Ma première semaine à Paris

I arrived in Paris a week ago today (even though it seems as if it were yesterday). My first weekend was spent doing some shopping, cleaning, settling in, etc. With only two days between my last semester’s study abroad program and my SLA programs start date, I used the weekend to explore my quartier and the evenings to get some needed rest. I am studying this summer at l’Alliance Française in Paris and could not have had a better first week in terms of studying. My class is a 20 hour / week intensive course. The class is aimed at those who wish to make their lives in France. This has made it so that my classmates are all extremely motivated to be able to speak French — I have yet to encounter anyone who breaks from speaking French, which has made my goal to only speak in French a success (so far…).

My class is also very interesting because it has given me to point of view of a Parisienne (my professor), which has helped me decode cultural and linguistic nuances that did not exist in my previous city of Angers. I have noticed that the way of speaking is slightly different here. For example, I have discovered that certain “staple phrases” of Angers are rarely used here in Paris. It has been very interesting to see first hand the large cultural differences that exist within the country.

In addition to continuing my French formation, I have been sure to take advantage of the numerous cultural offerings in Paris. I spent Monday doing research on various art studios, museums, book shops, shops, cafes, etc. that are uniquely Parisian and are less well known than their more touristic counterparts. I dedicated the past week to visiting different galleries in the city. I found a photo gallery called Marian Goodman Gallery where I met two French artists who explained to me the significance of their photographs as well as the different symbols and themes present in their work. I have so enjoyed having this level of culture available at my fingertips. It has allowed me to enjoy art, and, arguably more importantly, speak French and learn vocabulary that is a little more technique.

Next week I will take my interest from art galleries and project it towards book shops in the city. À la prochaine fois mes potes!

Below: One of the exhibits in the gallery that I visited.


Seeing the sign for l’Alliance Francaise on my walk to school for the first day!

ฉันมีบ้านที่เชียงใหม่ – Chan mii baan tii Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, meaning “new city,” is the largest city in Northern Thailand. It has over 300 Buddhist temples. One of the first things I did after sleeping off my jet-lag was find that special temple, that was calling me. I kneeled down and prayed Thai-style, I learned this from my relatives. I donated some baht to go towards monks’ education. This is considered part of the Thai practice of “making merit.” I figured it was a good way to start this journey.

I roamed the old city for hours, got lost, found my bearings, ate all sorts of street food, haggled in thai at the crowded Sunday Market, felt completely blissful, and at times, well, sweaty. Even at night the temps are pushing 90 degrees F and it is rainy season, so the humidity is killer. This morning some streets were flooded. I waded through water above my ankles to get to school. Yes, it was kinda gross, yet I was absurdly excited about it. This is Chiang Mai for real, not the usual tourist visiting experience. I took some video of the flooded areas, but have had some issues with wifi here and will try posting it later. On top of that, my adaptor/converter died ;(  Luckily, I found a small shop that had what I needed to charge my devices, and I made friends with the two gals working there. I was happy to practice my Thai with them and they were happy to practice their English! I plan to visit them again, and chat more as I improve.

Even monks workout, lol.


June 7th – Jeonju Hanok Village (전주한옥마을)

This past weekend, I went to the Jeonju Hanok Village in a city called Jeonju. I participated in a “Hanok Stay” which meant that I spend a night living in a traditional Korean house. One very special thing about this city is that while most of the city became industrialized and modernized, it preserved an entire village of old hanoks and turned it into a tourist attraction by inviting people from all over the world to experience the traditional Korean lifestyle and enjoy the food and culture.

A unique feature of the hanoks is the special heating system. During the old days, the ingenuity of the Koreans kept everyone warm in the winter and cool during the summer. Houses were built with Ondol, a sub-floor natural stone heating system. One side of the floor would be closer to the fireplace while the other side of the floor would be closer to the chimney. In the ground under the house, heat from burning the wood would course throughout the space and therefore would heat the floor, allowing people to survive the cold. Of course, if it got too warm, people could sit near the chimney side, where it would be naturally cooler since it is furthest from the heat source.

There are a variety of hanoks. I happened to stay in a more modern hanok, which was equipped with both modern and antique technologies. For example, my hanok had a bathroom with a sink, toilet, and shower, but it did not have an AC because the hanoks are kept cool by the natural structure and the natural building materials. It was built with traditional giwa (roof tiles), paper walls, and tree trunks as pillars. However, there were also electrical sockets.

