My last blog post was written on the train from Tours to Lyon, signaling the start of our week-long vacation in France. This time, I’m writing from my final train ride back to our home away from home after nine days of travel and twelve rides on trains and buses with three other MSU students in our group. During our week off, we spent three nights in Lyon, three in Nice, and two in Grenoble.

Our first train ride from Tours to Lyon was an interesting experience for all of us, considering we were new to using the French train system (save our day trip to Amboise), but we arrived in Lyon in the late afternoon and checked into our hotel room, which turned out to be more like a loft with a private kitchenette and a skylight with a wide view of the city. In true American fashion, we made two stops at the nearby Starbucks and Domino’s during our stay for a “taste” of our home culture, but we also got our fair share of French food and drink from the market across the street and the nearby supermarché. (As it turns out, a baguette is not only a very filling lunch, but a very inexpensive one as well!)

Le supermarché — The supermarket

Since our first full day in Lyon was a Sunday, when many stores and attractions are closed for the day, we decided to see a French movie at the theater to test our comprehension. In Né Quelque Part, a student living in France travels to Algeria to save his ailing father’s house from being destroyed while learning to love his new cultural surroundings (see the French synopsis on Wikipedia).

Né quelque part — Born somewhere

While we had the advantage of occasional subtitles due to the use of other foreign languages like Arabic, we had to rely otherwise on our French listening skills alone but ended up being rather successful. On Monday, we walked up the hill to the western district of Fourvière, then went through town some more before retiring to our room for wine and our almost-daily attempt at a “conversation hour,” during which the four of us did our best to speak solely in French while expanding our vocabulary and grammatical skills in the process.

Tuesday brought the end of our stay in Lyon and five hours of travel to Nice, with a brief layover at the train station in Marseille. A bit of a reverse culture shock occurred when stepping off the train into Nice: I think I heard more English than French spoken by the arriving passengers! While we stayed in another four-bed private room in Nice, the building was set up with more of a hostel-oriented atmosphere than the others (including a few typical dorm-style rooms), which meant a more open relationship with the other guests of the hostel. Luckily for us, this was created through spaghetti dinners hosted every other evening. Three euros for a large plate of spaghetti, popcorn, wine, and conversation seemed like a good deal to us, so we chose that option for dinner on both Tuesday and Thursday. Afterward, and throughout much of our stay in Nice, we went to the beach, a well-inhabited rocky shore on the Mediterranean about fifteen minutes by foot from our hostel. Due to my desire to stay immersed in French language and culture as much as possible during the week before starting more intensive coursework in July, I was a little disappointed at how much of Nice was tourist-oriented and full of English, but the ability to rest and relax a bit was a welcome respite for a few days (though I could have done without the sunburn and the swimmer’s ear!).

By Friday, I was excited for a change in scenery as we headed to our final stop in Grenoble, nestled at the foot of the Alps. Our original plan was to arrive at 18h15 (6:15pm) after leaving Nice at 12h55 with stops between in Marseille and Valence. However, since we only had a fifteen-minute gap before our connecting train in Marseille and the first train from Nice to Marseille ran late, we ended up just missing the train and had to get new tickets, which set us back about two hours. Nevertheless, we made it to Grenoble in the evening and set out to see the city a bit before bed, since we had one fewer night there. During our only full day in the area, we split up: while the other half of our group explored nearby, I went with one of my fellow travelers early in the morning to Annecy, which was two hours away by train/bus but still hosted beautiful views of the Alps through the lens of a smaller town and the Lac d’Annecy, supposedly Europe’s cleanest lake. The rain and wind kept us from staying in Annecy too long, so we returned to Grenoble in the afternoon and regrouped to partake in warm drinks in the afternoon before a quiet final evening of vacation in the hotel with pizza and French versions of Disney music on YouTube.

