I’ve been back in the United States for almost three weeks now, and there are a couple of things I’ll mention right from the start:

1. I’ve never appreciated air conditioning as much as I do now,
and 2. I miss being able to walk everywhere.

Without air conditioning (or even fans in my host house), the heat wave that hit France in the middle of July was quite the experience, so now I thoroughly enjoy being able to get away from the North Carolina summer humidity by retreating inside when need be. And secondly, I accumulated close to 20,000 steps per day in France simply by going about my daily routine around the city. I never took a car, train, or bus unless I was going on a significant trip, and even then, I still walked around when sightseeing in a new place. To go really anywhere now back home, I have to get in my car and drive, so I guess you can say I miss the corner markets and endless parks of France.

Looking back over the whole trip, however, it’s hard to believe all that I accomplished. My French improved significantly in the areas I most lacked in (oral comprehension and speaking), and I was able to employ what I learned to real-life situations in markets, at host family dinners, bus stops, and on the train. I think these experiences helped me the most because they were the most organic. I didn’t have time to prepare my set of responses mentally as I would try to do in a classroom setting; I had to on-the-fly listen and respond as best I could, even if I wasn’t 100% confident of where my sentence was going. If I didn’t know a specific word in French, I would try to describe it circularly to whoever was listening instead of just abandoning the train of thought completely. (I did this once during dinner and ended up describing a lizard as “a little snake with arms and legs”… this ended up making everyone laugh once they realized what I was trying to say, not to mention the fact that the French word for lizard anyway is just lézard).

I’ll always remember these little moments of the trip because they were the ones where I really just went for it. Caution was thrown to the wind and words just tumbled from my mouth, bypassing the English-to-French filter that would routinely slow down my responses. This led to a lot of laughs, richer conversations, and of course, bursts of confidence for me.

Now that I’m back in the States, my opportunities to practice spoken French have diminished, but I now have some pen pals both domestic and international who are willing to practice whenever possible. Additionally, I bought nine books while abroad (which I carried all in my handbag when heading home, making the airport security guards raise some eyebrows), so I’m excited to read many of my old favorites in French alongside some new bestsellers I have yet to read even in English.

My favorite part about the SLA grant, however, was the cultural immersion that it enabled me to do. The French lifestyle is significantly different than ours in America, and I would even say that they just understand the idea of “culture” differently than us. In the U.S., I think the term is thrown around most of the time in reference to social media and technology, but in France, I definitely got the sense that to them, “culture” went a lot deeper than just daily routines. It’s how they addressed each other, how they talked about their country, and how they saw themselves in the greater world. This sense is hard to convey in a video or song, so you really have to be surrounded by the French to feel how they embrace and cherish their culture.

To learn a language is to start to know its speakers, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to do just that through the SLA grant. I can’t wait to continue my studies in French at Notre Dame and connect the language to more and more of my interests in literature, philosophy, and theology. This was my first trip to France, but most certainly not the last.

Week 6: Speaking Slang and Contractions

One of the things that I quickly noticed when I arrived in France was that French speakers tend to drop the “ne” when saying a negative sentence. For instance, instead of saying “je ne sais pas,” they just say “je sais pas.” Then during this week in class, one of my teachers clarified this tendency by drawing out the progression of slang on the board. It went something like this:

In formal speaking or writing: “je ne sais pas”

In casual conversation: “je sais pas”

But then, the French can get even more creative (or lazy, however you want to see it) just as we do in English with contractions:

“Je sais pas” —> can contract to —> “j’sais pas” (which is pronounced quickly like “shay-pa”)

This explanation made so much sense to me because when I first began hearing conversations between natives, I was always surprised by the sudden “pas” that seemed to pop into a phrase here and there. In general, my host mom tries to remember to include the “ne” as much as possible when she’s speaking, but she’ll often forget to when she gets animated about a certain topic. And yet, after being here for over a month, I’ve become used to how half the negation is omitted in casual conversation, although I’m still habituated to using the “ne… pas” construction myself when speaking.

But in addition to the contractions of “je ne sais pas,” my teacher also covered some other common slang words and phrases that are used by the youth. One of these comes from the common phrase, “je suis désolé” which means “I’m sorry.” Just like in English, it’s okay to drop the subject and verb to just say “désolé,” but then our teacher explained that if you’re with a group friends, the cool thing to say is just “déso” (rhymes with LEGO). But again, that’s only to be used if you are casually hanging out with friends. Any other setting with any trace of formality requires you to use a more politically correct version of “désolé.”

