UVA in Lyon: My Progression in French

Brielle Entzminger is a Media Studies major who studied in Lyon, France during the Spring 2018 semester of her 3rd year. She was provided with many opportunities to practice her French language skills over the course of her semester. Keep reading to see how she took them on!

“When you come back, you’ll be practically fluent!” Countless people told me this when I told them I was studying abroad in Lyon. I would not only be taking classes in French with French students but also living with a French host family for an entire semester. It makes sense – 5 months of immersion in another language should make you practically fluent, right?

While I would like to think that that is true, my experiences in France so far prove otherwise. I have been in Lyon for almost 3 months now, yet I do not feel anywhere close to being fluent, and I doubt that I will be fluent by the time I leave in May. It is still very difficult to follow conversations between French people, completely comprehend a French movie, and to understand the professors who teach non-international student classes (classes with mostly French students), for example. No matter how hard I concentrate, I can only understand part of the conversation, movie, etc., unless the speakers are not talking too fast.

I have come to realize that becoming fluent in just five months is an unrealistic goal, especially considering my life here. I do take almost all of my class in French and must listen, take notes, and speak in French during those classes. I also speak to my host mother in French and must use French during my day-to-day activities, such as ordering food. However, many of my friends are other American students, meaning that, for the most part, we are communicating in English. I am still exposed to English on a daily basis, from music to social media, also. In short, I am not completely immersed in French.

Other international students have expressed similar feelings to me. A girl who I worked on a group project with has been studying in Lyon since last semester, for example. I asked her if she thinks her French has improved and she said that, honestly, she does not think that it has. While she is now used to listening to and comprehending French in and outside of class, she does not feel that her speaking skills have gotten much better. Many of her roommates and friends (other international students) communicate in English rather than French, so she does not have to speak French all of the time. She too is not completely immersed.

With this, I now no longer hold the goal of becoming fluent above my head. It would take several semesters, perhaps even an entire bachelor’s degree (four years), as well as further immersion (i.e. no use of English), to truly become fluent while studying in France. Instead, I am considering the smaller ways I have progressed in French since January. While reading and writing have never been very difficult for me, I have certainly improved in my comprehension; while in January, I did not even understand when a cashier asked me if I wanted my food “for here” or “to go,” I can now order and ask questions at restaurants with little problem. I can also understand almost all of my professors (excluding my media professor who speaks way too fast). I admit that I do not understand everything the French people say around me at school, on the street, etc. but, if I am paying attention, I can understand what they are talking about.

As for my speaking skills, I now feel a bit more confident when speaking French during my classes, to French people, and with my friends. I have already had to do a total of four exposés (oral presentations) this semester, along with French students and other international students. The presentations were very intimidating, especially the ones in my media class that I have the most trouble understanding; nonetheless, I was quite proud of myself for getting through them.

I also feel happy every time I am able to have a successful conversation with a French person, meaning that I understood them, he or she understood me, and he or she did not switch to English once he or she realized I was not French. Having a successful conversation in French can still be hard, especially with French people who know English and want to ‘practice’ with me, but I have become better at having them.

Finally, I have come to enjoy practicing French with my friends who are also learning French. It helps me to not only realize which words and phrases I do not yet know in French but also helps me to further integrate French into my daily life. While we certainly do not practice French enough with each other, I like it when we do and plan to do it more often.

Perhaps one of my most memorable French milestones occurred just a little over one week ago. As part of the Lyon study abroad program, us UVA students were invited to take a cooking class. The class was a French woman’s house and was entirely in French. While it was difficult at first to understand the written recipes the woman gave us, she was very friendly and helpful, making sure we cooked everything correctly. It was quite easy to understand her and ask her questions, and she complimented our French skills throughout the class. As we dug into our delicious meal of quiche, chicken with vegetables, and chocolate cake, I smiled to myself – we had successfully completed a French cooking class.

My progression in French has ultimately reassured me that fluency is possible. It simply takes a lot of practice and time – way more than one semester in France. It also depends on the person. While some people can quickly grasp new languages (especially if they already know more than one language), for others it takes years. A Polish girl I met, for example, told me she did not feel fluent in English until she was seventeen or eighteen, and she started studying it when she was in elementary school. As I spend my remaining time, I will try my hardest to appreciate the different ways I progress in French; no matter how small they are, they bring me one step closer to truly mastering a second language.

