Final Thoughts

          I have just landed at O’Hare International Airport and my trip seemed like it went by like a blur. It is already almost August, and in a few weeks I am about to start another semester at Notre Dame. Looking back, I wish I could have stayed longer on the trip (even with the crazy heat wave that hit France after I left). Even with me missing France, I know now I want to study abroad junior year and I am not holding back from this goal. This short two month journey was just an introduction to the next steps in my journey to living in Europe later in my life. I am immensely grateful for Notre Dame providing this opportunity in the summer to experience France and take classes every day to sharpen my language tools. In my last days, I spent a day in the southwest Mediterranean town Sète and enjoyed being on the beach watching the sunset. Here are some photos I took in what I found to be the most laid back city during my stay in France. 

Last Days in Europe

          Reflecting on my nearly finished trip to France, I realized how far I have personally grown as well as how far I have progressed in my French usage. I have been able to transition from stumbling on my words to now being able to answer people’s questions and have conversations without putting much thought and effort in what I have to say. I never expected it before the trip, but truly I feel way more natural with the language. I can say for the most part I see the nuances in how native French speakers speak and how foreigners speak the language; for one, it no longer surprises me when French people figure out you are not from France. I understand how their tendencies when speaking and writing differ from, for example, how I use French. However, I have been able to start using the language more and more like how the French normally use it (i.e j’y viendrai dans (instead of en) 5 mins)). I never learned these little tricks while taking classes in the United States, which shows that the best way to fully integrate a language is to travel to a country where it is spoken fluently by everyone born there. Besides talking about my increased cultural awareness from living in France, I will share a few photos of one of my weekend trips to the beautiful city of Barcelona, which was only a couple of hours from Montpellier. 

Making the Rounds in France and Switzerland

The past few weeks have been amazing for me being able to experience France as a whole. I have been able to take advantage of the super cheap trains to cities like Bordeaux, Marseille, Nice, Nîmes, and Lyon having time on the weekends to explore throughout the city. Every city has its own distinct cultural attractions, food, geography, etc., and I have been blessed to experience so much of Francophone society. I am much more confident with speaking French now than before, and I am no longer worried about how I am perceived when I speak French. It is super easy to communicate with people, and I do not have to ask them to repeat themselves so much anymore, and I love using the idiomatic phrases, which make it easier to get my point across.

Geneva on the other hand was so scenic and it being an international city was extremely evident to me with it having the headquarters of the Red Cross, UN, and other international organizations. Really loved how open the city was and how easy it was to get around with the teams that always were on time unlike in France. The air was so fresh and Lake Geneva made the trip all worth it being able to take a boat out on the water for a couple hours experiencing the gorgeous nature that the lake provided. I was glad I was able to also experience the historic parts of Geneva including the monuments and St. Peter’s Cathedral, which are key sites showing the Reformation’s presence in Switzerland. It was amazing that the stuff I read in my AP European History class my junior year in high school came to life in my trip to Geneva. Being able to visit attractions dating back all the way to the 1500s is a memory I will forever cherish. Geneva definitely is one of my favorite cities I visited and I hope to travel there again in the future (whether it be on vacation or actually for work).

Going to Marseille was probably the most unexpected experience I had because of how vast the city’s offerings were while the geography made it so difficult to navigate. There were so many hills in Marseille, and luckily I was able to catch a mass at the very beautiful Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde; inconveniently, it was also the highest point of the city (it took me half an hour to go up the hill to the Basilica. Everywhere I explored it was like I needed to climb or descend seemingly endless staircases on wobbly paths. I made sure to not miss the biggest part of the food scene in Marseille, which was the seafood, and the restaurant I went to exceeded my expectations. Crabs, shrimp, and oysters are all abundant right by the port in the old town, and the seafood was by far the freshest I had in France. Marseille has its own distinct slang not found anywhere else in France, and I found it fascinating how the young people talked to each other using phrases such as fada (crazy) and minot (child). Marseille definitely has its own ambiance, but the people there were super relaxed and I found my time there to be enjoyable overall.

