Wow there are a lot of roundabouts in France! On the car ride home from the airport, my curiosity was a solid 10/10 and I had my nose pressed up against the glass the whole time, looking out the window to the city. Bordeaux and Arcachon are both very different from each other, as Arcachon is right on the water and has a pleasant breeze, while in Bordeaux, it’s crazy hot because the square doesn’t get much wind. Bordeaux is also much busier and touristy. Arcachon is probably the size of the town I live in in California and it’s so small, that it’s pretty difficult to get lost in. The French language school is only 5 or 10 minutes away from the train station and there is always a monitor waiting for us there to walk all the students to school.
I tested into the most advanced class at school and I was surrounded by kids who were nearly fluent from Northern France, Belgium and Germany. Our teacher, Jerôme speaks only French and incredibly fast; I only fully understand him maybe 50% of the time. In class we learned about tenses I had never heard about like the “plus que parfait” and the “futur antérieur”. There’s a lot of speaking in class and on Friday I had my first debate in French. Every day is challenging at school and sometimes I feel like it’s too difficult, but I know that I’m learning so much and absorbing the language like a sponge.
It took me too long to realize this, but it’s okay and actually beneficial to make mistakes, especially while speaking. How do you learn from yourself if you don’t make mistakes?
My host family is extremely nice and considerate. The mother, Valérie, asks me what I want for lunch every day and always wants to know how my day was and what I did. She is fluent in English, but we only speak French to each other. Hannes, another student staying with the same host family is from Germany and he loves playing with the family cat, Simba, who is just 6 months old. He has big green eyes and is a brat most of the time, but makes up for his attitude with his looks (the cat, not the boy btw). I really love the house I’m in because I get my own room with a see through door that overlooks the beautiful garden and opens up to the deck. The sink and shower are separate from the toilets, and this took some time getting used to.
“Les crevettes géantes du Piment Noir” (black pepper prawns) was the first meal I ordered by myself in French and has definitely been one of my favorites since. Arcachon Bay is famous for their seafood and I can understand why! Their “moules frites” (muscles and fries) are spot on as well and very inexpensive. I’m a huge fan of seafood and tomorrow I’m trying oysters! For the first couple of days, I would get really nervous before ordering and ask the waiter/ waitress questions in English or have a friend order for me, but I was determined to get those prawns even if it meant stepping out of my comfort zone and utilizing basic first year French skills: ordering food in a restaurant. But the reward is worth it. I mean how could you wrong with giant pepper prawns covered in butter and lemons?
One of the best aspects of this travel program is having the opportunity to meet people my age with similar interests and with the shared affinity of the French language and culture. Pictured from left to right is Vera from Switzerland, me, Sara from Italy, Selina from China, and Lale from Germany. I didn’t expect to become such close companions with kids halfway across the globe from the United States, but I am so grateful and happy to have met them. We became inseparable; we share food with each other, lend each other bathroom money practically daily, and compare our cultural differences. I was able to use the “tu” (informal) form with them and practice lots of French, as well as learn words and phrases in Swiss-German, German, Italian, and Chinese. I taught them the word “hella” which they found hilarious, but is actually a very commonly used, colloquial word in California.
If I could give advice to someone considering participating in a summer immersion program, it would be to keep your mind open to new and exciting experiences and to remember to always live in the moment. The music they play on the boats are different from what you listen to at home, the public restrooms cost €.50 to use, they’re not free, and the language they speak is not what you’re used to, it’s foreign!
Culture shock is real. Trust me and listen to Megan Arzbaecher when she says it’s unavoidable. Being in a different country by yourself is intense and scary, but that’s what makes it such a great adventure. There’s a lot of delicious food and a lot of food that you will find absolutely disgusting, but it’s a great idea to give everything at least a try, because who knows if you’ll ever have the opportunity to try it again.
I feel like there comes a point in time in your foreign language studies where you no longer feel the need to translate everything you hear into English first in order to understand it, but rather understand the language without filtering it through your mother tongue first. It’s a rewarding feeling and I think that I’m starting to get to this point.
Autumn Lee is 16 years old and lives in Alameda, California. Her goal during her language program in France is to “improve my French vocabulary and understand in more depth the French culture and people.” Follow Autumn’s adventures in France on her weekly blog post updates.