The third month’s the charm!Nantes, Fall 2011
After being here for three months (which seem like almost a year), the observations and knowledge I have drawn from this experience are a little overwhelming…in the best way possible. I could sit here and write about it all day, but for the purpose of catering to your questions and curiosity about everyday life in Nantes, I’ll try to keep it simple.
In September, I had the impression that I would be coming home for good in December. That I would be back at the University of Portland for my second semester of senior year, to finish the year strong and graduate with yet another study abroad experience “under my belt”. The last three months have been academically challenging, emotionally charged, and revealing. By no means am I trying to say I’ve been working day and night, been stressed out, or through any negative emotional state. On the contrary, I’m able to say that even though this has been the least academically demanding semester of my life, I don’t think I could have ever learned more. By “least academically demanding” I don’t mean I haven’t had to study, stay up writing a paper, or do homework regularly. I mean that I have never been so genuinely interested in my classes, that is almost second nature to sit down and write a paper or give a one-hour presentation in french. This brings me to recommend to all of you prospective students to take classes you LIKE, classes you will be attentive to, and classes that really get your wheels turning!
The month of November is synonymous for midterms and papers, mostly with classes at IES. For my classes at the Univeristy, I had a few papers, plus one big presentation that I was actually REALLY stressed out about. For my sociology class, two classmates and I gave a two-hour presentation on squatter movements (particularly in France). I’m the only foreign student in that class, which explains why I was very stressed and nervous to get up there and talk on my own for an hour, in front of a french-university-student audience. Everything went perfectly- I reserched and discussed the history of the squatter movement in the United States, along with US property law, and policies that affect the group of people known as “squatters”. It was interesting to learn about France’s side of the story, and it was even more interesting to hear my classmates’ comments after my presentation: their opinions, reactions, and comparisons. I’ve made many acquaintances and friends in that class, and it has been interesting to see how the dynamics at my University courses have evolved throughout the course of the semester. At first, I felt so alone, isolated, intimidated, and as if everyone (the 34,000 students) knew I was foreign and criticized me for it. Now, when I go to my classes, I sit down and talk to everyone before the professor gets there, sometimes go have coffee with other students during our break, and always say hi when I see them around. The students I took as judging, intimidating, and rude have become familiar faces in a familiar and comfortable setting.
It has’t been easy, but it definitely has been worth it. Normally I’m not the type of person that will openly express herself, talk to people without knowing them, or comment during class. But here, I knew that if I wanted to integrate myself, I would need to push it a little. A few weeks ago, in one of my classes at the University we had a guest speaker who announced that two famous authors would be visiting the campus for a special event, and students were needed to read excerpts from their texts. I volunteered to do it, not knowing whether it would be in French, or in the authors’ native language: Spanish. I went to the weekly meetings, to practice “interactively” reading the texts of Vilma Fuentes and Eduardo Halfón with other french students in the Spanish department. The day of the event was one of the most memorable experiences I will have of Nantes. I met the authors and had the chance to talk to them about their books, their writing, and the reason they chose France (Fuentes, a native Mexican, has been living in Paris since for over 30 years). I was able to read their texts in front of the audience, in front of them, the authors themselves. It was powerful. And to think I could have easily decided not to raise my hand and volunteer? Since then, I have jumped at every opportunity offered here in Nantes, and at the Univeristy there are PLENTY.
I mentioned I had the “impression” I was coming home to December…for good. In fact, I have decided to stay in France for another semester. I can’t imagine the thought of getting on a plane and putting this all behind me yet…not just yet. I want to keep learning French, I want to keep meeting new people, and I want to continue this experience that has benefited me so much already. My host family is very happy that I will be staying, and I am also very content with my decision to stay with them. I have developed a great relationship with them, especially my younger host sister; we have spent so much time together these past few weeks and its good to know that she trusts me with a lot.
Nantes is filled with the Christmas spirit right now, it is lovely! It gets colder and rainier everyday, but nothing a glass of wine can’t solve
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