The time is finally here! I’m fulfilling a life long dream of spending Summer in France! So let’s rewind a tiny bit… I just finished my French minor at university, and whilst studying French for two years was of course useful, I found it really difficult when it came to speaking with French people. After talking to some friends and doing my research, I realised that the only way to really improve my French skills is to go to France myself and fully immerse myself in the language, culture and lifestyle.
And that’s where AIM Overseas comes in. They are an organisation that provide unique study abroad opportunities for students to gain academic credit in their field of study in amazing parts of the world. And whilst scrolling away, I came across an intensive French program in a seaside town in La Rochelle. I first thought, where the heck is La Rochelle? And secondly, where do I sign up? This all happened in December, 2015. Fast forward to the 3rd of July 2016 and I was touching down in the beautiful town of La Rochelle.
I managed to get a super cheap flight from London to La Rochelle and it was a huge piece of mind knowing that my host-mother would be there to pick me up. Through this program, we have the unique experience of living with a host family (a way to really put our French skills to the test). My host family consists of Delphine, my host mother, and Laura (but more about her later). There was absolutely no messing around when it came to speaking French. I could basically hear the cogs in my brain frantically churn as I tried to remember conjugation, vocab and expressions. Ooh la la…
We threw my huge suitcase in the car and were off to her apartment, located in the centre of La Rochelle. I have my own beautiful room, in a beautiful apartment, with beautiful flowers, beautiful photos and two beautiful cats. Basically, I spent the whole evening saying ‘c’est beau!’ Delphine and I get along really well! Not only has she lived an extremely interesting life, but she’s super helpful, patient and encouraging when it comes to my French. That evening she showed me where to catch the bus from and around the port. I’m so grateful that Delphine showed me around and made me feel so welcome on my first day because the first day is hard, I’m not going to lie. There’s so many words and thoughts running around your head, but it’s reassuring to know that your host family is there for you!
Before you start classes, we took a little test so that we were put in the class that corresponded with our level of French. I’m glad we did have that exam because I was worried I would struggle with the content. In my class, there are students from Virginia and Washington DC, China and Oklahoma. I’m the only Australian, but it’s great because I get to meet people from all over! Classes start at 8:30am and go until 12:45pm (with a 20 minute coffee break in the middle). Our teacher is also very patient and supportive. In class the activities we do vary from grammar, reading, listening, watching news clips, doing small presentations or playing hangman.
Probably the most important part of the day is LUNCH! This week varied from buying crepes by the port, to making sandwiches at home, to hitting up the supermarchés and buying food for a little picnic. We get about 2 hours for lunch which is a perfect amount of time to enjoy some to die for food and soak up some sun.
The best thing (so far) about this program is that it’s not just all about learning the language. It’s about the culture, history, food and people as well. On our first afternoon, we toured the university to get our bearings. Then we had an early mark and went on a mission to find ice cream! (The ice cream here is amazing!)
On day two we had a guided tour of La Rochelle – all in French. The best part is when you actually understand what the guide is saying… it’s how you know that you’re already starting to get the hang of it. It was great to learn about this complicated and fascinating history of this place! And even better to snap lots of photos!
Throughout the week I also watched France beat Germany in the Euro 16 and saw just how much France LOVE their football, spent every afternoon at the beach, ate at least 3 baguettes, hired a bike for the month, ate 1 more baguette, went exploring the town and improved my French tenfold!
So when I said this program is also about the culture, history, food and people…. I mainly meant food. Another girl in the AIM program and I are taking the ‘gastronomy’ course, where we learn about the art of French cuisine, wine, cognac, cooking….. do I need to say more? It’s all centred around food. We had a bit of an introduction to our Gastronomy class this week where we talked about ‘the art of setting a table’ and also discussed various regions in France and their famous products. We then got to taste Galette, which is a simple yet delicious cake like dessert which is special to the region of La Rochelle! If I return to Australia 10kgs heavier, I will have no regrets because everything here is DELICIEUX!
On Sunday, Delphine took me on a cute little picnic to Île de Ré, a quaint island about 20 minutes from La Rochelle, connected to the mainland by a huge bridge! We went swimming at two beautiful beaches, went exploring a little village called Ars-en-Ré, and the markets there. We then had a magnificent picnic on the beach complete with 2 different types of baguettes, 2 types of cheese, melon and hot coffee.
That evening Laura arrived, (remember the girl I was talking about earlier?). She’s from Columbia and she’s studying French at another place in La Rochelle. She will be living with Delphine for 2 months so I’m excited to get to know her over the next month while I’m still here! And maybe learn some Spanish!
This first week has absolutely flown by! My mind is exploding with French but I feel myself improving bit by bit and day by day. I make lots of mistakes but my confidence is growing and that’s the most important thing! Can’t wait to see what this week holds!