designed the gardens of Villandry was ordered by the french King to plant herbs and flowers in the great gardens of Versaille. We arrived at the south side of the castle, which faced the river. This side was made to resist attack from other dukes and foreign power; all of its towers facing the outside were well-rounded (so projectiles will physically scrape the walls but won’t accumulate much damaged). To add to the defense look, there was an actual drawbridge complete with chains and old-fashioned turning wheels. Yet once you cross the bridge to enter the tunnel, come out into the courtyard and look back, the castle looks like one taken from the film-production of sleeping beauty. All the windows are large with decorations and some with terraces. What’s really amazing is the gardens, which had intricate designs, from a walkway sheltered with vines to fountains in a field of lavender. I was more then relieved that I could understand everything the tour guide was saying in French; I felt that my french has improved and my vocabulary grew immensely.

La Salade : A Month Has Passed

One month has passed since I arrived in Paris – a fact still incredible even when I typed down these words. When I went to the metro station this morning, about to use my Navigo pass as usual, the machine told me it was no longer valid. Suddenly I recalled that August has come, whereas my July Navigo pass has already expired. I find this particularly intriguing, for before all it was this extremely trivial detail that reminded me of the month passed. Once this notion has been activated, however, my entire surroundings came alive. The huge posters alongside the corridor at the station all essentially read, “Jusqu’à la fin du juillet !” I could still recall how excited I was when I passed them the first day here. Spoiled by the rich cultural activities Paris, I supposed. Now these once enchanting opportunities has become obsolete. A bit sad yet also amazing how time flies.

Coquine the Cat at my Homestay

Coquine the Cat at my Homestay

Another student at my homestay will leave on August 6, roughly a week before I move out as well. Last week we sat down together at the table, sharing the wonderful dinner our host mother has prepared, and all of a sudden the idea of leaving soon struck both of us. For her it was perhaps even more pressing given only a week left. As a will-be photographer, my roommate has long found Paris her paradise. Yet up till then, she told me she has never done much “tourist” visiting. Nameless roads and cute boutiques has “distracted” her way too much. “Absolutely the same,” I nodded (except that I am nowhere near a photographer).

Strangely we both got this feeling that to visit as many scenic spots as possible, a month seems too long in that it spoils us with the luxury of time. Grateful all the same for not having to hurry, I did feel less incentives to spend entire days out traveling around the city. Yet when the stay comes to its end, my tourist impulse revives and agitates me with every minute passing. Dragging out the travel guide stuffed at the bottom of my suitcase, I realized there are yet so many spots that I have not checked out. Tour Eiffel and Musée du Louvre as two most representative must-go places remain intact for this trip. Even though I has twice visited Paris before, I am certain at my current age they would be renewed and enhanced surprises for me. If for the past month I was busying myself with French and “exploring the real everyday Paris,” I suddenly realized they have now turned in to literally must-go places.

Tour Eiffel from the South Bottom

Tour Eiffel from the South Bottom

Thus today after class I hurried to Tour Eiffel. One crucial mission is to send out postcards for my family and friends from the post office supposedly located at the south entrance of the tower. Only in this particular post office was a special post stamp featuring “Tour Eiffel” available, and I had hoped to make my postcards slightly more unique. Unfortunately, I was there only to find out that the post office has been closed for several months. Even the yellow mailbox has been wrapped with tapes and a paper notice saying, “This mailbox is out of service for security concerns.” I tried my best not to overstretch the potential dark implication behind “security,” for my friends traveling in Pars roughly a year ago told me the post office was well open then. Looking around one can easily spot several police officers in their heavy black uniforms, and of course with their cars nearby. Somehow in the warm afternoon sun, I felt like a shadow has never truly quitted Paris since last November. At that moment I was extra grateful for being able to lead on a relatively carefree life here, for there must have been numerous people standing up to the lurking threats and protecting our everyday life from them.

The Tyranny of French Swimming Pools

I would like to begin by decrying the blatant, heinous, backwards, draconian regulation that is the French swimwear standard at public pools. APPARENTLY, due to hygiene concerns of dirt and etc being brought into pools, men must wear compression style, polyester/spandex blend, jammer swimsuits of Olympic swimmers in order to swim in municipal pools. This “Speedo or Go Home” dictatorship thus prevents me from going to the pool with my host family and friends. It’s utterly antithetical to the capitalistic principles of a successful business, not to mention nonsensical, as obviously, one’s level of cleanliness should not change based on their attire. As they say, when in Rome… go to the beach.


