Experiences in France help to improve knowledge

Known as the patron saint of France, Joan of Arc remains a symbol for liberation of Orleans in 1429. A statue stands in the center o town to honor her.

Jessica McIntosh

Known as the patron saint of France, Joan of Arc remains a symbol for liberation of Orleans in 1429. A statue stands in the center o town to honor her.

Jessica MacIntosh

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Studying for a semester in France was not only an experience, it was the best adventure ever.

At first, arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport was overwhelming. There is major difference between traveling with a group and by myself. The hard part had to have been trying to carry not only a carry-on, but also two suitcases.

My host family met me with a warm welcome at the airport. They were so kind and understanding toward my abilities to speak French. In fact, they were eager to ask me questions about my culture and to learn words in English. They gave me a tour of their home, near Paris in the country, and I was served plenty of food. I ended up spending three days with them; then my host sister and I took the train to Orléans.

Meeting a few of her friends the day before the big move into the residence hall, I was given the grand tour of the city. The English controlled Orléans during the Hundred Years’ War until the heroine, Joan of Arc, liberated the city in 1429.

Now as a dedication to the Maid of Orléans, a statue stands in the town’s center. Even the name of the shopping center and street names commemorates Joan of Arc’s accomplishments.

Orléans is divided into two parts: centre-ville and La Source. The Université d’Orléans is located in La Source, which is where some of the residence halls are found. Centre-ville is a 30-minute tram ride from La Source. It’s well worth the trip; the tram covers all parts of Orléans including crossing the longest river in France, the Loire.

A majority of activities are found near or in centre-ville. From visiting the Cathedral St. Croix to Joan of Arc’s house to shopping and going to the movies, there are plenty of ways to soak in the French way of life. On the La Source side of town, Parc Floral offers the chance to see different types of flowers, plants and animals. If that is not enough, taking the train to Paris is another possibility. Orléans is about an hour’s train ride southwest of Paris, which means visiting the city of lights can be done in a day. I went there about four times in the course of the semester.

When it came down for classes to start, the university is completely different from Southern. Instead of enrolling for classes the semester before, at Orléans, students go to classes for the first two weeks then enroll. Plus, classes meet only for one to two hours per week, except for my grammar class, which met twice per week for four hours.

The level I tested into the beginning of the semester was Diplôme Approfondir du Français, which meant I was in one of the second highest levels in the program. After that, a set of classes was determined for me with the choice of two optional classes. The university told me when I had to attend class; I could not choose the time or professor. It was hard to adjust to the professors’ styles of teaching. Some spoke slowly for our understanding; some mumbled and were difficult to hear. Speaking and writing were emphasized in the courses in which no one could escape from not speaking. It was part of the grade. But, I improved over the semester and now can roll my ‘r’s.

One of my first excursions with the university was to the Château de Chambord, which sits on the banks of the Loire River. Built by François I, it is famous for the double spiral staircase designed by the Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci. Chambord was considered a retreat for the French kings including Louis XIV. One of the staircases ends on the roof. This staircase was built to prevent the kings and their servants from making eye contact with each other.

This did not compare to my return visit to the Château de Versailles. I was mesmerized with the elaborate fountains and the grand gardens still in bloom in the middle of October. Exploring the intricate mazes to find amphitheaters and stadiums was an interesting sight; Versailles is my favorite château.

Two weeks later, despite the problems with the train tickets, a friend and I traveled on the Eurostar to London for three days. We went just about everywhere in the city. Our hostel was located near Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, the Millennium Eye and Westminster Abbey. Having had the chance to go to mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, this time it was an honor to have attended the evening song service at Westminster Abbey. There are not any words to describe the inside of the abbey; it was breathtaking.

What person could say they have met Simon Cowell and Brad Pitt? The pleasure was mine when I went to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. It was scary to look at the figures; they seemed so real. Later on the second day, I visited Buckingham Palace, Oxford Street and Kensington Gardens where we had afternoon tea. On the last day, it was a walk down Abbey Road; a glance at the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum; pictures of London Bridge, Tower Bridge and the Globe Theatre; and a visit to the Tate Modern art museum. The only problem I had in London was with the traffic. The first day there I almost was run over by a car, forgetting the traffic runs the opposite way.

Disneyland Paris during the week of Halloween made me feel like a child again. I enjoyed spending time with some friends, riding the rides and walking around in those Mickey Mouse ears.

The last school-sponsored trip was to Mont Saint-Michel, Cancale and St. Malo. Mont Saint-Michel, located in the Normandy region, is a town on an island. It is famous for its church, which commemorates the archangel St. Michael. The view is spectacular, overseeing the beaches and the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel. Cancale and St. Malo are in the Brittany region on the Atlantic Ocean. Cancale is known for its oysters. St. Malo is contained within the walls of a by-gone fort. Of the two, I explored St. Malo more from walking on the paths outside the walls to the beaches.

Everywhere in France was decorated for the holidays. The French start decorating after Nov. 1, which is All Saints Day. From St. Malo to Paris, Christmas was in the air. Orléans had a market that sold crafts and food in the center of town. On the Champs-Élysées, all the stores were decked out in red, white and green.

The last cultural experience I encountered on my trip has to do with going to my first French pop concert featuring Lorie. Amazingly, there was no opening act. She came down from the ceiling and can sing better than many American singers. Having bought all of her CDs, I knew the words to all the songs and could sing along in French. The crowd stunned me the most; while she performed, everyone was either quiet or singing along. The fans were well behaved with no intense screaming and yelling.

After finals were over, I had a week before returning to the states, which I used to explore more of the town and do some last-minute shopping. I spent Christmas in Orléans and the last few days with my host family who helped me to the airport.

I learned so much about the French culture and would like to go back to learn even more. Over the course of the semester, I had my ups and downs, but found the good in everything. My realization is in the past I would have never had this opportunity to travel the world. I am not only proud of what I did; I am grateful to have received the chance to improve my second language.

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