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Cultural Snapshot: the Razor Scooter

Lillian Harris is a 3rd year majoring in Art History who studied abroad with UVA in Lyon in the fall of 2017. Check out some of her cultural observations  below.

One of the first things that struck me as funny when I arrived in Lyon –  and something I don’t even notice now – is the way people get around here, that is, how people physically get from one place to another: from home to work, from school to soccer practice, from the nightclub to back home. While I expected the preferred mode of transportation to be the bike, or maybe even the Vespa, I’ve found that it’s the Razor Scooter that rules the city streets as the most overwhelmingly popular ride in Lyon.

I used to have a razor scooter when I was younger; my childhood memories are punctuated with bruised ankles and skinned knees from scooting down the driveway at top speeds and attempting bunny hops over the cracks in the sidewalk.

I hopped back on my scooter in high school, when some of the seniors created a Scooter Club. It started out as a joke, but as more and more kids dug out their razors from the back of their garages, the Club became pretty legit. Members rode their razors to and from class and even held scooter rallies at recess.

So it’s funny that this scooter motif keeps reappearing in my life. First in my childhood play dates, then as an ironic joke in high school, and now it’s followed me all the way to France.

Since I’ve become so well re-acquainted with this mode of transportation in my time abroad, I’ve compiled a list of 6 things you should know about the rich scooter culture in Lyon. “Rules of the Road,” if you will. Here they are:

  1. Not just for kids
    • This is the first aspect of scooter culture that I noticed in Lyon. While I had always thought of the Razor Scooter as a child’s plaything, it turns out that scooters are a very efficient mode of transportation used on a daily basis by adults and kids alike in Lyon. I am constantly taken aback when I see a grown man in a suit and carrying a briefcase scooting down the sidewalk on his way to work.
  1. Bikes on road, scooters on sidewalk
    • This is arguably the most important rule of scooting etiquette. Bikes, since they have thick, rubber wheels that are able to conquer the cobble stoned-streets of Vieux Lyon, should always be on the road; most of the roads in Lyon have bike lanes, so sticking to this rule should not be difficult. Scooters, on the other hand, have small, hard, plastic wheels, and do not do well with bumps. So scooters are allowed on the smooth sidewalks. Whether you’re on a bike or a scooter, it is important to stay in your lane.
  2. Scooters have the right-of-way
    • Forget yielding for pedestrians; scooters, as the dominant, speedy form of transportation, have the right-of-way on sidewalks. All walkers should move out of the way for scooters to come through. After all, there is nothing more frustrating than having to decelerate and lose momentum to dodge slow walkers.
  3. Pimp my ride
    • The Lyonnais take pride in their scooters, and do not hesitate to trick them out. For the adults, this might include a little hook to hang a purse, or an added platform on the back for a child to stand and ride with his parent. For the kids, common accessories include decals, detachable bags, and fashion helmets, of course.
  4. Pop a wheelie
    • Scooting is so popular in Lyon that it has become not just a mode of transportation but also a sport. There are many skate parks in Lyon, and one of my favorite activities is going to the quai at Guillotière and watching grown men do tricks on scooters. Think: wheelies, 180s – heck, I even saw someone do a backflip just the other day. It’s really impressive to see all the tricks one can do with the simple Razor.
  5. Paradoxical French efficiency
    • A major change from my life at UVA that I’ve experienced here in Lyon is the whole idea of time. Everything in France takes a little longer than it does in the US. For example, it is considered rude to show up on time to a dinner party, and also, you can count on courses at the university starting at least 10 minutes late. So it’s so funny to me that the French buy so wholeheartedly into this uber efficient mode of transportation, the Razor Scooter, despite a general lack of concern for the need to rush.

It’s interesting to note the differences in daily life in different places: the way we eat, the way we talk, the way we get around. These are the nuances of the way of living that really define a culture and set it apart from others. The use of the Razor Scooter I’ve found in Lyon is just one facet of its culture that makes it totally unique.

They say that instead of focusing on the destination, one should enjoy the journey; in Lyon, I’m taking my sweet time on my Razor Scooter.

Learning the Rules of Life in Aix – En – Provence

Margaret Jewett is a 3rd year studying Global Security & Justice and French at AIU College: France this semester. Check out her post about her arrival in Aix-en-Provence below!

