Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Trio of Griffons Study in Angers, France

Here's news from Angers, France, written by Caitlin McKinney, Sharon Moore, and Stacey Weidemann, all French majors (pictured at left).

Caitlin: When I first arrived in Angers I was both intimated and overwhelmed by culture shock. I was so scared of making mistakes that I actively avoided speaking French for my first few nights. When I was forced to speak it, I would spend five minutes practicing all the sentences I might have to use during a conversation in my head. As one can imagine this isn’t a very effective approach as it takes a long time, and it is nearly impossible to predict every phrase you will say. Needless to say it was very difficult to meet French people with this strategy of silence and hiding in my room. I spent my first two weeks in the city running around trying to complete all of my administrative duties such as choosing classes, filling out paperwork, and buying insurance. These tasks proved to be very helpful in developing my language skills as I was constantly lost and had to ask for directions. Luckily most of the locals were very understanding and accommodating. When classes started a whole new kind of apprehension settled in. I was anxious when I sat down in my first history class and realized that I couldn’t understand a single word my professor was saying. As time passed, however, my comprehension and speaking skills slowly started improving, life began getting a little easier, and I finally started meeting people. I also started exploring the city and realized how beautiful and historic it is with its castle, original wall, and cathedral. As if living next to a castle isn’t exciting enough, the city is full of stunning parks and quaint houses. After having been here for about two and half months, I can’t imagine a better place to live and study.

Sharon: One of the first sensations that struck me after arriving was the enormous antiquity surrounding us. Everything here is old, and the old is all mixed up with the new. The French have an instinct for preservation that can be seen everywhere in the city. Nothing is torn down or thrown away that can be saved and incorporated. And yet, those who’ve lived here their whole lives are oblivious to it all. ‘It’s just a wall’, one French friend told me dismissively. Our first month here, for me, was miserable. I missed my family and friends, I was overwhelmed by language and culture shock, and every week it seemed more impossible to meet French students and practice French. The French were friendly on casual acquaintance or when we asked them for help, yet seemed cold and reserved. There was a clear boundary between us which we were never invited to cross. Almost overnight, though, things improved. We made friends with a student studying English, who gave us our first warm welcome. The language barrier began to feel less intimidating, and more like an enthralling challenge. Comprehension in our classes improved, and understanding and respect grew between us and our French professors (though I have to admit, the American student-teacher relationship is my favorite). All over Angers, trees burst into blossom, and the fencerows and gardens were starred with white. Daffodils and hyacinths leapt out of the ground, splashing yards with color. Mad waves of foreign birdsong swirled from tree to tree. And France began to feel, in a funny way, like home.

Stacey: There is nothing more intimidating than being lost in a train station thousands of miles away from home in a country where none of the locals seem to understand your accent. France is beautiful, but the first few weeks of my semester, all I could think about were the people I left back at home. I left the comforts of Missouri to become a foreigner in France (and the employees at the train station did their best to remind me that I was, in fact, a foreigner). Everything seemed so different here, but gradually we all have adjusted to life in France. All the things, specifically relating to the university system, that seemed outrageous a few months ago (no textbooks and only having class once a week, for example) aren’t strange at all anymore.

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