Wanderings and Ponderings

My Study Abroad Adventures in England & France


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On Communication

I thought I knew French. 

At least, I thought I knew it pretty darn well. I’ve been studying it for 7 years, and I’ve had some great teachers/professors during that time.

Then I got to France, and realized how completely wrong I was.

When I’m nervous, or thrown into a situation with new vocabulary (aka all day every day), my French begins to deteriorate. Not only my pronunciation, but my grammar/verb conjugation and comprehension. I keep telling myself “You KNOW better than to conjugate the second verb! Omg why can’t you just do the French “R” already, is it so hard?” And a zillion other things. But when you’re thrown into this whirlwind situation, it’s so, so difficult to do everything at once.

I’m trying ever so hard to make friends with French classmates. It’s, honestly, embarrassing and discouraging when I have to ask time and time again “Pardon? / Je ne comprends pas.” Sometimes accents make it even more difficult. I’m trying the best I can, and I see in their eyes that they’re trying the best that can. This barrier is real, and it’s emotionally exhausting.

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Le Nid by Night

Last evening, some friends (Harriet, Abi, Rose, and Jack) and I went to a place called “Le Nid”, a bar atop the tallest building in Nantes. The design is quite funny, because there’s a giant bird that stretches the length of the bar, and the body of the bird forms the bar itself. All the chairs and tables look like eggs, so its a bit strange and surreal – especially being in this weird location above the city.

Bar at Le Nid

Bar at Le Nid

There’s a balcony that goes all round the outside of the bar, so you can go out and feel like you’re in the Eiffel Tower, looking down at little French streets. It’s 1 euro to go to the bar once (there’s a fee to get to the top), or 3 euro for an annual pass. I got the annual pass cause I hope to come here more in the future – it’s definitely really cool!

After fully exploring the balcony, we went inside to get warm and chat. We were in the midst of planning a trip to Paris, when a guy strode up to us, introduced himself in thickly accented but well-spoken English, and asked if we’d like to join his group on the other side that was discussing a startup. After glancing around at each other, we said sure, why not, and followed him.

We never did learn what the startup was. However we *did* quickly learn that the guy was *extremely* drunk – he must have hid it well while introducing himself. He kept trying to “cheer” us all even though none of us had glasses to clink, so he spent 75% of the time with his glass in the air. And he kept trying to talk to me about the U.S. Which was a bit unfortunate because due to the background music and the fact that we were sitting fairly far apart, I had no clue what he was saying (even when he did speak in English). Just smile and nod. Uh-huh. Yep.

Spending the whole night with his glass in the air

Then, (when we were desperately trying to leave) – he asked Jack if the group would be interested in a French dinner at some point, and asked for a contact phone number. Upon polite refusal of the offer, the guy got extremely uptight, giving us a lecture on etiquette. We quickly said our “lovely to meet you”s and made our escape.

The whole situation was just totally, completely surreal. But it’s hilarious now that it’s over! The Nid itself was great, and I’m definitely planning on going back there soon.


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Coffee & Confusion

This Monday brought the beginning of my classes. Since I’m essentially taking a slew of GenEds (taught in French) with the local students, I was nervous to say the least. But everything went better than I expected. In my “History in the XIXth century” seminar class, I met two French girls (Marie and Elisa), my first French friends since being here! Marie had time to hang out and go to lunch together, so that was awesome. Definitely made my day a lot better!

The courses themselves were a little intense. Not necessarily in subject material (although yes, it is rather difficult) but I can only power the French side of my brain for so long. I had 4 hours of class on Monday, held entirely in French! After a certain point, I fall into a real slump and get soooo tired – and I don’t usually have trouble focusing.  Fingers crossed I’ll build up some endurance… In the mean time I think coffee is going to be my best friend.

It’s definitely a little daunting when you’re one of the few / the only ISEP (Erasmus) students in the class. Not to mention, a professor the other day said that out of a class of 300 students, she gives 1 A, 5 B’s, and the rest C’s or under. Eek! Cue the nerves! Apparently writing “ISEP/Erasmus” on everything will help the professors to be considerate of your circumstances, so I’ve been doing that as well as introducing myself to all my professors.

On Tuesday, I had an intro linguistics class, a “Methodology” class, and a classic literature class. The linguistics class is nice cause it’s essentially a repeat of a class I took back at UTK, only in French this time. However, the Methodology and the classic literature classes are going to be a lot of work, I can already tell. We have to read the entire Iliad by Tuesday, and ~1/2 of Les Miserables by October 5th…of course, this is all in French. >.< Luckily I’ve already read the Iliad and most of Les Miserables, so I got lucky this time around…

That afternoon, I was supposed to have a course on Language and Cognition – despite it’s being a level 2, I wanted to test it out. Well, I went to the classroom at 15:00, and there was no light or sign of sign of human life. Just what I wanted. After wondering if I was in the right building, I decided that I had to be, and had to figure out what to do. There was no note on the door or anything! My mom suggested I go up to where the courses themselves are posted (My mom has been helping me cope a lot this week), and sure enough, there was a note UPSTAIRS saying that the time and place had been changed. No email, no note on the real door – I literally had to walk to the place in the building where the course schedules are PRINTED on PAPER instead of being put ONLINE to find out that the location had changed…. Heavy sigh. Tears of frustration.