Me discovering that my swim shorts are non-compliant

Anyways, here we are three weeks in, this is the part when I break free (Shout out to my fellow Ariana Grande fans). In spite of my perceived struggles, I have officially moved up from my starting level of B1.1, to B1.3‼! This leaves me within striking distance of B2, at which point I’ll be able to further my education by taking any class while studying abroad next fall at Angers. Woot woot‼


Gotta pay your dues when you’re moving up in the world

Perhaps because this week covered food and culinary verbiage, or maybe because I have reached some level of acclimation to France, I felt much more at ease speaking to my classmates and family outside of class. I seem to have begun overcoming over my problem of circumlocution, as everyone seems to better understand what I am saying, and conversation is faster flowing. Still not 100%, but I can see clear progress.


Cheers from Brest as me and my fellow students explore the city.

And the lessons appear to have improved my reading as well, for I now can read the morning’s articles on my Le Figaro news app at a reasonable pace. The journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step, but I’m on the way from news to novels to documents, all in due time.

One particular challenge remaining is the French ‘R’ sound in my pronunciation. As an Anglophone, as well as a heritage Korean speaker, the ‘R’ in such words as Parler and Merci among countless others, is difficult for me. I’d like to think the rest of my accented French isn’t so horrendous, but my professors are ever so quick to point out that particular mishap. Practice makes perfect, but personally I’m ok for now with giving myself away as American (which I am), because the default assumption is Chinese (which I am not).

That’s all for this week. Next week I’ll discuss something about the local community, likely the minority experience here in Brittany.

L’Entrée : A Short “Flee” to Provence

As I typed down these words, my train left Avignon TGV Station in tender twilight. The broadcast repeated that this would be a direct journey to Paris, “sans cesse.” I have always known that two days would fly by, but not until I finally parted did I realize how I would miss this trip. Yes, I “fled” to Provence for a weekend from the grand city of Paris and from the slightly routine everyday life. Though not at all am I bored about Paris, a wholly different scenery in Southern France would naturally be refreshing.

Before all, it is purely the regret that I had once missed the blossom period of lavender that brought me to Provence. When I arrived in Avignon four years ago, a strong fragrance of lavender still lingered on in the air despite the complete absence of its purple flowers. Exactly as Tagore has written in a poem:”I leave no trace of wings in the air, but I am glad I have had my flight.” On the other hand, however, I also planned this solo trip to test if I could live up to one of my pre-departure objectives: to navigate without difficulties around the country. Someone must have heard my second wish, for the trip started out with a little mess that forced me to truly communicate with others – rather than finish an absolutely smooth trip without talking much.

As I reached Gare de Lyon in Paris approximately half an hour in advance, my “worst” trouble began. Since the rest of my trip could hardly have been better, this tiny issue stood out. I had to pick up my train tickets at the station, and the automatic machine could not read my card. When I turned to the service center for help, more than a dozen of people were queuing ahead of me. In her sweet voice a lady explained to me that it was a Friday and the entire world would leave for vacation. Minute by minute, I finally missed my original train and had to make a change in booking. I hope I did not sound like complaining, for looking back I did not feel bothered at all. Quite the contrary, I found this experience truly encouraging as I managed to sort everything out in French when I could easily slip back into English at such a large train station. Furthermore, I sensed a strange confidence knowing that I could rely on my language ability – though nothing near full proficiency.

The City Walls of Avignon at Night

The City Walls of Avignon at Night

Provence was, then, a perfect dream. I luckily arrived in Avignon during its annual Festival d’Avignon that consists of countless theatrical performances. Warm, fresh evening breeze embraced me with mixed scents of lavender, honey and lemon verbena. The ancient city wall showed beautiful contrast with the sky, perfect in blue and gold. Strolling through the cobblestone alleys, the medieval town of Avignon was indeed so different from Paris that one could easily have a sense of vacation. The next day I departed for lavender with slight worries, for the weather report predicted rain and overcast in the region. For one of the few times, it was right. I did not see the typical postcard scene that consists of brilliant sunshine and endless violet field in extremely high saturation. What I encountered was instead a grey sky and dark purple field. Though beautiful all the same, I would admit that I was a bit disappointed mainly because of the break of my fixed stereotypes.

Lavender Field in front of Sénanque Abbey

A second highlight of my trip was a visit to Arles the next day, where Van Gogh has stayed once and painted his famous The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum. Sadly I did not visit the town at night, but another great wonder awaited in the bright sunshine. At the hospital where Van Gogh stayed after cutting his ear, a court filled with radiant flowers stood. I was so amazed that I could barely find words to describe its visual power. Then reflecting back on the intense, colorful paintings of Van Gogh, I came to feel a bittersweet sentiment. So many have called his life a shooting star. So I would also quote Tagore again, “LET life be beautiful like the summer flowers…” Not at all an art expert, the beauty of merely one place where Van Gogh has stayed struck me all the same.