On the first day of my wine and food pairing class (yes, that’s actually a class I am taking here), my professor opened with an unfamiliar sentiment. “In wine and food pairing,” she declared, “there are no rules, except for one: pleasure.” This idea seemed strange to me – a rule governed only by enjoyment didn’t seem like a rule at all. But a week in Aix-en-Provence, a small city in the heart of southern France, has shown me that here, this rule does not only apply to cuisine, and learning to follow it is a lesson in itself.

The Aixois, as the locals are called, are not consumed with the constant need to be busy and productive that characterizes many Americans, myself included. While the streets of Aix are often bustling with activity, the energy of the city is lively, rather than stressed. Pedestrians window-shop along the store-lined streets, dogs run unleashed on the cobblestone roads, and mopeds periodically part the crowds as they navigate the narrow passageways of the medieval city. Locals are constantly eating and drinking outside, no matter the weather. Outdoor cafés are equipped with wide umbrellas and heat lamps so that Aixois can enjoy their pre-dinner apéritifs even in the rain and cold. In Aix, the general consensus seems to be that enjoying the pleasures of daily life is both encouraged and expected.

While I am beginning to learn and appreciate the Aixois way of life, the stress-free mindset has not yet completely taken a hold of me. In America, I would feel lazy sitting for hours over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, and after only a week here, I am still learning not to make mental to-do lists when I’m enjoying a drink with friends. The enriching effects of this lifestyle are, however, beginning to influence my state of mind. Already, I am starting to walk more slowly, to take in the picturesque world around me. I feel less and less guilty about lingering over my dinner in the evenings, or watching the world go by for hours at a café. It might take me some time to fully embrace this new philosophy, but mastering the rule of pleasure is one lesson I look forward to learning during my semester abroad.

À Table!

Lillian Harris is a Third Year, majoring in Art History, who is attending the Fall 2017 UVA in Lyon program. 

Since arriving in Lyon three weeks ago, I’ve come to associate this phrase – which means “dinner’s served” – with all things that are good:

  1. The comfort of a home-cooked meal after a long day à la fac (slang for “at university”)
  2. Hours of banter with my host family in French… and the occasional miming (due to language barrier!)
  3. And *most importantly* lots of cheese

I knew that food was important to the French. I read online that Lyon is considered the capital gastronomique de l’Europe. And my host family even mentioned in an email one time this summer that their meals usually last at least two hours. So I should have been prepared for this pomp and circumstance of the French dîner.

But I don’t think I realized all of this – the sanctity of mealtime, the relevance of the kitchen table, and the nuances of the French dining experience – until I got here and was christened on my first night at approximately 9pm with the resounding call of « à table ! »

That first meal was a blur of floofy soufflé and and lots of butter and some stinky cheese that I couldn’t catch the name of.  I was nervous, having just met my host family, and wanted to make a good first impression; but I threw polite nibbles out the window and ate so much not only because it was 9pm (at home I usually eat around 6:30), but also because the food was good. Dinner lasted until I couldn’t keep my jetlagged eyes open any longer, and then I went to bed feeling stuffed and bien acceuillie (welcomed).

The transition from American everyday life to the French mode de vie has been interesting and tough and funny and overwhelming (more details later), but luckily I was able to cling to some common ground – a taste for la gastronomie – as soon as I got here. So I’m going to continue eating my freshly baked baguettes and pain au chocolat and any other bread/cheese/chocolate combinations I can find until I get the full lay of the land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bonjour or Hola?

Alexis Ferebee attended the UVA in Lyon Program in Spring 2017 as a 3rd year majoring in Media Studies and Foreign Affairs.

At our universities in France, we get two different breaks, or “vacances.” The first one is a week long and happens in February, and the second is also a week and is in April. I just recently got back from my first vacation. A friend and I went to Barcelona, Valencia, and Lisbon. Spain is easily of my favorite countries that I have visited, I almost with I studied abroad there. Luckily, I speak some Spanish (due to the 3 semesters of it that I took at UVA) so communication was not too hard there, but Portugal was a whole other story. Before arriving there, I thought that I would watch some YouTube videos and learn at least the basics of the language before spending three whole days there.

After watching the same video 3 times, I was taught how to say: hello, goodbye, please, thank you, I would like, you’re welcome, excuse me, I don’t speak Portuguese, do you speak English? etc. Over the course of those few days, I used a few of the words, but honestly I didn’t really need them. As can be expected in most larger European cities, most everybody spoke English very well. There were a few times when I had to either communicate in French or Spanish, but that wasn’t too much of a problem. The ideal way to travel around Europe is to know a few languages and just hope that the people you meet can speak at least one of them.

