Amanda Seiken is a UVA student currently studying abroad in Lyon, France. Click through to read her tales of language classes, making new friends, and traveling far afield to Prague!
March 7, 2016
I believe, finally, my French is starting to improve. Although, I suppose I shouldn’t say “finally”, since I have only been here two months and some change. I guess I have been thinking about it as a longer amount of time because I now I almost halfway through my program, and “halfway” sounds like a lot of time. But of course, my program is actually very short. Before I came here, five months sounded like an enormous amount of time. But two months in and I am realizing five months is nothing. My French improves in subtle ways. For example, walking down the street,sitting in restaurants, waiting outside classrooms, I am surrounded by French conversations. Before, they were pretty much just background noise. But now, it is like I was listening to a badly tuned radio that has suddenly gotten much better reception, because I can make out what the conversations are now (not that I’m eavesdropping or anything).
Also, I am lucky to have met a lot of other really fun and interesting exchange students, the majority who are Erasmus students so they come from all over Europe.The main difference between us though is that they have been here since September so they are doing a full year. It has been easy enough to integrate into their friend group (myself and the other UVA students, that is), but we are just now getting to befriends with them beyond a superficial layer. Yet we will still only just be getting to know them when it will be time for us to leave. The difference those months make is very apparent when you see the ease with which they interact with one another from having been friends since the fall, but I feel we will not have the chance to be on that level in such a short time. Noticing this, combined with the improvement of my French, makes me wish I were doing a whole year abroad and not only a semester. At the same time, I still have almost three entire months left, so there is no reason to be sad now.
March 28, 2016
I was in Prague the other weekend. Prague has long been on my list of must-see cities in Europe. In fact, the only two cities I was determined to visit while I was here were Amsterdam and Prague. And since I had come down with food poisoning in Amsterdam, I was hoping for a redemption round in Prague.Well, I was not disappointed. Prague was beautiful, like incredibly. In a way,it almost was unreal. We (my friends and I) stuck to sightseeing by foot as our main activity in order to save money, but this was fine for us since the city had so much to offer in terms of churches and castles and other amazing architecture.
Naturally, my favorite part was the food. This city is well known for its meat dishes, and for being very very cheap. I was in an AirB&B with some other friends that was about an hour from the city center by foot, but the advantage of being farther from the center was that our area was essentially free from tourists (save us of course). We ate in a restaurant with animal heads on the wall, filled with Czech people speaking loudly and had the best ribs I’ve ever eaten, for about $5. When we asked for a dessert menu, the waitress said, “nothing sweet here, only meat”. This ranks among my top 3 meals I’ve had while studying abroad (slash my life).
We also were lucky with our AirB&B host, an older couple, of which the husband gave us a 20 minute history and overview of Prague in mostly comprehensible English, and brought us over a cake that his wife had baked.
However, Prague was not all fun and games. Instead of flying, we took a bus because it was pretty cheap if we traveled with Erasmus Nation, which is basically a travel/tour company that targets students traveling abroad. A bus to Prague, we thought, how bad could it be! Well, this is a city near the middle of the Czech Republic, which is a country on the other side of Germany, meaning to get there from France, one must drive straight through Germany. At first, we were told by our Erasmus guide the bus ride would take 10 hours. This seemed not great, but whatever, we could sleep.The bus ride did not take 10 hours. It ended up being 15 hours. Now, being on a bus for 15 hours (both ways!) is an experience I will never forget and hope to never repeat.
At the same time, I think I got to know my friends in a way that would never have happened otherwise (I think this phenomenon is known as “bonded by tragedy”). These people went from strangers sitting next to me in information meetings, to friends sitting next to me on this Prague bus, giggling deliriously because we’d been on it for 11 hours but still had 4 more to go. For this reason, I’m glad I went to Prague for more than just getting to see the city.
For the past five weeks, I have been holding English conversation workshops with students from Lyon 2. These “workshops” are organized through Lyon 2 and both the students and myself earn credit for doing them. I met with two groups once a week, and advanced and beginner group, simply to sit and talk for about two hours in English to help them practice their speaking skills.However, these workshops were just as beneficial for me as (I hope) they were for the French students. I had the opportunity to ask my peers any number of questions on the things I didn’t understand about French culture or the language,and I learned so much.
It is actually pretty difficult to meet and befriend true French students, and not just because of the language barrier. The only time I am naturally with them is in class, but classes are almost two hours of solid lecture and there is not really a way to socialize. I have made plenty of other friends, but they are all other exchange students. Living with a host family has been great for practicing my speaking and learning about Lyon, but of course some topics are off-limits. So it was great to discuss with the other students about anything from slang words, best bars, political opinions, etc.
I was also lucky in the fact that I had the same two students come to everyone of my beginner English workshops. The way it works is any student can sign up for a workshop, so you are not guaranteed to have the same ones every time. This can be really hard, especially in the lower level group, to start from scratch, as well as exhausting because it’s all on you to keep the energy up and carry the conversation. But these two guys were the only ones in my very first workshop and they turned out to be the only ones in my very last workshop (I had more than just them come to the ones in between)! Actually, I was disappointed last week because on the last day we were supposed to meet, everything was cancelled because of protests (Which are a very common in France, and right now many young people are upset about a new labor law in the works. Classes had been cancelled because the students had barricaded the entrances to the school.)
So I emailed the students telling them not to meet for conversation, and was just in my room hanging out when my phone rang and it was Antoine asking me where I was! I was like, “Antoine, I’m in my room, workshops are cancelled because classes are cancelled.” And he was like, “What! I didn’t get the email, but Avet and I are here anyway so we might as well meet and get lunch like we were supposed to.” (That is a paraphrase of what was actually said because remember, his English is not that good). It was a really nice way to end the workshops, and now I have real French friends!