Blossoming Garden at Espace Van Gogh in Arles

Blossoming Garden at Espace Van Gogh in Arles

Southern France was indeed a treasure with strong artistic atmosphere. I have one final thing to share with you – the quaint town of Roussillon built out of red clay. The entire town was really vibrant with its unique color of the architecture and its numerous artworks. Traveling solo finally showed its drawback when I could hardly take a full-length photo. Thus again an opportunity to practice my French as well as my “courage” arose. I started to ask locals to help take photos of me. It was a process full of surprises in which I could never have pictured myself even a year ago. I have always been a typical introvert and tend to avoid much contact with strangers. Yet here I submitted to my earnest desire of capturing every beautiful image I came across.

Me with An Artistic Gate at Roussillon, the City of Red Clay

Me with An Artistic Gate at Roussillon, the City of Red Clay

Leaving in the gradually darkening sunshine made this departure a hard one. As rosy clouds sank into the thick blue sky, I cannot help but have my eyes lingering on the hasty lavender or sunflower fields passing by. In just two days, Provence showed me a picture of all the best of summer. Coming back from this trip, I became more confident in my ability to use French in various occasions. Even if there may not be much substantial progress yet, I feel more at ease speaking French no longer as if in a conversation practice, but truly as a communication medium not much different from English.

One-Liners, Caramel, and Striped Shirts

Thanks for tuning in, here is an observation for the week:

I realized one day during our familial afternoon snack that Nutella and peanut butter sandwiches are shockingly NOT a thing in France. Apparently, as peanut butter in general is scarcely found in your typical French households, the idea of putting the two together in a sandwich was strange to my host family. In the end, they did try it, and said it was better than they thought it’d be. At the same time, they unanimously declared  that stereotypical Americans enjoy mixing sweet and salty (fair enough). Instead, they put straight salted caramel on bread, which is an interesting and literally mouthwatering experience.


Thankfully, it’s also pronounced CARE-A-MEL in French. None of this CAR-A-MUL business…

Turning now to my French,

Well, I feel like my oral comprehension has vastly improved from last week (or should I say recovered, I thought that at ND I did ok understanding French), as evidenced by picking up on more things at the dinner table. I can now consistently follow the general flow of conversation, and I even recognized some sarcasm and jokes (Like what do you call yogurt in the forest? Natural yogurt ‼! My kind of joke right there). However, when arguments take place, the French somehow becomes even faster, at which point I lose track, so I just smile and eat until I can rejoin. And so it goes…

The problem for me seems to be circumlocution; it’s tough to find ways to talk around my holes in vocabulary. I never realized until now how many words you need for decent conversation. And there’s no help from my family, as none of them know English more than I know French. So at times I find myself desperately gesticulating my thoughts while my family gives me a depressing bewildered look. It’s getting better beyond a doubt, and I’ve got like 100 new words already down, but more work need be done.

This week in class, we delved much more into new grammar: expressing regrets, giving reproaches, and objective pronouns. At this point, I feel quite satisfied with my ability to learn in the classroom (that is to say, obtain theoretical knowledge of French), but various intricacies and random rules continue to nuisance me in writing. And while I do think I am well retaining what I learn, we learn specific aspects of the language that I sometimes only infrequently practice them. One silver lining, I did well on my first test though, so there you go.

On a lighter note, I am learning French through interacting with the family outside of meals too. By just participating in random aspects of daily life, I learn some vocabulary and expressions for the occasion. For example, last Monday, my host family dad and I baked a Kouign Amman. That’s Breton (not French) for butter cake, and you can get it at our Hesburgh Library ABP, 2 for $5.  I’d like to say ours was better, but we forget to let the dough rise so it really wasn’t. Still, it was good practice to read through a long recipe with Mr. Da Rocha, and over the next few weeks we vow to improve.


Mr. Da Rocha says it’s essential to learn the language AND the food of France. So here we are

Now here’s a little bit on a quadrennial local holiday. Since I arrived, I had been seeing these signs advertising for “Brest 2016”. My host family simply told me it was a festival celebrating Brittany’s maritime heritage, and for 15 euros, you can go on boats and listen to Breton music, as well as buy food and knickknacks. I later talked with the tour guide who works for C.I.E.L Bretagne, and well, yeah more or less it was the same thing. She gave a bit more detail on its origins as the expansion of a popular boat rally held at Brest in 1980, but yeah, there’s nothing substantially important about this holiday than enjoying the traditional nautical culture. Simply put, Bretons like boats, and everybody get together every four years to have fun on them.


