The last week in Nantes I found myself on a boat along the Erdre River, in a room filled with host families, and in a University professor’s office, offloading all I knew about women in politics in the modern era. It was—you guessed it—finals week, and our last week here! The last week of the semester in college is a notoriously stressful and complex time—you’re bombarded with papers, tests, or presentations; you’re preparing for all these; and you’re trying to see all your friends one last time. But, while this week carried the usual stressors of test-taking, it was also a very enjoyable week of last goodbyes with the IES Abroad friends that I now consider a family.
Last Friday, we had our farewell dinner (on a boat) on the Erdre river. Everyone dressed their best and we enjoyed a full four-course meal. We had such a good time, I don’t think anyone noticed it was raining outside. After we’d eaten, everyone migrated towards the front of the boat where there was a pocket-sized floor space in front of the two live musicians, which we enthusiastically maximized for busting dance moves! Even our director joined us.
Last Friday, Monday and Thursday, I had written exams. Tuesday, I had an oral presentation at the University. In between studying for all these, I tried my hardest to soak up the beautiful sun in Nantes a few final moments through walks in the park or food with friends. I paused in the middle of Place Graslin to admire the people perched on the Opera steps, the kids running around the fountain, and old friends enjoying the end of the afternoon with drinks on the patio outside La Molière. I will miss the daily whir of the city with all its beauty, quirks, and sounds.
Thursday evening, we had a reception at IES Abroad for all the host families. The library and one of the classrooms were opened up and hors d’œuvres, drinks, and desserts were artistically splayed out on the tables. IES Abroad was bustling with all kinds of host families—older parents, younger parents, teenage siblings, and a few babies, too. For each IES Abroad student, our host family had a huge impact on our experience in Nantes. It was who we saw each evening, whose experiences framed our first view of Nantes, and who witnessed our most honest questions, confusions, and breakthrough moments of understanding. It was really special to see all these people converge together. Our class presidents, TJ and Matthew, spoke, as well as M. de Berranger with final words and accolades for the semester.
Feeling like a weighed-down turtle with all my luggage, I was packed and ready to go Saturday. After a relaxing morning of coffee and reflection together, my host mom drove me to the train station. Our final goodbye didn’t feel sad, but hopeful. I have a feeling I’ll be back at some point in my life, and I’ll be sure to see her.
It was an overall wonderful semester, by far my favorite in college. I grew as a public speaker, having given oral presentations in every class (in French) and having taught four classes of middle and high schoolers every week. I grew in my confidence of French language, of course. A question often asked by others as a measurement of language acquisition, I suppose, is if you dream or think in French. I would say yes. By the end of the semester, my host mother said my accent was imperceptible and I sounded truly French. I wouldn't say that I am fluent by any means, but I had improved a lot since January. I felt that as the semester went on we were able to have longer, richer, and deeper conversations, and I felt a sense of pride in that. I also grew in my understanding of how others live, as I was able to meet so many people—from the U.S. and France, but from many other places as well, all convened in Nantes. So many of the lessons I’m bringing home I may not fully realize until much later, but I know that I see things differently.
Was every moment wonderful? No, and it would be dishonest to say there weren’t many challenging moments, moments of utter confusion, loneliness, or distress in this semester. But with those also came incredible moments of learning, of carving deeper relationships with others, and of realizing my abilities and all that I was capable of. Yet, valuable, thrilling, profound memories—some of the best, ever—did certainly transpire in these past four months.
In these first few days back in the U.S., I was able to converse in French with my grandmother (from Québec), and I loved that I was finally able to connect with her in that way. She told me that she noticed I was more confident, and I smiled, because I agreed.
As for all the incredible friends I made, it will not be long before we see each other again. For all the people I met in IES Abroad and in Nantes, I will remember them all fondly forever, whether our paths cross again or not. I will be grateful for every single conversation, laugh, and lesson we’ve experienced together. And I’m grateful for IES Abroad, which was an amazing program, for bringing all of these people together.
It’s not au revoir, it’s à bientôt!
I’m hoping some of these photos will help to supplement my words in conveying all the emotions that four months abroad bring. Enjoy!