I enjoyed learning about this in class because it’s not something that’s typically covered in a textbook or explicitly explained. Even in English, slang is usually just something you pick up on and interpret with only the occasional explanation of its meaning, so in a foreign language it can be even more difficult to discern the nuanced meaning of casual words. But once you catch this inside look of the language through these words, conversations become all the more enriching and fun because it’s like you’re clued into the hidden undertones that you had never known before. Who knew contractions could be so important?

Week 5: Rouge, Blanc et Bleu

This past weekend included the 14th of July, otherwise known as the “Quatorze Juillet” in France. My host mom clarified to us one night at the dinner table that it’s really only the Americans who routinely call it “Bastille Day.” The French prefer to just call it the “14th of July” since that title refers more to the idea of independence rather than revolution. You also don’t really say “joyeaux quartorze juillet” (happy 14th of July) here. According to my host mom, it’s really only an American thing to just declare “happy … !” for any event that comes up in our daily routine.

For the actual day of this French celebration, however, I took a trip to Paris with one of the other students living in my host house. We didn’t arrive in time to see the parade on the Champs-Élyssés, but we did see the news and military helicopters from the event flying overhead as we walked along the Seine. Overall, though, it was interesting to just see so many people dressed in red, white, and blue because normally, there aren’t many explicit national symbols of France on the streets. What I mean is that in America, we have American flags and political symbols everywhere. I’m remembering in particular how in elementary and middle school, there was an American flag in every room and we would all stand for the pledge of allegiance every morning. In contrast, French flags are hung only outside of official public buildings, so the 14 of July carried an expected, yet still exciting, change in seeing so many people celebrating their country since I haven’t see that much explicit French patriotism since arriving.

By late afternoon, this area in the Jardin des Tuileries was filled with people dancing and celebrating the holiday as they prepared to watch the firework festival later that evening.


Similar to Americans, the French close out their 14 Juillet with a display of “feux d’artifice” (fireworks). I arrived back in Tours just in time to see the finale of red, white, and blue over the Loire. We had a perfect view of the show on the bus as we crossed the bridge over the river and back into the city, so it was certainly a “jour de l’indépendance” of “rouge, blanc, et bleu” to remember.

Weeks 3 & 4: American Soccer and European Schooling

 It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here in France for four weeks already. The days are long and the weeks short. Time sure has a funny sense of humor.

For instance, it seems like it was just yesterday that I travelled to Rennes to watch the Women’s World Cup Quarter-Final between Sweden and Germany, even though that trip was actually a couple weeks ago. The recent wrap-up of the tournament however has reminded me of my experience in Rennes which was surprising in many ways.

Leading up to the game, there were crowds of people dressed in Sweden’s yellow and Germany’s black jerseys, so I was excited to see what the energy would be like around the stadium itself since I had previously attended a Real Madrid club game five or so years ago in Spain. The passion and overwhelming energy of that elite men’s match was akin to our home football games at Notre Dame, if not even a little more wild, so as I saw more and more fans emerge onto Rennes’ streets as the game time drew nearer, I thought that I would encounter the same emotion as I did in Spain.

I was to be slightly disappointed.

It’s not that there was no buzz of excitement around Rennes stadium; it’s just that it was significantly less than that of the Real Madrid match I had seen. Perhaps it was because this was a women’s match and female soccer games just traditionally bring in less fans, but I thought that the World Cup component of the game would have reversed that reality. The decreased energy may have also been due to the two teams playing: while both Sweden and Germany have amazing teams with talented players, they do not have the robust fanbase of the American or French national teams. Additionally, based on the people my friend and I encountered at the stadium, most fans were actually American, English, or French, and they were just there because they had wanted to see a game; they didn’t necessarily support either team in particular.

All in all, however, it was a great weekend trip, and I enjoyed watching Sweden advance into the semi-finals. I think my experience of the stadium and initial impressions of the environment, however, just point to how much stronger of a fanbase American women’s soccer has compared to its counterpart in Europe. Our women’s programs in the United States (particularly those at the professional level) are better known and developed than many of Europe’s women’s soccer programs (even if our female athletes still do not get paid as much as the men), but hopefully our most recent World Cup win will serve to improve conditions all around.