Anyway, Wednesday, was better. I attended a class on the history of Greek and Roman architecture – The professror was amicable and good-spirited, but WOW she spoke fast. While I could understand her (hanging for dear life on to every word she spoke) it was a bit difficult to process the information to determine the important bits at the same time. While I really liked the class, I have enough credits without it so I’m just not going to worry about it.

In the evening, I had my course in Italian (which I’d greatly been looking forward to). Yep. I’m taking Italian, and they’re teaching it in French. Why do I do this to myself XXXDDD But I *loved* it. It’s a beginner’s course, so it’s much less stressful than my other courses that expect me to be a native French speaker! I made a friend in that class as well, named Chloë – there’s a funny story that goes along with that.

It’s funny – in England, everyone does a little dance of politeness when they see you coming. Not so here. People, each of them in their own little world, like to just smack into you and continue on their merry way with little more than a sideways glance. Sometimes I just wanna walk down the sidewalk in peace, ya know? Well, Chloë accidentally bumped into be but then she APOLOGIZED FOR IT which STUNNED ME cause no one else does. I thought, omg, she seems really nice! And sure enough, she is, and we’ve hung out in both sessions of Italian ^_^

Thursday, I attended a different architecture class taught by quite a jerk of a professor. He spent the first 10 minutes (at least) talking about how in University, professors won’t care, they’ll do the bare minimum, and if you don’t understand something it’s your fault etc. etc. All of which I actually could have gotten past (I mean, one has to respect the professional environment at school), but after the class when I introduced myself as an international student and asked for clarification on something, he essentially brushed me off and offered no help whatsoever. I decided then and there that that class was not for me, and didn’t even go to the follow-up lecture.

FINALLY, Friday came, and with it came 4 hours of Italian courses beginning at 8 AM. I got to see the sunrise… I actually didn’t mind though cause I love the class, and I got to see my friend Chloë again from last time!

Whew. That’s my week in a nutshell – I’m really just glad it’s over. All I want at the moment is some familiarity and a bit of routine. I’m really hoping things will look up soon. I’m thinking about doing a year-long bike rental to get out explore the city more, so maybe that will help me see the shinier side of things :)


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The First Two Weeks

Well, I’ve been in Nantes for two solid weeks now! It’s been an adventure, that’s for sure.

I’ve met some lovely people, accomplished a lot of paperwork, and am preparing for my first day of class!

The paperwork has definitely eased up in the past several days. I’ve had time to explore the city a bit and hang out with some of my new friends.

On Tuesday, 3 of my friends and I went to a nearby beach in a town called Pornic. The bus fare was so cheap! Only 2 euro 4o.  The town was beautiful, but the people not so much haha. When my friend Paula asked a man for directions, he totally ignored her, even when she waved a few feet in front of him! And then, when she went to ask an elderly lady for directions, the lady literally tried to run away. I thought we seemed pretty harmless…

Anyway, the town was gorgeous, and the beach even more so. We picnicked on the beach with wine and foods from the local market, explored the tide pools, and had a generally lovely day.

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And we spoke in French the entire time! Since I’m American, and the other three girls were German, French was our common language. Needless to say, I was very proud of myself ^_^

It has been weird getting used to things closing so EARLY! Offices will close at 4:30, which is just utterly beyond me. And a 2 hour lunch break takes a hefty slice of time out of that 9-4:30 day! (Gosh, that’s just 5.5 hours per day of work…really? Really?? This is why I can’t get anything done!!!) Careful planning is required if you have many things to do in a day. And NOTHING is open on Sunday. Despite Google having said, “yeah, X, Y, & Z are all open today”, NONE of them were. My busy/productive spirit is struggling here! I’ll just have to dedicate Sundays to exploration! (or homework haha…)

However, my friend Hannah told me about a marché open every Saturday that sells cheap fruits & veggies. I’ll be sure to do my week’s grocery shopping there next week so that I’ll not to worry about it on Sunday!

The river that flows through this section of Nantes is called l’Erdre, and there is THE most beautiful island in the middle of it complete with a Japanese garden. The rainy weather today probably didn’t make for the best exploration conditions, but hey, everything was closed so my options of things to do were rather limited.

I’ve been working super hard on my class schedule for this term recently as well. In France, like in England, will only meet for class once per week, however it seems that they have more recitations/small-group seminars in addition to lectures. It’s been interesting planning my schedule – since I’m taking “GenEds”, I’ll be in a bunch of different departments, meaning I can’t follow a pre-created schedule like the other students. Instead I plan it myself according to the courses I want/need.