In the village, there are countless restaurants that serve delicious korean food and many summery drinks. Additionally, there are many shops that allow people to participate in old fashioned cultural activities, such as making and designing paper fans, playing traditional games, engraving stamps with your family name, and getting the chance to wear traditional hanboks. There are even historical houses that preserve and showcase Korean history.

This is the view of the hanok I stayed in from the outside.

These are some of the meals that I ate while I was in Jeonju. The most famous dish that comes from the Jeonju region is Bibimbap, which literally translates to “mixed rice”.

I got a stamp made engraved with my own name (양지연). On the side of the stamp, it says “늘행복” which means “always happy”. A lot of tourists come to Jeonju Hanok Village to try on hanboks (traditional Korean dresses). I also got to design and paint my own fan.

First Week in Tours

Bonjour from Tours. Although the somewhat hectic journey through Charles de Gaulle airport in Pairs that left with with four minutes to spare when I arrived at the train station, my time in Tours has been very enjoyable. Tours itself is a mid-sized city located on the banks of the Loire river and is characterized by a fairly easy going pace of life. When I arrived at the train station in the center of town, I was greeted by Madame Laumonnier, my host mother, and was quickly welcomed into her and her husband Hervé’s home which is also home to a Dalmatien and a cat. Before arriving in Tours I have little idea what my experience living in a French home would be like. So far I believe that my homestay experience has been extremely positive because my host parents give me a great degree of freedom while also providing a welcoming environment for someone who is experiencing living in another country for the first time.

My host home is located about 15 minutes on foot from the l’Institut de Touraine where I am studying which makes for a very pleasant walk to class each morning under the tree lined Boulevard Béranger. In my classes, I have already studied different verb tenses and prepositions which tend to plague anyone attempt to learn a new language well. This coming week I need to prepare a presentation for class on an issue on which the class will then debate. Although intimidating I feel well prepared to present because of my french courses at Notre Dame. Although the majority of my experiences at the institute and in Tours in general have been positive so far, I recognized the difficulties of truly mastering a language. There were several instances when a native speaker simply did not understand what I said or asked and even more instances where I failed to understand what one of them said because of their speed, accent, etc. (These nearly always seemed to happen at stores, restaurants, etc.) For me, this was slightly discouraging but I realized that I cannot allow a misunderstanding that transpired on my second or third day in a country to define my mindset and my experience as a whole. Rather, I must take these chances to understand that I am simply not as good of as listener or speaker as I thought and work to ameliorate these problems in the coming weeks.

Despite my “struggles,” I have taken advantage of not having class during the afternoons to explore Tours and all that it has to offer. The Rue Nationale and Place Plumerieu are populated with shops, cafés, and restaurants. For example, today some of the other students from my class and I got gelato and sat in the old town square to enjoy the sun and the town’s beauty. Afterward, I wandered around the city some more and looked at the cathedral and basilica (pictures attached in that order), both of which are incredibly beautiful. In terms of food, the meals at home have been very good and traditional, and I look forward to exploring the cuisine more. There is an indoor market near the institute called Les Halles that sells any meat, cheese, or produce that you could possibly imagine. This weekend, I had the privilege of travelling to the Laumonnier’s house in the countryside, an experience which provided me with an introduction to the châteaux which the Loire has to offer. Small roads and paths weave through the surrounding farms and vineyards to create a magnificent chance to experience France’s natural beauty. Moreover, the wildflowers, vegetation, and grape vines themselves which cover small hillsides truly make for remarkable panoramas.

My first week in France has been busy but at the same time a great introduction to the country’s culture and language, not to mention an an eyeopening experience into the difficulties of learning a new language. With the lessons learned during my first week in Tours, I look forward to embracing new opportunities and challenges in the coming weeks as I progress through my language and cultural education.






München: Der Anfang!