Broken Chair by the United Nations Headquarters

Seafront in Marseille

Inside of Notre Dame Cathedral

Highest Point of Marseille by Notre Dame

St. Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva

First Impressions of France

Landing at Montpellier on a windy Saturday afternoon, I definitely did not expect what I would get to experience in the following four weeks. On the first day, what really stood out to me was how walkable the city was. Most of the streets are narrow in the downtown, and there are so many squares and plazas to hang out in. It is really easy to get around places, especially with the tram and bus, and I love being able to get from downtown to my home in half an hour or less. I have been able to explore the city with a lot of free time after my classes at 5 pm. Some of my favorite parts of Montpellier are the Musée Fabre, Pavillon Populaire, Parc Rimbaud, and the beaches like Palavas and Carnon. Every day I learn at least a new word and even special phrases and idioms that native speakers use on a daily basis (some more profane than others, I have to say!). I have been able to meet so many people around the world, including places like Canada, Germany, England, Ireland, China, and even Singapore!

To be honest, most of the things I heard about French people back home were not really true. At least in Montpellier, they are super nice and do not have any arrogance to them. The main thing I noticed is that if you speak French to them and not English like I see other tourists do, they open up and are more friendly to you. Politeness goes a long way, especially in stores and restaurants. In the beginning, talking with people was intimidating because it was difficult for me to understand what they were saying at the pace they were talking, and I often had to ask them to repeat what they were saying. However, after the first two weeks, my ear adapted to the speed at which people spoke to me, so now I understand at least 80% of what they say without asking them to go slower. It was a culture shock, to say the least, as I slowly realized it was basically impossible to find an open restaurant from 3 pm-7 pm in the city during weekdays. 

Also, what is really surprising is the weather is absolutely amazing here, and it rarely rains. In fact, it is so rare that my host family actually complained one time when it was drizzling just for an hour. The absolute opposite is the case back home in Chicago. There is always something to do in the city. There was a Day of Music on June 22nd where there were many concerts going on throughout the many plazas and streets. There are dozens of beaches south of Montpellier, and beautiful towns like Avignon and Nîmes are only a short bus/train ride away. My personal favorite moment of this trip so far was getting to the highest point of Paris on top of the hill of Montmartre and looking down at the City of Light. I was able to go to Paris, Arles, and Nîmes, and I found that each city has its own culture. Montpellier is really energetic with a lot of young adults and children, and it has a really good nightlife for a city that only has a little more than 10% of the population of Paris. I have been able to be in the city late at night, finding stuff to do even on weekdays like going to the discothèques, and I am glad I am able to spend my time with a lot of friends I have made on this trip.

Here are some photos of my experiences so far!

Carnon Beach
Musée Fabre
Waya Music Festival
Highest Elevation in Paris (Montmartre hill)
Arc de Triomphe
Pavillon Populaire

Adventure in Montpellier

For the past five years, I have been taking French classes in high school and my first year at Notre Dame. French is language that I find both a challenge to relish and an opportunity for me to express my creativity. Whether it is all the different conjugations of the passé composé or the many kinds of expressions I can use to express an argument, French has been a great outlet for me to exercise my brain in a different way than other subjects I enjoy such as math and economics. Because of my many positive experiences with learning French, I now am interested in working abroad in another country, especially a Francophone one. However, what I learned in the classroom can only get me so far, especially because I have never been to France. Therefore, traveling to France will get me more accustomed with the language and culture, which is needed if I want to spend longer periods of time over there.

That is why I am super pumped to be able to spend eight weeks in Montpellier this summer. For me, I am looking forward to taking advantage of its location along the Mediterranean with its many beautiful beaches as well as the festivals that will be going on in June plus all the museums and other attractions that the city provides. Most importantly, being able to be in an immersive environment by staying with a French family will dramatically increases my grasp of the language where I won’t just be speaking and studying French 1 hour a day like I do here in the USA. I am animated to meet so many new people and make personal connections in a different country since I was not able to go to France my junior year of high school due to Covid. This summer is going to be a great first step towards one day me being able to work and travel regularly abroad, and I cannot wait!

This is a photo of Montpellier’s “Place de la Comédie.” It is a huge downtown area that I will definitely be walking through many occasions during my time at Montpellier.