It’s three weeks into my study abroad experience in Angers, and I can finally say I’ve nestled quite cozily into my new environment. I’ve taken to an all-black wardrobe, started smoking a pack of cigarettes for petit-déjeuner, and have finally reached fluency. Actually none of that is true, but I have spent the last few weeks discovering how to maximize facial expressions for the sake of communication and finding out which vendors sell the best pain au chocolat/nutella crêpes/speculoos gelato/kebabs. And learning the hard way that when you order andouillette galettes, you’re eating cow intestines in a brown crêpe, blehhh.
Aside from eating my way up and down every alley in France, I’ve discovered that full immersion in a culture is the ONLY way to learn a language. After studying French for years, I was in for a huge shock when I realized that I couldn’t actually understand my host family. Since 7th grade I’d studied verb tenses and conjugations along with a passable vocabulary, but when it came to conversational French, my American education failed me. On day one I could not understand a word my family said. Just to give myself credit, I’ll say that I took in a word or two each sentence. Yet twenty-three days later I’m amazed that I’m now able to sit down to dinner with my house parents and manage to discuss politics or crack a joke that they understand. I live with an older, retired couple and their granddaughter who is my age and attends the same university I do. I was also lucky enough to be placed in a home with another exchange student from Japan. Unfortunately I live a 40-minute bus ride from my campus, but otherwise the choice to live with a family has really proved beneficial in terms of rapid language improvement.
I haven’t had time to post until now due to a packed schedule of visiting museum after museum, excursions, and fabulous French classes—but these are all good reasons to be busy! Through school trips, I’ve been able to visit Mont St. Michel, St. Malo, Chenonceau, Azay-le-Rideau, and Chambord châteaux in Normandie, Bretange, and throughout the Loire Valley. Although I can get my daily castle fix from Le Château d’Angers that is right down the street from my university! I am constantly surrounded by so much stimulating history. I can’t imagine ever taking for granted the ability to stroll past tapestries that are older than the earliest idea of my nation. Every aspect of culture and daily life here is foreign to me, yet these customs are performed by people who feel familiar. It’s nice to be reminded that I exist as merely a shade in a world of a thousand colors.
Tomorrow I embark on a nine-day adventure to explore Barcelona, Cinque Terre, Florence, and Rome with a group of students in my exchange program. I can’t wait to discover Spain & Italy and take a tiny break from a diet of baguettes & brie in exchange for pizza & pasta!