I’ve almost finished my third week of classes in Nantes, and so far they’re going pretty well. On my first day I found out that the literature course I was really excited about got canceled due to the fact that only two students were interested, so I ended up in French Poetry at the Turn of the Century instead. I’m also taking a French class (duh), History of Nantes, the Palestinian Question from 1945 to Today, French Cooking and Gastronomy, and Theatre. I thought the theater class would be good for me (more specifically, good for my French) since I decided not to have a teaching internship. I’m not always a huge fan of kids, so I was concerned that constant exposure for months would lead to insanity. Also, theatre isn’t anywhere near anything I’d normally do, so I thought hey, this should be good for getting outside my comfort zone and trying something new.
It completely, utterly terrifies me. But it’s also been really fun, in a pushing-my-boundaries and being-hit-by-waves-of-awkwardness kind of way. There’s another class that strains my personality: French Cuisine and Gastronomy. So far we’ve studied the history of food, smelled fancy spices, eaten nettle soup, and tasted wine in class, all of which has completely agreed with me. The challenge? Dragging myself out of bed in order to get to IES Abroad by 8:30 in the morning!
My history classes fascinate me. The History of Nantes has focused on the slave trade in Nantes, since this city was apparently the largest slave port in France and the fourth-largest in Europe, but this week we’ve started talking about religious movements in France. The Palestinian Question is interesting because it’s an area of history that is completely outside of anything I’ve studied before. I signed up for the class because of my experience freshman year of college, when I registered for a class about Cambodia (which I’d barely heard of) and ended up learning enough that I traveled there armed with enough historical knowledge to put my experiences in context.
Having my classes all in French is actually really fun and helps me pay attention more because I don’t want to miss any new words. Back home, my only full-French class is whatever French class I’m taking that semester, so my five non-grammar classes here are hours and hours of free practice! The full immersion also helps with my listening comprehension. Watching TV with my famille d’accueil is still a bit of a struggle because everyone talks so, so fast, but the teachers here are good about speaking at a speed we understand and checking in to make sure that we know what they’re saying.
My famille d’accueil is even better than I could have hoped for. I have a mère, soeur, and two frères d’accueil, all of whom are incredibly nice to me. They also cook like nobody’s business—I haven’t eaten the same thing twice the entire time I’ve been here. At their house, I’ve eaten everything from ratatouille cake to fried potatoes. I’ve decided to start keeping a food journal while I’m here so I can remember everything I eat. Due to sandwiches, I’m sure I’ve consumed at least twenty-five baguettes in the past weeks, but this week I discovered the magic of Carrefour, a nearby grocery store, and microwavable meals for lunch. My mère d’accueil wants me to cook an American meal for them, which I agreed to because it sounded fun, but now that I’ve been thinking about it I’ve realized that most of my cooking experience revolves around baking—things like cookies, scones, cupcakes—and when I mentioned that my mère d’accueil said that cookies weren’t dinner, so I need to ask my mom for an easy recipe for a traditional American dish. I can’t help but stereotype my own country here, because all I can think about when I think of American food is hamburgers and fries, so I need some help!
My mère d’accueil has also been great for my French. I’m really shy and it takes me a while to adjust to new people, but even in the first weeks of my semester, when I had little to no faith in my French, she made sure to ask me about my day, what I did, things about my family, stuff to get me practicing. At first when I got here I was scared about sounding stupid—saying something wrong, having a horrible accent, getting completely lost in conversations—but I’ve come to realize that I’m going to sound stupid, have an obvious accent, and have no idea what’s going on from time to time. I’ve probably sounded like an idiot fifteen times today and will again fifteen more before I go to bed tonight, so I might as well try to talk more and get better at it, and my famille d’accueil is always there to help when I heinously mispronounce something or lose track of what’s happening on TV or in conversations.
As of Wednesday, I’ve been in Nantes for a month. It feels like it’s only been a week or two, even though when I think back it seems like the first weekend’s trip to Vannes was months ago. Time seems to go by really fast here, which makes me scared that it’ll be December and the semester over the next time I blink. I feel like there’s still so much to do here and so many places to travel to. I’ve just fallen into a routine, and it seems odd that at the end of the semester this is a schedule I’ll never go back to.
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<p>Hi! My name is Suzan Frierson and I'm a junior at the University of Redlands. I'm a Creative Writing major and French minor, and the language inspired me to study abroad in Nantes. I love traveling, writing, and going on adventures.</p>