Major(s): English, French
Program: Temple in Paris
Where: Paris, France
When: Summer Session 2, 2006
Favorite Course: Victorian Literature
Highlight: Bastille Day at the Eiffel Tower
Favorite Dish: Vegetable Couscous from Chez Bebert
Next Destination: England
Describe your living situation.
I chose to stay at La Pension. At the Pension, I was expecting a cafeteria-like setting, but I was completely surprised. Everyone at the Pension eats dinner together around a large dining room table. There were between 5 and 15 lodgers present at any given meal. Marie, the owner and cook, served delicious 4-course meals Monday through Friday, consisting of salad, a main dish, cheese, and a wonderful dessert. The pensioners were an assortment of people. I ate with people from England, Australia, France, Spain, Brazil, Madagascar, and Somalia. There were young students, either studying or on vacation; middle-aged professionals, some of whom were studying or vacationing; and others who actually lived at the Pension. Aside from being in class, dinner was the best time to practice speaking French.
Who will you remember most from your study abroad experience and why?
One of the women staying at the Pension was a woman from Madagascar named Jacqueline. She taught nursing in Paris and lived at the Pension. She answered all of my questions about French grammar and customs, told me where the best Saturday morning markets were, and recommended some good, affordable restaurants. I ran into her in the hallway one morning after I had been in Paris for about four weeks, and she told me that she was leaving that day to go to Budapest to sing with a choir, and afterwards to a jazz festival in Italy. My mother is a professional harpist and had given me some of her CDs to bring with me to Paris. I gave one of these CDs to Jacqueline, and she said, "Oh! I love the harp!" and then after reading my mom's name, said, "I know of her! When I was in Boston a few years ago I bought one of her CDs!" Having grown up in a small suburban town, I'm used to people knowing my mom. What a coincidence, being an ocean away from home, and finding, among millions of Parisians, the one who knew of my mother. I hope to hear from Jacqueline the next time she finds herself in America.
How was the experience of studying the language in the classroom (in high school or in college) prior to studying abroad different from the experience of studying the language in and outside of the classroom once you were abroad?
In high school, my teachers did their best to interest us in the language and culture, but they never insisted on us actually speaking French, which I think is the best way to learn it. In lower-level college courses as well, I thought English was used too prevalently when providing explanations and asking questions. When classes started at the Sorbonne, I quickly realized how useful it is to hear explanations in one's native language.
At the Sorbonne, the students came from Europe, Asia, and the Americas, so we had to speak French to communicate. However, talking to fellow students is quite easy; following a two hour lecture delivered by a very fast-speaking teacher is completely different.
As difficult as the class was, hearing and speaking the language outside of school made learning it in school a lot less painless than it could have been. Every time I read in a magazine a word I had just learned, or heard somebody say it during dinner, I felt like all my time studying and straining my ears had paid off. My listening comprehension skills increased dramatically; I was amazed at how much I was able to understand when I eavesdropped on peoples' conversations in cafes.