Le lac — The lake

We passed the halfway point of our study abroad experience yesterday, and now we continue to sadly remind ourselves that we are now less than four weeks from the end of the program and, except for a lucky few with more money and time to spare in Europe afterward, our return trip to the United States. Tomorrow is July 1, which signals the start of our second session of courses: following group orientation on Monday, our new classes begin on Tuesday and will include foreign students from many different groups around the world, not just other MSU students. This means that our common language will most likely be French rather than English! That might seem daunting, but I am hopeful that the last four weeks of work here will have adequately prepared us to hold conversations and continue to improve our French language skills, and I look forward to seeing what the next four weeks will bring.

I’m studying abroad through MSU in Tours, France from June 2 to July 27. Follow my posts here and on social media. À bientôt – see you soon!

Things have been fairly busy here in Tours since my last post, which means that I have a lot to write about to catch everyone up. I hope to be posting more regularly in the upcoming weeks despite the increasing workload of courses that we will have in July; in addition to classes, we will have additional excursions as a group, including another château visit and an opportunity to see the Tour de France pedal through Tours during its 100th anniversary.

As I type this, a small group of our MSU contingent is on the train, headed to Lyon for the first leg of our one-week vacation following three weeks of class. The four of us will spend three nights in Lyon, then three in Nice and two in Grenoble before returning to Tours late in the evening on June 30. After that, we’ll all have another orientation meeting on Monday morning before beginning the second session of classes on Tuesday. While five weeks still seems like a long time left to be here in France, the first three have flown by so quickly and have included so many fun activities that I know it won’t be long before we’re on the plane back to Detroit.

During the week, much of our time was spent at or near the Institut. MSU’s thirty-two students on the trip were split into two groups for classes; mine met from 9:00 – 11:00am on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and 9:00 – 12:15 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Once class was over, we would usually get a light lunch at Carrefour (the nearby grocery store) or a sandwicherie on Rue Nationale and, because it rained almost daily for a solid week and a half, would then take shelter back at the Institut to hang out or get work done.

My second week here included two excursions: one on Wednesday afternoon to the châteaux at Azay-le-Rideau and Villandry as well as a day trip on Saturday to Paris. Both of these excursions were hosted by the Institut and included students from many different groups (including one from nearby Hillsdale, Michigan, which we were surprised to find out while in Paris!). Herding fifty students through small castle staircases provided its own challenges, but we still managed to marvel at the architecture and landscapes of the castles on Wednesday.

On Saturday, the excursion included stops at the Musée d’Orsay and Notre-Dame. While at the museum, we learned about the building (which was originally a train station whose architecture was kept intact instead of it being destroyed and rebuilt for the museum) and the many works of art inside, including Rodin sculptures, many impressionist paintings, and Van Gogh’s famed Starry Night. After a guided tour in the Musée, I got a crêpe for lunch before heading to Notre-Dame. While we didn’t spend much time inside the cathedral, five of us paid a modest five-euro fare to climb a long series of spiral stairs to the top of the building, which provided a beautiful view of Paris. After spending a hefty (but worthy!) chunk of change for macarons* at the well-known Ladurée, we had a fitting end to our trip to Paris by seeing the Eiffel Tower at a close distance as our bus made its way home.

In addition, the second week of our study abroad included my 21st birthday (which I humorously celebrated before my twin brother, who is three minutes older than me but six timezones away!) on June 13. While the first of several consecutive days of rain kept us from celebrating in the evening, I had an enjoyable day and a large dinner (plus cake!) with my host family. That day also included the first of two placement exams for our July courses: an hour-long written exam that had sections for listening, reading comprehension, and writing responses to prompts. Except for some trouble with the excerpts in the listening section, I exited the exam feeling like I had done fairly well. A few days ago, we finished the placement exams with a ten-minute oral conversation with one of the professors at the Institut. I thought that went better than the written exam; I was able to speak fluidly without too many grammatical errors (or, when I did miss something, I realized and corrected myself before continuing) and the only words I struggled to say were unfamiliar vocabulary words like bec (mouthpiece) and orchestre à cordes (string orchestra). Now, we play the waiting game: we won’t find out the results of our placement nor our grades from the first session until our orientation on July 1.