That’s all for now ^_^

~À bientôt~


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Rollercoaster

Allow me to begin this downer of a post by saying – since I’ve been here, I’ve made some great friends. Meredith and Nia, fellow ISEP students, Hannah and Paula, students from Germany, and a whole crew of students from England, Scotland, and Wales. So far, these people are what have kept me sane.

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Today, everything became too much for me. I’d been sorta down and stressed anyway but I decided to go out exploring with my friends in hopes of feeling better.

After we’d been wandering for a good few hours, I really had to go to the “toilettes” so I bought a drink from McDonalds (yeah, they print a code on the bottom of the receipt and everything). I texted my mom while I was inside and really just broke down. That’s when you know you’ve hit rock bottom, isn’t it? When you start crying in a McDonald’s. I needed to get back to fix my wifi connection anyway, so I just indicated to the group to go on, and I’d see them this evening.

Lol I guess this is why they call it culture shock. The funny thing is, I didn’t experience any culture shock when I went to England whatsoever – I just felt like I was going home. Here I really feel like I’m on another planet.

On top of the mountain of paperwork I just (almost) finished climbing, there’s courses. IN FRENCH. The past two days, I’ve gone to exposés on various course levels and departments to see what might be best for me (and to pick up all the timetables!!!) I’m ashamed to say that during the first one I went to, I could barely understand a thing the professor said. It was a terrible combination of nerves, accent, lack-of-enunciation, and lack-of-powerpoint. Seriously, powerpoint help more than anything else in the world. Which all together of course caused me to think, great, I’ve signed up to take all my coursework in French and I can’t understand anything they say! Needless to say, that was…exciting… But later on I remembered that, of course, I knew the French language. I calmed down and the next class was much better. Whew.

Classes start next week and I still don’t even know what I’m taking. Some departments (I’m lookin’ at you, Italian!) don’t even have their timetables made out. Many of my friends are in a program called IRRFLE which consists of courses of French as a Foreign Language. Their entire first week of classes is delayed because the secretaries are sick and the schedules aren’t made out yet. …..CLASS BEGINS NEXT WEEK! WHAT IS THIS? (sorry, this would be the culture shock showing through)

Fingers “croisés” that everything gets better soon…or at least that I get used to it!


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Welcome to Nantes

How’s France, you ask? Well, the sugar-coated version is its a beautiful city, and I can’t wait to explore it. Ooh la la.

However, it *feels* like I’ve been doing nothing but paperwork since I’ve gotten here. Vive la France!

I’ll talk a bit about both sides.

Well, so far this adventure has been everything I knew it would be. Stressful, busy, full of running around all over the city and hopping from task to task. Racing against the clock to finish everything that needs to be done. Struggling against the snail-like pace of the lines in French bureaux.

Only now do I have a SIM card and a dorm (I stayed in a hotel the first 2 nights). I’ve finally finished my insurance paperwork, setting up my bank account, and a slew of other things. The one thing I haven’t done is signed up for classes. Whelp. Well, it’s been an “adventure”!

But it’s ok. The more I accomplish, the better I feel. Nantes is a beautiful city, and I just keep telling myself that once I get settled, it will be there waiting to explore and discover.

Nantes has a very classic French feel to it. Old buildings, with the stereotypical French balconies and windows. I can almost see the Aristocats stalking across the rooftops. There’s a beautiful river that runs through part of town. It’s on the same tram line from my dorm to centre-ville, and I can see myself spending some quality time there.

(I’m not able to post pictures right now but I’ll get to it soon)

My dorm room is very cool. Compact, but well-designed. The bed can be raised to the ceiling when not in use, revealing a table. It’s a good use of space, I think. My bathroom is small, but, hey, it’s mine! I have a shower, a toilet, and a sink all in one minuscule little room 😛 So far, I like it really well!

French beaurocracy has become the bane of my existence. One morning I spent 1.5 hours waiting in line at my dorm…when it should have taken 20 minutes tops. I can’t really give you why it took that long. 🇫🇷. I just REcopied my visa for more paperwork and waited in another (slow) line. Sigh.

I’ve made a couple friends already (who likewise despise the paperwork), and we’re planning on meeting again in the future. It’s a good thing I took German, seeing as both are from Germany!

I’m taking an intensive French class, just before classes officially start, through the university. I met several super nice international students in my class, and a couple evenings ago we all went out to a pub to hang out. There’s a nice mix of countries amongst us – Canadian, Polish, British, Scottish, and Norwegian.

We’ve been hanging out in our spare time since then. It’s good to have a support group with whom to figure things out. Yesterday, a few of us went to IKEA to pick up some essential dorm things. It’s a bit far, but such a really fantastic store!

Luckily, I finished most all of my errands yesterday (Friday) and have the weekend to recover a bit. Soon, I hope to take the tram just all over the city and explore with it.