I am so lucky that in this experience I not only get to better my French skills, but my Spanish ones as well. I also get to explore other languages and at least learn their basics. Whether it is trying to order food in a terrible Portuguese accent, or miming what I am attempting to say, all that matters is that I tried!

France is confusing

Caroline Alberti spent her spring semester studying abroad in Toulouse, France,  on CIEE’s Language and Culture program. Check out her blog post below!

Despite her high level of intelligence, Curb is easily confused. This is a known fact by anyone who has the delight of sitting next to me during any film with a plot more complex than your average Sponge Bob episode (with the exception of The Matrix, which I grasped and was the one to explain to my father and sister, one of my crowning achievements). In daily life, some of my most uttered phrases are “wait, what?” or “what are we doing now?” and etc.
However, despite my natural state of disorientation, I would have to argue that France is objectively perplexing for non-Frenchies and especially non Europeans.
First of all, the French way of scheduling, or rather lack of scheduling = confusing to the max. It seems to me like the French don’t really believe in schedules, especially when in comes to university classes. We didn’t get our schedules until the day before classes started, and they were in some cases missing the room because it hadn’t yet been determined. My Macroeconomic class met the first week of school, then is cancelled for the next two, followed by a week of vacation (meaning after being in France for 2 months I will have gone to this class one singular time). Why? Accun idée. In France everything is very fluid and go with flow, which I think speaks a lot to French culture.
Even when you know your schedule (rare), it is very confusing (at least for me) because France operates on military time, meaning that you don’t have class from 1:00-3:30pm, you have class from 13:00-15:30. I realize that this is a pretty ethnocentric complaint since much of the world uses 24hr time. It’s really not a difficult thing to figure out, but embarrassingly it has caused me trouble on multiple occasions. I have been late to class because I thought it started an hour later than it actually did. I have agreed to meet people earlier than I anticipated, and I often have to pause in the middle of conversations involving time to subtract 12 and figure out exactly what hour we are talking about. I hope to get used to the 24hr clock, Celsius and the metric system soon.
Euros are also weird but in a good way. Thankfully the exchange rate it closest it been in a while (1.07) so not a lot of converting has to be done, which is good because subtracting 12 to figure out the time just about maxes out my tolerance for math for the day. It is definitely an adjustment to be to have coins that have actual value (like the 1 and 2euro coins). I’m so used to change being of very nominal value, sticking it in my change purse and forgetting about it. But here I can pay for a meal using coins. It’s kinda a nice feeling because I’ll think I won’t have any cash left but then I open the change portion of my wallet and it’s like uncovering this whole new wealth, which almost makes up for the fact that every
thing is so frickin expensive here (although not quite).
It also doesn’t make sense to me how everyone in this country is not 400lbs (sorry 180 kilos) because all they do is eat bread and cheese and wine and desserts and pastries? Everyone told me that it’s because the portion sizes are smaller here, which maybe slightly be true, but I haven’t found that they are remarkably different. Seriously, what is going on??? And how can I do this too??
I’ve also recently taking up biking places, since my host mom was kind enough to loan me a bike for the semester. I really like biking places because I think it’s giving me a chance to become more habituated to the city and know my way around. It has also shown me that I am very easily lost. What GoogleMaps has said is a 10 min bike ride has turned into 25 because of a few wrong turns. But hey, I like to take the scenic route and thankfully Toulouse isn’t large enough that you can get really lost in it.
Biking is, however, confusing because the narrow roads are shared by pedestrians, bikers, and cars. Toulouse is called La Ville Rose, but I think a more accurate name would be The City of Obstacles. After one month here I still don’t know which streets/sidewalks are for people and which are for cars, and it seems like Toulousains don’t know either (or they don’t care). I also can find no pattern for the random polls and barricades that are dispersed through roads and streets. Biking is always an adventure, I will have to say. Anyhoo, though France is confusing sometimes, it’s definitely always interesting and keeping me on my toes. I love it!
Pce, luv & ???,
Curb 😉

Thoughts on being an American abroad

Caroline Alberti is currently studying abroad in Toulouse, France,  on CIEE’s Language and Culture program. Check out her blog post below!