Speaking of the first session, I should probably explain how classes worked as well… Our sixteen-person class was taught by Olivier Dufresne, a professor with a jovial attitude and exciting facial hair to match. We spent most of our classes in a lecture-style discussion setting, learning historical and cultural details about France in areas such as religion, politics, and even music. In many classes, we would compare French life with ours in the United States, which Olivier seemed to appreciate as an opportunity for two-way learning. In addition to his lectures, each student gave a 15 – 20-minute presentation known as an exposé, focusing on one of the main topics for the day. My exposé, done this past Wednesday, was centered on la presse in France; I discussed the different types of French newspapers and their circulation figures, along with a comparison to similar American papers and the issues that they faced.

La presse — The media

Our only(!) other homework assignment for the first class was a 7 – 10-page paper, or dossier, on a topic of our choosing. Naturally, I wrote about contemporary French music, taking a look at popular genres in France and how English-language songs often cross over to French radio stations.

Fittingly, yesterday was our final day of class for the month, falling on the same day as the first day of summer and Fête de la Musique, a worldwide holiday that originated in France during which musicians of all types fill the streets with sound. I participated in two concerts during my 2008 tour in France with the Blue Lake International Jazz Ensemble, but since I did not bring my trombone with me during this trip, I spent the evening solely enjoying the music. It was really cool to turn one corner and another and continually find musicians playing completely different genres, from a reggae band and a rock guitarist to the accordion player on the sidewalk and a drumline covering Maroon 5’s “Payphone” on vibraphones. Much like the musicians coming together despite their contrasting performances, the Institut — and even our group from MSU — is a mélange of cultures and backgrounds that allows all of us to learn more and more about the great big world** we live in. This will continue next month as more students arrive at the Institut, including a large group from Canada, and I am excited to interact with more students of different cultures and to gain an even greater appreciation of our differences and commonalities.

* Note that there is a difference between macarons, meringue-based confections, and macaroons, more of a biscuit usually with sugar and coconut known as a congolais in France. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)
** I heard this song on the radio right before arriving at the airport in Detroit; I thought it was a pretty fitting song to hear before a transcontinental flight!

I’m studying abroad through MSU in Tours, France from June 2 to July 27. Follow my posts here and on social media. À bientôt – see you soon!

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a week since I arrived in Tours for the summer and began taking classes at the Institut de Touraine. Before we know it, we’ll have completed our eight weeks here and be on our way back to the United States with fond memories of the classes, friends, and food we have enjoyed here. This first week in Tours has been eventful and enjoyable as we have begun acclimating to French life and culture and gotten to know the thirty-one students (as well as our professor and graduate assistant) traveling in our group.

Our first full day in Tours was last Monday, and with it came our introductory orientation at the Institut. In order to show me the route to class, my host father Serge drove me the first day. Once we arrived, we had a brief orientation with our MSU professors followed by une chasse au trésor around the city.

Une chasse au trésor — A treasure (scavenger) hunt

After getting a quick bite to eat (which was accompanied with our first time having to speak to French people without them knowing beforehand that we were non-native speakers – though they probably figured it out fairly quickly, especially when some people gave up and tried speaking English to no avail!), we began our “treasure hunt,” which was more of a guided tour of the city than anything. We failed to walk down la rue nationale, the main street in the city with many shops, which caused us to miss a few of the landmarks, but otherwise we began to gather our bearings within Tours. Among our destinations were la gare, the garden at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, and la place Plumereau, the square with many restaurants and bars that we have frequently visited since then. Afterward, we met up as a group to buy our pay-as-you-go phones and bus passes.

La gare — The train station

Tuesday brought our first “real” day of class, which also meant my first day walking alone to the Institut. Despite having multiple maps and a general sense of direction, I managed to turn in the wrong direction after crossing the bridge into the city and made a wide circle around the Institut that unnecessarily added a good twenty minutes of travel time. Luckily, I eventually found my way and got to class with a few minutes to spare. After class, the majority of our MSU constituent went to place Plume for lunch, where I had my first real crème brûlée (while its equivalent from the MSU cafeteria is good, it doesn’t quite compare!).

