After telling a friend about the wonders of a travel bookshop I’d discovered in Nantes’ old quarter, she asked me if I spend most of my time walking around Nantes looking at things. No one had ever pointed out my exploration habits before and perhaps I just thought that’s what everyone did on study abroad, but I’ve come to realize that my relationship with Nantes is very different from that of some of my fellow IES classmates.
My friend summed up my study abroad experience in her question. I do spend most of my free time wandering the tiny cobblestoned streets of the city, browsing through bookstores, and taking photos of sites that are older than the United States.
While I do live far enough away from the IES center and the local university to justify having a monthly bus pass, I avoid hopping on public transportation as much as possible because I know that I’m not seeing the whole picture when I look at the city through a dirty bus window.
When in my life will I ever be able to say again that I lived within a fifteen-minute walk of two rivers, a cathedral, a castle, the town hall, the city’s center, the old quarter and a famous cookie factory? Perhaps I’m just lucky. Maybe I was placed in the most conveniently located host home that’s so close to all of these major sites. But I would argue that there’s something new to discover in every neighborhood but it’s up to us to look for it.
Sure, IES does provide many outings and suggestions to help integrate into the city, but it’s not the job of IES to ensure that students really know Nantes at the end of the four months. While it’s important to take advantage of the IES organized events, it’s even more important to supplement these experiences with independent exploration. The group activities are only the foundation of the adventure but it’s our responsibility to build on it.
I don’t mean to criticize anyone who hasn’t approached study abroad in this manner because I know that everyone has a different experience and different priorities, but one of the major lessons I’ve learned while studying abroad is that sometimes it’s necessary to sacrifice convenience for an adventure.
I can’t imagine my time in Nantes without the smell of the bakery on my walk to IES or the sound of the cathedral’s bells muffling the sound of the traffic as I take a jaunt through the old quarter. It’s surreal that in just over twenty-four hours, my study abroad journey will come to a close and I’ll have to say goodbye to this place that I consider home.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Katie Nodjimbadem is a junior at Northwestern University majoring in journalism and planning to minor in French. She enjoys writing about diversity and culture for North by Northwestern magazine and loves interacting with prospective students as a campus tour guide. Katie bleeds purple and loves to cheer on her fellow wildcats at varsity sporting events. As the daughter of two Francophone parents, she desires to improve her French to better understand her heritage and strengthen her ties with her extended family.</span></p>