I love speaking French, going out, and meeting people. In fact, I have been trying to go out more here in an effort to meet more people and speak more French (it’s educational Mom and Dad, I promise!). Before coming here, I was nervous about how I would received in French social situations as a foreigner. I’d heard stereotypes that French people were more closed off, or easily offended by imperfect control of their language. However, I have found this not at all to be the case. While I definitely think that French people are less open than Americans, the people I have met have been very kind and I have met a lot of great people.

The funny thing is though, meeting new people here in France is almost formulaic. If you are American and deciding to travel abroad anytime soon (like in the next 4 years to be exact) you may want to expect the interactions of the following sort:

Step 1: The “Bonjour”

The greeting, usually a bonjour and a bise is the first engagement. As I said before I am still  getting used the kiss-greeting thing. This is the step where very quickly my accent is detected. I have a love-hate relationship with my accent. On one hand I think it gives more liberty to make mistakes and makes me interesting. On the other hand, I don’t find American accents particularly pleasing but that could just be me.

Step 2: The “Where are you from?”

The accent thing inevitable triggers there “Where are you from?”. When this happens I have decide how annoying I want to be, and I either give a direct answer or I say “guess!!”. It’s really interesting to me to see where people think I am from. Almost never has someone guessed American. Most often I get English, or German and occasionally Irish, which is so surprising to me because I think that my accent just screams “AMERICAN”.

I think people don’t usually guess American because in fact in Toulouse there are not really that many Americans since it’s not a super popular spot for American study abroad programs. I actually really like this about Toulouse, since it means that being an American here is kinda special, and meeting other Americans here is rare which makes encountering one of my compatriots here is out of the ordinary and so when it does happen it’s a treat.

There “Where are you from questions” extends to where exactly in the United States I am from, where I have a little existential crisis not knowing whether or not to say PA or VA.

Step 3: The “TRUMP” Part

It may not happen right away (all though often it does). We may get talking about the weather, or studies, or music or whatever, and I’ll think I’m safe… but no no no. The question always comes sooner or later: “So…. what do you think of Donald Trump?”

*Sigh* Then there it is. The unavoidable topic as an American abroad in this day and age.

When I first starting receiving this question, I was a little surprised, but not at all bothered. In fact, I was glad to have an open ear to my rantings about the madness of this past election. It’s something, that like most Americans, I have a lot of thoughts and opinions on (which I won’t really put in this blog because it is not a blog about politics– though I feel like anyone who knows me probably knows where I stand politically). However, with each politically charged discussion I began to get more and more tired of talking about how crazy and doomed my country is (even though a big part of me agrees).

I think the political situation in our country makes it a really weird time to be an American abroad. I am surprised with the bluntness that French people approach this topic with me, since in French culture, personal things like that aren’t discussed as upfrontly. I am also surprised how blunt people are because in theory (though NOT in reality) I could be a Trump supporter. So far, I haven’t met any French person who aligns themselves with Trump’s ideals (if you can call them “ideals”), although with the way the French election cycle is going, I am sure they are out there. When I am asked about politics in America, I think they make the assumption that I am (rightly) unhappy about the current situation. I never feel like I am being blamed or aggressed for Trump’s election, which is something I was worried about before coming. More accurately I feel like the topic is breached with a sense of curiosity and often with pity as well.

It’s frustrating to repeat the same conversation, but it’s one I feel like I have to engage in or else people with think that I don’t have opinions on it or that I support Trump, both of which are definitely not true.

But over all, it’s hard to complain about people being interested in my country and wanting to hear my opinion. I am glad to be able to represent my country abroad at a time like this when a lot of bad images are presented of the United States abroad. In fact, this type of cultural diplomacy that happens within each exchange, the sharing of ideas and opinions, is one of the reasons I love traveling and studying abroad. These interactions, the ones I have had both here and in Morocco and elsewhere have definitely challenged me and helped me widen my horizons and perspectives, and for that I am very grateful.

So Frenchies, keep the questions coming. I promise you I will have an answer.

Anyway, hopefully this post wasn’t too political, rant-y, or pessimistic. I’ll try to whip up a little something more lighthearted next post!

ALSO, since this post was very light on pictures, enjoy this photo of my best friend in Toulouse and love of my life, Cissi, my host dog.

Isn’t she beautiful?? My heart melts every day when I see her.

Pce, luv, & politics,

Curbie 😉