I see London, I see France

"Study Abroad." It’s a term that every college student has heard at some point. And after my experience with such a program this summer in Angers, France, I don’t feel that it totally conveys how exciting and memorable a foreign education is.

I found out about studying in France very late – months after the sign-up date had passed and a little over a month before our group left to France. In fact, I signed up so late that there was initially no room for me because the student limit had been reached. I was fortunate, however, and one student who was going on the trip decided not to, leaving a spot for me.

Initially I expected the study abroad experience to be comprised of a routine: go to school, go home and repeat. I remember telling friends before I left that I would miss the States when I was in France. However, the life there during the study abroad program was so much more than studying, and it turned out being much more enjoyable than I expected.

After leaving Houston in late May, I arrived in London and stayed there for one day, which was my first time in the city. Though I had been to Europe and other countries overseas before, it had been a decade since I last left the country, and my perception of foreign countries was obviously different as an adult than it was as a child. Seeing London’s landmarks was great, and it was a good prelude to the excitement that was in store in France. One of the main things that I learned about myself on this trip was that I liked traveling and the overseas life very much.

My first realization that I would have to adjust to rarely speaking English occurred on my flight from London to Paris. During the first half of the flight, the announcements were made in English (in a heavy British accent, of course), but during the last couple of minutes, as we approached Paris, the announcements switched to French. The non-stop barrage of French words confused me, and it was then that I realized I would have to think in "French mode" and get used to speaking and listening to the language very often.

On the very short flight, I spoke with the person sitting next to me in the window seat, an Englishman traveling to Paris for business. In this conversation, I became aware for the first time of the close proximity of countries in Europe, and how many people in France often visit other countries in Europe and Africa for vacation because they are only a short train or plane ride away.

Once I arrived in Paris, I did my best to speak my broken French when looking for directions at the Charles de Gaulle International Airport. As many other natives would later do to me and my friends on this trip, people in the airport asked me to speak English because it would be easier to understand than my attempts at French. I then ate at the airport’s Pizza Hut, realizing that it would probably be the last time I’d see it, or many other "American" places, in France.

Upon arriving in Angers, I found out that one of my predictions was very wrong. For some reason I expected the city to be very basic and rural, with just our university and our homes to return to after class. But was I wrong.

After my roommate and I were met and driven home by our host parent, our host gave us an on-foot tour of Angers, which was several hours long and gave us a good picture of what the town was like. I was shocked when I found out how modern Angers was (they have movie theaters?) and glad that it had more to offer than what I had expected. I also realized that life in France didn’t require a car, at least in this town: the small streets (often having room for only one car) and small distance between my home and the center of the town meant walking was very practical. It was a nice alternative to having to drive my car everywhere in Houston.

Another realization I had was that the school I attended wasn’t as stressful as I had anticipated. We attended UniversitÈ Catholique de l’Ouest from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekly, with a couple of days off here and there. This rigorous schedule was required because we were completing a whole year’s worth of French in just a month. Though 9 to 4 seems like forever, the two hour lunch break helped make things easier. That left us five hours of class time, plus a couple of 15 minute breaks a day.

And what an experience the classes were. Often, they involved our teachers – who were required to speak strictly French – trying to explain something to us in futility because we didn’t know French that well. Eventually our understanding of the language improved as we lived in France longer.

Though class certainly helped my friends and me improve in French, it was the extracurricular activities that aided us even more. And the unforgettable experiences outside of class are one of the main reasons why the trip ended up being much more than summer school. Keep an eye out throughout the fall semester for more accounts of my experience in France.

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