How was my semester abroad? Nantes too shabby!

Keanan Gleason
May 10, 2017

There remain two hours before my train departs and I leave the city I have called home for the last 126 days.  I will spend my last night in France waiting for the results of their presidential elections and trying not to think about the eerie similarities to those just witnessed in the U.S.  Tomorrow I fly back to Albuquerque and will stay there for four days before flying to Maine, where I will work for the summer.  Although readers will read this final post as one cohesive narrative, it will in fact have been written in two different settings at two different times.  The first half will have been written in France when I couldn’t help myself from reflecting and over-analyzing the last four months.  The second half will have been written stateside when I was jet-lagged and experiencing reverse-culture shock.

I find that one of the hardest parts of studying abroad is wholly describing it to others.  Even if I wrote a thousand-page novel about it, there would still be aspects of my experience that I didn’t adequately articulate.  What is even more problematic is that I am staunchly opposed to using blanket statements and adjectives that do not provide a real description.  Thus, I cannot use cop-out phrases like “I had a good time” or “it was fun”.  Instead, I will provide a list of reoccurrences in my daily life this semester that were unique to Nantes, France, or Europe and that I will either miss terribly or be glad to leave behind.  My hope is that my reactions to these reoccurrences reflect my experience in and interactions with France in a broader sense.  First up, here are some aspects of life that I will undoubtedly miss when I go back to America:

French cuisine: This may sound cliché, but as someone who enjoys cooking and trying new food, learning about French cuisine was one of the more enjoyable aspects of this semester.  I really appreciate how much of an emphasis French people tend to put on the importance of enjoying a quality meal with others.  Even if I can’t import a to-die-for wheel of non-pasteurized Camembert cheese back with me to the U.S, I will certainly bring back and share the French tradition of sampling cheeses at dinner after the main course. 

European Architecture: After taking a French history class last year, I became infatuated with Haussmann’s renovations of Paris, which spread to all other major cities in France and essentially led to those picturesque cities as we know them today.  I will immensely miss the simple pleasure of walking around Nantes and taking in the visually-aesthetic pleasures of the neatly arranged apartment buildings, stunning cathedrals, and inviting cafés terraces. 

French language immersion: As difficult as it was at times to converse in French, I at no point this semester stopped loving the sound of the French language.  It’s the primary reason I started taking French in the first place and the melody of the language when it’s spoken will never become less calming and enchanting for me.  Of course, I will still have plenty of opportunities to listen to and practice French in the U.S., but it’s evidently not the same as being constantly immersed in it. 

Now here are a few aspects that I will not miss at all:

Secondhand smoke: For reasons that continue to befuddle me, the rate of smoking in France is much, much higher than in the states.  Frequently when I was walking around or sitting outside, I would inevitably inhale an obnoxious amount of secondhand smoke.  Although it is unpleasant, I normally not let this negative externality bother me too much.  However, after four months of it I am ready to leave it behind. 

The whine of scooters: This one is a bit more particular and was only annoying when walking in busy areas of town.  Scooters and vespas are wildly popular in France as well as the rest of Europe and every time one would go by, it would sound like a hive of flies buzzing in my ears.  I am convinced the motors were designed to inflict maximum annoyance on the human ear.  To be fair, though, America does have it’s fair share of deafeningly loud Harley Davidsons.

Incessant grammar and vocabulary correction: Yes, I’m being hypocritical here since this is an important aspect of immersion. However, I always insisted that people correct me if I misspoke in French so that I could improve my proficiency.  There were times, though, where I was corrected so much – and often on trivial mistakes such as confusing masculine and feminine nouns – that the entire point of my statement was forgotten and I suddenly found myself listening to an impromptu grammar lesson.  Thankfully, this occurred less frequently as the semester progressed and my spoken French improved.

Flash forward three days from when I started writing this post and I’m now back in Albuquerque.  I’m simultaneously recovering from jet-lag, catching up with family and friends, and preparing for my next adventure.  This summer I will be working with the Maine Conservation Corps – an AmeriCorps program – doing trail maintenance work throughout the state.  Despite the blackflies and other critters, I expect the work to be satisfying and am excited to be in an outdoor setting.  Memories from the past four months keep playing in my head like a playlist on repeat.  Each time a memory plays, I observe a new aspect and change my perspective on it.  Doubtless my time in France will have a tremendous impact on my own personal character and my perception of the world – likely to an extent I have yet to realize.  I would like to thank all the readers who have been following this blog, you motivated me to constantly record and reflect upon my journey.  To all future IES Abroad students:  Good luck out there and make the most of this unique opportunity!

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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>

2017 Spring
Home University:
Grinnell College
French Language
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