Aside from the soccer events of the past month, however, this past week at the institute was interesting because it was what they called “oral practice week.” This entailed a slight change in the curriculum of the classes in that all our activities and lessons would be centered around listening comprehension and speaking, rather than also including reading and writing components. I appreciated this change for many reasons, one being that I really wanted to improve my spoken French, and another in that I was able to discuss at length with one of my classmates the different language education systems in our countries. My class partner was from Switzerland, so she explained to me that they begin learning a second language when they are about to start middle school, and then have the option to take on a third during high school. The most common languages they learn are English, German, French, and Italian, although the ones you learn depend on what region of Switzerland you are from because the mother-tongue of each region varies by geography.

I thought this was interesting compared to the education system in the U.S. because at least for my siblings and me, we did not start formally studying a second language until high school. This lack of language introduction within our education system should be remedied because I think there is so much to gain by introducing another language and culture to young students early on. They would be exposed to not only a new system of communication but also the stories and characters behind another country and culture. A new world would be literally at their fingertips through a secondary language, and perhaps this one change in our American education system would help encourage more open-mindedness in the upcoming generations of students. By engaging with a second language earlier, young students could be encouraged to be more curious about other cultures and people unlike themselves, rather than nervous or judgmental about them. At the very least, perhaps this could be a start to building a better world with more fruitful communication.

That’s all for now.  À bientôt!

Weeks 1 & 2 in Tours

Bonjour from Tours!

I’ve now been here in France for two weeks, which is still surprising every time I think about it. The time has flown by, and even though I still have five weeks left, I know I’ll probably be heading back to the airport before I know it.

Since arriving off the train and taking in all the old history painted across the architecture of the city, I’ve learned too many things to count on both my hands, so instead I’ll just narrow it down to a list of ten:

  1. It’s polite to always say “bonjour” and “au revoir” when you enter and leave a business.
  2. Sales tax is already included in the listed price of the item.
  3. There are boulangeries everywhere (at least one on every street), which is always convenient since you never know when you might crave a pain du chocolat and need to stop to purchase one.
  4. Fromage (cheese) is always served at dinner with my host mom, and it’s fun to both stick to old favorites I’ve discovered and also try a bit of something new every night.
  5. I find new places in the city everyday that can sometimes be hidden treasures (like the Kilo shop in the plaza where you can buy clothes based off their weight—quite an interesting thrift store shopping experience).
  6. Be prepared to eat dinner late and expect it to last at least an hour, if not longer.
  7. At breakfast, first butter your bread, then add jam on top for a yummy French wake up.
  8. Expect to see lots of well-trained dogs off leash throughout the city as their owners walk about, shop, and sit down for a meal.
  9. Orangina is essentially a sparkling orange juice drink (that can potentially explode like any carbonated drink if shaken too much).
  10. The Fête de la Musique (Festival of Music) is a country-wide event where bands of both global fame or local origin come out onto the streets and perform the night away. It starts in the afternoon and lasts until the early hours of the morning.

In addition to constantly realizing how different (yet also sometimes similar) France is from the United States, I’ve also had the opportunity to bike to Villandry (one of the nearby chateaus of the Loire Valley) and attend French mass. The Villandry gardens were beautiful—it took us two hours to wander through it all while taking pictures—and French mass was much different than those hosted by the French club on campus.

     The Villandry gardens

My host family lives right next to a cathedral, and once when I was walking to a different basilica for a Saturday mass, I heard organ music from the cathedral next door. Families were dressed nicely and heading inside, so I changed direction to follow them as well. I ended up attending a mass that was also a first communion service which was very cool to see, only there were no hymnals or worship aids to be found which made joining in a little more difficult; the French congregation participated in the mass by memory, whereas I only knew bits and pieces of the liturgy in French. The feeling of not quite knowing what exactly to say, but still understanding the concept of what was occurring in the cathedral helped me to better appreciate the tradition that underlies Catholicism around the world. Even though I’m time zones away from my home in the States, the familiarity of the Catholic Faith is still present here in France right outside my window.

Literally, the view from my window.        

So that’s my first two weeks in Tours in a very small nutshell. I look forward to sharing more of my adventures in the weeks to come!

Au revoir!