Since learning that I'd be studying abroad in Nantes in early March, I can't tell you how many times I've had this exact, same conversation:
"So cool that you're studying abroad this Fall! Where?" Me: "In France!" "That's awesome - I love Paris" Me: "I'm actually going to be in Nantes. It's another city about 2 hours west of Paris, in the Brittany region of France" "Oh."
This consistent reaction didn't really bother me, and I suppose it's only natural that people would assume Paris is the obvious place to be. So what about Nantes, then?
I could always tell you the facts--Nantes is the 6th largest city in France and home to the Université de Nantes, which is attended by over 30,000 students. Known for things like crèpes and galettes with beurre salé (salted caramel) and its graceful chateau, the city is the former seat of the Pays-de-la-Loire region and current hub of activity in Bretagne, northewestern France. It's renowned for its incredibly green transportation system and frequently touted as the most livable city in Europe.
But in nearly every conversation with others, I failed to mention one very important fact: I had no idea what sort of experience I was getting myself into. With little more than barebones facts, I was jumping off the study abroad cliff and crossing my fingers that I wasn't going to hit rock bottom.
It's now my second week in Nantes, and I certainly don't think it was a mistake. The city is like a more cozy, intimate version of Paris--historic, charming, full of students, dotted with interesting restaurants, and incredibly easy to get around with the tram system. Big but not too big, and small but not too small. And unlike Paris, there is very little English spoken around the city, which has actually been immensely helpful in improving my French.
After arrival last week, the entire study abroad group (41 students + administrators) traveled to a little north to Vannes, l'île-Aux-Moins, Rochefort Terre, St. Goustan for a weekend of offsite orientation + bonding. I loved being able to discover the region and really meet the other IES program students. It was utterly exhausting to be going, going, going all weekend [and part of this week's fatigue] but an overall amazing experience.
We spent this past week in academic and program orientation, learning the ins and outs of life in Nantes. The orientation was longggggg, but there were a few really fascinating parts. Fun fact: When Americans see someone for a second/third/fourth time in one day, we typically say hi/hello again. The French, however, only say bonjour on the first greeting occasion. Those tiny cultural differences are surprisingly huge! Especially when the bus driver thinks your crazy for saying "Bonjour" for the 10th time in one day.
I start classes with an Add/Drop period on Monday and will get my first dose of classes ALL in French. I'm still conscious that my French speaking skills are "meh"; for me, it's still very much as if I'm driving a manual car, rather than an automatic. For me, it takes time to shift gears between verb tense, feminine/masculine words, and sentence structure.
But as a whole, I'm actually pleasantly surprised how much progress there seems to have been in one week's time. Immersion really does work wonders, I guess. This week, I start taking a French cours magistral, or lecture course, which could definitely be a doozy. I'm looking forward to meeting other French students, but it's also somewhat terrifying knowing that I'm going to stumble through basic conversation.
If there's anything I've learned from study abroad experience thus far though, it's that sometimes, you need to walk to the edge of that dang cliff and