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Engulfed in castles, food, French

Keanan Gleason
January 13, 2017

It’s been one week since I arrived in France, and as if on que, I had my first dream in French last night. Granted, it was quite short and bizarre, but nonetheless I consider it a small victory in my effort to master French.

Between getting to know my host family, my classmates at IES Abroad, and orientation, I have not given myself ample time for reflection until now. While upon arrival I was ready for whatever France had to throw at me, I am now thoroughly overwhelmed. My host family and I met during my first night in Nantes, and we passed a pleasant evening getting to know each other. Even when my host parents were talking so quickly amongst themselves that I couldn’t understand them, I was still content to be encompassed in a euphony of French language.

My host parents are indeed quite welcoming, enjoyable to be around, and thankfully remain patient during my struggles to speak and listen competently. Their house – which is a short walk from the IES Abroad Center and the center of town – is old, grand, and cozy. It reminds me of my grandfather’s house in Waban, which helps make it feel more familiar. My room is tucked away in a corner on the third floor, right below the slanted roof.

I eat dinner with my host family five nights a week, and it is always one of the most entertaining parts of the day. There is an art to a proper French dinner and its associated social mannerisms. No matter the occasion, the table is set very precisely. Dinner starts with either a soup or a salad followed by a main dish. The most typical French dish we have thus eaten is ratatouille. Following the main dish, we usually break out the cheese. There can be as few as three varieties, but there are normally at least six. I learned on my third night that it is considered rude to take a helping of all of the options available. After cheese, we eat either some kind of pastry or cake with lots of butter, or fruit (when deciding, the two are considered substitutes). Bread is of course served during each course, and we usually plow through at least four small loaves in one meal. Whenever you want to serve yourself a portion of a dish, you first have to offer it to everyone else at the table. If we are having a more formal dinner, my host family will consume a small glass of red wine with the meal, but normally only water is served.

This past weekend, IES Abroad took the students in the program to visit castles along the Loires river. Despite the clouds and unseasonably cold temperatures, the experience was truly breath-taking. The castles were so immense and so meticulously designed that I had a hard time comprehending how they were all built so long ago. Of the four we visited, the largest by far and coincidentally my favorite was Chambord. While following the self-guided tour, I tried to imagine what daily-life was like for the castle’s many inhabitants. How did the members of the elite class relish their wealth? Did they relish it, or did it bring as much misfortune as it did fortune?

IES Abroad courses do not start until next week, but this week has been plenty busy. During half of the day, we have orientation activities. So far we have spent a lot of time learning about the structure of the IES Abroad program, what courses will be like, etc. During the other half of the day, we are divided into groups and spend time with an instructor practicing French grammar exercises and having discussions in French. I confess it is at times difficult to fully devote myself to these exercises and discussions since I am already immersed in French during most of the day. I cannot yet listen or speak in French without consciously thinking about what is being said or what I am saying, so by the end of the day I am numb. However, I expected nothing less as it is a part of the learning process, and am enjoying every minute of it. I am excited to choose my courses and to start following a weekly schedule that I will follow for the duration of the semester!

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Keanan Gleason

<p>Bonjour! My name is Keanan Gleason, I am from Albuquerque, New Mexico, but currently live in Iowa where I am a third year student at Grinnell College. I am double-majoring in Economics and French, and this spring I will be studying abroad in Nantes, France! I hope to get to know my temporary home by going on lots of runs, eating at various restaurants, and exploring with friends.</p>

Destination:
Term:
2017 Spring
Home University:
Grinnell College
Major:
Economics
French Language
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