My first week here was a whirlwind of emotion and experience. Not surprisingly, I’m still adjusting to the new time zone and sleep schedule, but that should wear off this week (fingers crossed). On the personal adjustment side, I had to really force myself to get over the fear of breaking a cultural norm and risk being seen as an outsider – especially when going out in public to restaurants, stores, and tourist destinations. My first night, I walked around my immediate area to get a sense of my surroundings and wandered into a small cafe to get some food. It seemed like a good idea from the street, but when I walked in I was overcome with nervousness. I realized in that moment I didn’t even know where to begin: whether to sit down or flag down someone who looked like they worked there, whether to try to power through the conversation in German or revert to English, and, after my meal, whether or not to tip. The waitress seemed surprised that I gave her a three-euro tip for an eight-euro meal; I realized later this was much overdone, and in fact it wasn’t customary to tip at all in an establishment of an informal nature like a cafe.

This experience was isolated and specific, yes, but it illustrated to me the massive cultural learning curve I was about to embark on – the tidal wave of new customs, norms, and decorum for any and every possible situation I may come across. I realized I had a lot more to learn than just the language. This may seem obvious to the outsider, and it is, but it was though this experience that I realized the monumental change in my comfort level that lie ahead. And of course, the best way to become versed in cultural norms is to try them, and fail, and try again. This easier said than done, but even in one week I’ve come a long way.

On the language side, things are going swimmingly. I am the only native english speaker in my language institute, which I met at first with apprehension. But a week into my experience I can say with confidence that it is the best possible scenario for accelerating my language-learning. I am forced, on lunch breaks and excursions, to speak German all the time. There is no alternative to fall back on, especially in large group where it is the only common language. While some of my classmates speak some english, it is rarely used. Everybody wants to learn as much German as fast as possible; and most kids here need to learn the language with a greater urgency than me. Most are training to go to university in Germany next year, whether for undergraduate or graduate school, so their language abilities are very, very important. In addition, my instructor for B1+ level is top notch.

Great stuff so far. I already know I’m going to have a hard time leaving. I’m eager to see what the next six weeks will bring.


Bienvenue en France! La Première Semaine: Les Sports Français

I  have completed my first week of studies at the Institute of Touraine in Tours, France, a city about an hour-and-a-half southwest of Paris. It is comparable in size to Cleveland or Pittsburgh when you account for the respective surrounding suburbs of each city. My arrival was unfortunately more complicated than I had hoped it would be, although I cannot say the difficulties were entirely unexpected. I knew upon arrival that the only available train from Charles De Gaulle Airport (CDG) to Tours, until 16h30 (4:30 pm), left within half an hour of my arrival at 9h (9 am). Airport security and customs staff are not known for their speed, of course, so I expected to miss my TGV high-speed train to Tours. I arrived at the TGV station, which is beneath CDG Airport, and quickly realized that I had no idea how the train system worked or behind which door I would find my train. I attempted, in French, to ask an attendant where I should go, and realized just as quickly that he had no idea what I was asking. He instructed me, in English, to descend the stairs behind Door 3 and find my train. I walked through the third door to find my train pulling away from the station in front of me. Zut!

This episode taught me a painful lesson in foreign language study: you only know a language when you can use it in a crisis.  So began my six-hour wait at the airport before a two-hour train ride to my host family.

I began my course at the language institute the next day with an oral language assessment. Last summer, I began learning French in the excellent language immersion program at Middlebury College in Vermont. That placement, too, began with an oral language assessment, and when I could not say anything more than my name in French, I was placed at the beginners’ level. I was thus very interested to see where I would begin here at Tours. Happily, I was able to place into a much more advanced class this year. Learning a foreign language can be extraordinarily frustrating, because the effort does not always match the progress. It was thus satisfying to know that my efforts before the program have taken me from a complete beginner to an intermediate student. I am eager to see where I will come out after six weeks of hard work.

My host family took me to a truly unique place this first weekend: au Parc Équestre Fédéral.  Their granddaughter competes in the equestrian activity of “Pony Games,” and I was able to accompany them to see her team compete. I was told by my host family that between 5,000 and 6,000 teenagers and young adults compete in various equestrian sports in the months of May and June in France. Below is a picture of the clubhouse entrance.

There were three different equestrian sports on display yesterday: the aforementioned Pony Games, “Horse-Ball,” and “Horse Polo.” Their granddaugther’s team came in first place on the day in Pony Games, which consisted of a series of obstacles and tasks, including picking up a ball off the ground and placing it on a cone as one rides by on a horse. Incredibly difficult for anyone, yet alone teenagers.

