At this moment I feel as if I am standing in front of a painting with a blindfold over my eyes. I am very close to the painting, but cannot see it. From reading about the painting on the internet, and hearing what people have told me about it, I have gathered a vague idea of what the painting looks like. In two days, however, I will take off the blind fold when I travel to Nantes for the first time.
From the first year I started taking French in high school, I have been looking forward to studying abroad. The idea of traveling far away from home to immerse myself in another language and culture is as frightening as it is captivating, and has been one of the primary motivators to continuously improve my French. Thus, I feel ready for my semester abroad in the sense that I have confidence in my ability to read, write, and converse in French. Although, I have not been diligent enough about practicing my spoken French, so I expect to be a bit rusty when I first arrive. I’m not overly worried about my French proficiency, though, since one of the main focuses of the semester is to improve my language skills.
My primary goal for the semester is to – as much as possible – improve my French and learn about the local, regional, and national society, history, and politics. Academically, the classes I take at the IES Abroad Nantes Center and at the Université de Nantes will help me accomplish this goal. Outside the classroom, I hope to accomplish this goal by exploring Nantes and the surrounding region, talking to locals frequently, and overall maintaining an open mind.
In terms of packing, I have not officially started. After learning about the climate in Nantes and reading the packing tips on the IES Abroad Nantes pre-departure page, I did some holiday shopping for clothes I will need. I plan on buying one or two more articles of clothing once in France, but otherwise am all set. My strategy for packing is to pack slightly lighter than I think is necessary. I am a big fan of the idea that one of the best ways to manage a wardrobe is to own a few quality articles of clothing that can be mixed and matched, work in both formal and causal settings, and will last a long time. I will pack my belongings into my school backpack, a medium-sized roller suitcase, and a backpacking backpack, which I plan to use for weekend and holiday excursions. I am intentionally not going to pack the bags full so that I can bring home new clothes and other items at the end of the program.
I was delighted last week to learn about my host family. The mother and father both seem like pleasant, caring people. I am really looking forward to living with them, getting to know them, and discussing with them both life in the U.S. and France. Additionally, it thrills me that the parents have five children, three of which are still living at home. I wanted to live with a family that had children since they are more likely than adults to correct my pronunciation and grammatical mistakes. In order to give my host family a small “taste” of what my home city of Albuquerque, New Mexico is like, I am bringing them a jar of salsa made with local green chile – one of the state’s staple foods. Not knowing how spicy the cuisine in Nantes can be, I opted for the medium heat variety.
Mentally, I am very ready to leave. Having attended a college 1,000 miles away from home for the last two and a half years, I am used to functioning in a different setting without the resources that one’s home provides. Of course, that is not to say that I will not experience culture shock, or that I will not miss the U.S. while I am abroad. For now, I am simply trying to relish a few laid-back weeks of rest and relaxation in Albuquerque before my adventure in Nantes begins.