Ships are what’s it’s all aboat during Brest 2016

So I went on Thursday, and….


I saw lots of boats, heard lots of bagpipe music funnily enough (Is that from the Gaelic influence? I couldn’t tell you), and went through a bunch of stores. I did buy a chic Breton striped shirt, which is called a marinière in French (I learned they were originally made to identify sailors who fell overboard) and bought this thing advertised as a Breton Hot Dog (a sausage on a baguette served with mustard, fries on the side) which was amazing although quite expensive. But overall, not exactly a great deal for 15 euros in this humble American’s opinion. There wasn’t much there I could do that I couldn’t already in the city.


Me with new friends and a new shirt. Ahoy!

So that’s all for this week, I think I can say much general improvement has been made, but learning a language is tough work. On to the next week!

Le jeu commence

Hey everybody! Thanks for joining me. My name is Kyle So, and this is the end of my first week in Brest, France studying at C.I.E.L. Bretagne. How’s it going you ask? Well…

Pic 2

That dear friends, is the ocean

First things first, the weather in Brittany is absolutely gorgeous. It’s been a sunny 70 degrees since I’ve arrived, and I even wear pants instead of shorts most days (except when hiking of course). In short (*bad dum tss*), it’s a rather welcome change from the ridiculousness of 100 degrees, 100% humidity back home in Virginia. Not to mention that my school is a stone’s throw away from the Atlantic Ocean, so I’ve been experiencing a great nautical view each day.

As for my host family, I’m living in the quaint suburb of Le Relecq-Kerhuon with a family of five (the two parents, three girls), so it’s a full house if you will. And from when they first welcomed me into their home, I learned that they’re some of the nicest people. I’ll be honest, I had some fears of entering a situation where the family didn’t like me (or more importantly my humor), but that doesn’t seem to be the case as far as I can tell. Instead, they happily made sure I had everything I needed from lamps, extra pillows, etc, kept me extremely full with big meals plus snacks, and even laughed at my numerous puns/jokes; there’s not much more that I could want.

On a less excitable note, I realized from the get-go that my oral communication was not at its best. I thought I was in the clear coming home from the rail station with my host mom, as I was answering her various small-talk questions with authority.

Where you from? Boom, Washington D.C. metropolitan area in the state of Virginia.

How was your train ride? Bam, just fine thank you, a tad warm because there was no AC, keep em coming.

And so it went the car ride home. I thought, à la George Lopez, “I got this !!”

Then the reality of my situation became apparent at the dinner table. I discovered then how lucidly and more importantly, how slowly my professors at ND had spoken in class. We sat at the table, then suddenly Jesus Mary Joseph! everyone’s zooming by at a bazillion miles, excuse me kilometers, per hour in French. Meanwhile, I’m left there, mouth agape, looking like a fool, and desperately trying to follow any line of conversation. In an instant I became the uncouth American abroad, clumsily trying to express my thoughts in a foreign tongue. This wasn’t all bad by the way, as it left plenty of time to eat all their delicious food. Nonetheless, it was very humbling, as I could only really talk sporadically, or when they addressed me. It has gotten enormously better since then (to be fair I started with a low bar), but with my relatively poor hearing and the rapidity of native Frenchmen in conversation, I have to be completely focused to maintain comprehension.

The entrance to my school, C.I.E.L. Bretagne

Given my struggling debut at home, I thought that I might experience a similar stumble out of the gates at school.  Thankfully, I discovered that I was a bit more comfortable in the classroom. At C.I.E.L. Bretagne, they place students enrolled in the intensive course (20 hrs/week) based on their level, no matter how long you’re there or where your from. I for example, am in a class with six other Americans, an Englishman, one Swiss man, and a Spaniard. Thus, you learn similar things but you may not move up as much in difficulty depending on the length of your stay, as you increase after each week (with my stay being longer than most, this meant I would progress further than some of the folks I started with). Happily, I found the format of the class to be much like the one I just took at ND (props to Mme Escoda-Risto), so I was ready to learn. To summarize the week, we solidified and expanded upon my rhetorical foundation in French (almost exclusively the more difficult stuff I had just learned), but I also was learning many new things, most especially in the realm of  vocabulary and pronunciation. To conclude, its been a gradual process overall thus far, but I expected as much with the culture shock, the rust with my French (I haven’t used it much since I left ND) and heading back to school after being on break. Once I am back in the swing of things, I fully expect my difficulties to diminish, and my growth in French to thrive.

And that’s all I have to say about that. One Week down, six more to go, the time is just flying by! Tune in next week to hear about a local and culturally important holiday, oh la la.