Des Chevaux et des chevaliers

“Horse-Ball” and “Horse-Polo” involved two teams competing against one another to advance a ball across a field. “Horse-Ball” was especially fun to watch, as it was like basketball except on horseback. I was told that “Horse-Ball” is an especially dangerous sport, because the two teams are often jostling against one another and someone can easily fall beneath the horses. I saw no falls in my time watching the “Horse-Ball” games, but I was amazed to see the skill involved. The players had to balance their bodies, control their horses, and coordinate with one another all at the same time. It was an amazing sight.

I look forward to more unique French experiences throughout my time at the institute. My first week of classes were beneficial, but I hope the next five weeks prove even more profitable.  à tout à l’heure!

Post 1 España

I am now in my second week in Alicante, Spain, and have been loving every second of it! Although the initial travel was difficult, as I had to navigate multiple transportation systems to make my way to Alicante, it was well worth the trip. After orientation, I began taking classes at the CIEE Study Center, where I rotate taking three courses-grammar, culture, and conversation. To me, the conversation class is the most useful, because I am learning colloquial Spanish, and it seems like every new word I learn immediately appears around me in the streets. Although I do not plan on using many of these words (as many of them are curse words), it is important to learn the language so that I can better understand what is going on.

I have had many positive cultural and languages so far, including carrying on meaningful conversations with Spanish students that study at the University of Alicante. Their system is very different, because they take classes until May and then have a month of studying time before their finals, which can last for up to four hours each. In addition, they are very keyed into language here, and many of them can speak five or more languages in their studies. All of the students speak Spanish, Valencian, and English, and many choose to also take other languages. I really enjoyed speaking to them, especially when we conversed in Spanish and English interchangeably.

One difficulty that I have encountered is adjusting to cultural differences, as well as clear communication to my host mom. Some things are not as important in the Spanish culture, such as time, but other things are much more regulated, such as eating with family and cleanliness. I am still adjusting to the lack of personal space here and finding new ways to say that I understand or okay (here we say vale a lot), which I will continue working on.

Until next week, hasta luego!

Ciao da Sorrento!

Ciao everyone, it’s now Thursday of my first week in Sorrento and the time is already flying by. We landed in Naples on Sunday and were quickly immersed in the Italian culture when our shuttle drivers had a tough time (to say the least) rounding up all of the students that were supposed to be arriving around the same time. Eventually we made it to Sorrento where I met my host family for the first time. I live with my friend Nick Anselmi in an apartment owned by the Santostasi family, located about a five minute walk from Piazza Tasso, the main piazza in Sorrento. We live with Signora Annabella, a stereotypical Italian grandmother, or nonna, whose sole priority is to feed us until we can’t move. Nonna (as we affectionately call her) doesn’t speak any English, so meals with her provide us with a great opportunity to work on our conversational Italian.

Classes at the Sant’Anna Institute began a few days ago, and so far they have been awesome. I’m taking a Contemporary Italian Literature class that is basically a tutorial considering Nick and I are the only two students. The information is really interesting, and our teacher, Domenico, keeps the class fun and engaging by emphasizing participation and conversation. I’m also enrolled in an Italian grammar class, but our first session isn’t until later today so stay tuned for updates in my next post.

Yesterday Nick and I took a day trip to Naples, and we spent the entire day walking around the beautiful city. We started off with some authentic Neapolitan pizza from L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, widely regarded as the best pizzeria in all of Naples (see photo below). 

Afterward, we walked around the city for about six hours and saw some of the sites, including two of Caravaggio’s three paintings found in the city, and the Castel Nuovo (where the following picture was taken).By the time we returned to Piazza Garibaldi to catch our train back to Sorrento, we were both exhausted and ready for some dinner.

Each day I’ve learned a couple of of new words and phrases that are used more colloquially than some of the things taught in school. For example, I recently picked up using “Mi puo’ dare” to order food, and “Non mi reggono le mie gambe” to express having tired legs after a long day. Mi puo’ dare is a far more common expression than the formulations we learn in school, which are often viewed as very formal. Waiters always seem a little surprised when we talk to them in Italian, and they are usually more likely to respond in the language when we use these more common expressions. Non mi reggono le mie gambe is an expression I learned from Nonna’s daughter Luci when we got back from Naples and were complaining about how tired we were. Literally, the phrase means “My legs don’t support me,” which I think makes a lot of sense. I’m definitely looking forward to learning a lot more phrases like these over the next few weeks. This post has run a bit longer than intended though, so ciao for now!



