C'est la vie in France – A staff writer's exchange experience


Exchange excursion Pau Barbosa ’18

As I approach the end of my three month exchange in Nantes, France, I am filled with both euphoria and sadness. Sitting in my almost empty bedroom, I reflect on the weeks I spent here. I will miss stopping by a little bakery named La Boulangerie d’Honoré to pick up a fresh croissant on the way to school, and enjoying hot chocolate and macaroons in the cafés along the riverbank.

Morning croissante Pau Barbosa '18
Morning croissante
Pau Barbosa ’18

This exchange has not only allowed me to understand the nuances of the French culture and language, but also has enabled me to form friendships with people from all over the world.
Nantes is a small French city, in which everything is close and easily accessible. During my time here, I have had the independence to traverse the city as I please, riding either the bus or tram, both of which travel throughout the city.

 I decided to pursue an exchange experience in France primarily to enhance my fluency, but I soon realized that this trip would have a much greater impact on me. When I first arrived at the Nantes Atlantique Airport ten weeks ago, I was not only nervous for my first day in a new school, but also to spend several weeks in a place where there was a language barrier. 
I have spent time away from home before, but I have never traveled alone to a country so far away. From the moment I began to plan my trip, I knew that every aspect of it would be a challenge.
I can still remember how anxious I was on the way to school that first day, but I soon learned that my fears were unfounded. My first day at La Perverie Sacré Cœur went by quickly. I was relieved and encouraged to find that all of my new classmates were extremely kind and welcoming the moment I walked into my first period math class. As I walked back to my new home, I felt excited and impatient for the adventure ahead of me.
Exchange excursion Pau Barbosa '18
Exchange excursion
Pau Barbosa ’18

In Nantes, I have been able to meet other exchange students from Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Austria, and the United States. The school organized outings for the exchange students to the Nantes City Center where we were able to explore together as a group. Thursdays, exchange students participated in “Café International” a program in which exchange students ate lunch together.
Talking with these other exchange students has taught me about their cultures, and discussing our different experiences in France helped us to bond. These international dialogues have enabled me to turn my three month trip to France into a a global learning experience.
Exchange students who stay for more than a month are paired up with a class from the school’s “Primaire” or Lower School. Every Monday, I visit my Lower School class for two hours and help them with their courses by reading to them in English and telling them about my life in the United States. This is the highlight of my Mondays because I love coming into the room and seeing their smiling and eager faces.
Lower school class Pau Barbosa '18
Lower school class
Pau Barbosa ’18

Participating in my classes and helping the lower school students has allowed me to fully immerse myself in the French culture.
It is interesting to compare the classes in France with those of the United States. Class dynamics are formal here; students refer to teachers with the formal “vous,” which is a term used in French to indicate respect for an adult. Rather than participating in class discussion, students listen attentively while the teachers lecture in classes. This was a new way for me to learn. 
One of the differences between Sacred Heart and La Perverie is that La Perverie is a co-ed school where students do not wear uniforms. Therefore, my morning routine in France is very different from my quick routine in the United States. Having boys in class is somewhat new to me, but it does not affect classroom dynamics.
Another difference between the two schools is that my lunch period is longer than that of Convent of the Sacred Heart. At La Perverie, lunch can last up to two hours, which means students are allowed to leave the school and eat in the city center or go home. This is a privilege for students in all grades, and something I enjoy a lot, especially on Fridays when I go out to eat lunch with friends from my class.
A typical French lunch at the school cafeteria consists of some type of rice and meat, and cheese, bread, and butter, which are served with almost every meal. When eating out, students tend to go to Mcdonald’s and boulangeries where they are able to buy paninis and croissants. My favorite place to go is a tea room called French Coffee. It has
Friotella frappé Pau Barbosa '18
Friotella frappé
Pau Barbosa ’18

various delicious pastries and desserts, and amazing drinks such as the FrioTella which is a Nutella frappé. 
Immersing myself in French culture has allowed me to improve my French and even have comprehensive conversations with other French people. I understand most of what people say to me, no matter how fast they say it.
Being immersed in a completely different country and lifestyle has taught me how to take care of myself, and how to adapt to and solve any challenges thrown my way. The moment I stepped off the plane in Nantes, I also stepped outside of my comfort zone, and in doing so learned just how much I am able to accomplish. As I begin to pack for my return to the United States, I realize that my time in France was invaluable, and an experience that I will never forget. 
– Pau Barbosa, Staff Writer