Bienvenue à Paris, et mon école Lutece Langue

Who needs time for rest? The day after finals, I left ORD Chicago weaponed with my passport, universal adaptor, and pocket dictionary. The flight passed smoothly, but after arriving in Paris, I found that the cab driver did not take credit card, and JP Morgan Chase did not appreciate foreign transactions. I already utilized “I’m so so so sorry” in French.

I study at Lutece Langue in the city center. I am enrolled in their intensive program in the mornings, and their practical “atelier” workshops in the afternoons. 4.5 hours a day, 22.5 hours a week, and 90 hours of guided instruction this summer.

In the mornings, we listen to french recordings, read miscellaneous journal articles, and communicate our opinions. We reflect grammar points and converse about our weekends. Workshop are geared toward practical applications, and themes include conversation, pronunciation, writing, and cultural exploration about Paris. Classes are taught in only French, and are limited to 7 students each. Students are grouped based on ability, and reorganized at the beginning of each week for level adjustments.

As all Mondays do, this past Monday brought about the start of the new week. During the first two weeks at Lutece, I was in the highest level group. This past Monday, I was rapidly told in French that I was being moved to a lower group. There were new advanced students arriving, so they wanted to adjust the level of the course to suit their needs. This meant there was no longer an appropriate spot for me in that class.

I responded, in English, that I was going to take a walk. Hopefully it was not too obvious, but I was upset, probably irrationally so. It was hard to swallow that I was not advancing levels, but the opposite. I realized that language learning contains an element of humility. It was important for me to see that every person is at a different level, and acquires the language at a different pace.

Lutece has great teachers that care about the students. They diligently correct us as we speak, and give us the savoir-faire on slang, cinema, and the best macarons. However, I think that I need something more militant. There is not enough grammar or homework. Because class groups change from week to week, there is no consistency or logical flow between topics. You might not be able to learn relative pronouns because the topic was covered before you arrived, and that’s just that. In all, I’ve enjoyed my time at Lutece Lange. The staff is welcoming and the students are dedicated. I’ve learned a lot within these tiny, unairconditioned rooms on the third floor of a Parisian business complex. Most importantly, I’ve learned that an intensive French class only begins life-long pursuit of fish-lip pronunciation and pain au chocolat.

¡Hola, España!

Hola from Alicante! Already one week down, and only more seven to go; time is already flying by too fast.

I arrived in this beautiful city, located on the southeast coast of Spain, last Sunday. The first night, our program had organized a tapas dinner at a local restaurant so that we could have our first taste of Spanish food and culture together. We tried many different traditional dishes, but my favorite was tortillas de patatas. As the waiter set down the plates, he told us about the recipe: although every version is a little bit different, the base is always potatoes and eggs. First, they fry the potatoes in olive oil, and after they mix them with eggs and cook it; in many ways, it reminds me of an omelet. People often adds things like bread, onions, etc. Bottom line: it is delicious! Our program director also informed us that the meal is extremely common in this region of Spain (a fact which was quickly confirmed when my host family made it for me the next day). The first historical reference to the dish is from 1817! Obviously, it would have been a simple and decently nutritious meal to prepare. I want to learn how to make it so that my family and friends at home can try it.

I moved in with my host family on Monday. My mamá española’s name is Marisol, her husband is Miguel, their daughter is María, and their son is also Miguel. They are all extremely sweet and, most importantly, patient with my lack of Spanish skills! The first couple of days, I could barely understand anything they said, whether they were talking directly to me or to each other. However, I have already noticed a lot of improvement; by now, I can almost always keep up with their conversations, even though it is still pretty intimidating to participate in their rapid exchanges. Native speakers tend to use slang and not pronounce certain letters, so it will be a process. However, I also started classes today, one of which is about colloquial language, so I know it will help tremendously. I am confident that, at this pace, I will be almost fluent by July.

Throughout the rest of the week, I did a walking tour of downtown Alicante, visited the city’s ancient castle, travelled to another little town nearby with amazing views, swam in natural waterfalls on the side of a mountain, watched María’s basketball game, went to the market with Marisol, and enjoyed the beaches. Tomorrow I have a bike tour, and this weekend we are going to Valencia. All in all, I could not be more grateful to be here, or more excited for the next seven weeks! ¡Hasta luego!