After my first day of difficulty walking to class, I followed a more direct route to class on Wednesday and have had no issues since, thankfully. It takes about 25 minutes to walk from my house north of the river to the Institut in the middle of the city, but with my headphones on and the French scenery all around, it’s a fairly painless endeavor (not to mention that both the length and road construction make it seem like I haven’t left MSU!). The class schedule here is interesting: while I’m used to starting in the late morning or early afternoon and having classes until dinner at MSU, this month I have class only from 9h to 11h (or 12h15 on Tuesdays and Thursdays). We’ve been informed that that will change in July, when our courses will become more intensive, but for now I’m content to have classes in the mornings and afternoons free to eat, explore, and enjoy the company of my fellow student travelers. The only assignments we have during the first three week session are a 20-minute exposé in-class presentation and a 7-10-page dossier, which means we don’t have regular homework assignments like at MSU, but that I will need to start soon and work gradually each day to ensure I have enough information before I present next week.

Speaking of travel, we will be doing a fair amount of it throughout the trip, particularly on the weekends. After spending the afternoons during the week checking out Tours (except for one day during which I participated in a cooking class, a group of us decided to spend Saturday in Amboise, which takes twenty minutes via train and has a château where Leonardo da Vinci is buried. Upon arriving in the early afternoon, we toured the château and walked around the city for a while; we also briefly visited le Clos Lucé, where da Vinci once lived. We then finished out the day with gelato, a brass band festival (an exciting accidental discovery for me, of course, being an avid trombonist and music enthusiast!) and conversation under a gazebo. Sunday was spent at home, resting both my body and my wallet. This week, our excursions include a group visit to the Château de Villandry on Wednesday and a group of twelve heading to Paris on Saturday to view the Musée d’Orsay and Notre Dame. After our first three weeks here, our first session ends with the Fête de la Musique on June 21, followed by a week off to travel, during which I and a small group plan to travel by train to a few French cities.

While I am fortunate to be able to spend this summer traveling abroad and creating many memories (a big shout-out to my family for helping make it possible!!), I am also happy that I am able to share it with you. I suppose it’s fitting (and maybe just a little corny) that, upon visiting the local FNAC (a European entertainment chain; think Best Buy meets Barnes & Noble) in town to see what kind of musical discoveries I could make, I found a two-disc Francophone compilation from Céline Dion called Avec toi. Though there’s no way I could bring all of my friends and family with me to Tours, I am thankful that I can use this blog and social media to share my adventures here avec toi: with you.

I’m studying abroad through MSU in Tours, France from June 2 to July 27. Follow my posts here and on social media. À bientôt – see you soon!

Tonight, I will depart from Detroit to Paris, France before arriving in Tours, my home for the next eight weeks. While in Tours, I will be staying with a host family and taking courses along with other MSU and international students at the Institut de Touraine. Experiencing French language and culture firsthand is bound to be a very fun and educational experience for me. In addition to my studies, we will also be embarking on several excursions, including day trips to Paris and Mont Saint-Michel and watching the Tour de France cycle through Tours during its 100th anniversary. While I can’t bring everyone along with me physically, I can do my best to document my travels online, so I’ll be using social media to share updates during the summer semester.

On y va! — let’s go!


If you are an Instagram user, follow KurtTrowbridge for a steady feed of pictures while on the go. Once I receive my local phone in Tours, I should be able to share directly to Instagram when taking pictures on the phone; I will also be uploading pictures from my digital camera to Instagram using Dropbox as an intermediary program. Even if you aren’t on Instagram, you can easily see all of my photos from the trip: each of my uploaded pictures with the hashtag #msutours13 will appear in an auto-updating feed at the top of my France category page, thanks to a WordPress plugin called Instapress. More pictures will be uploaded to my Facebook page; feel free to follow or befriend me there as well.


While most people have moved on from Foursquare at this point, I still check in fairly regularly. Follow me to see where I’m going throughout France and maybe get a tip or two if you’re ever in the area. I’m also looking into displaying a map on the site that will show checkins that I can reference in posts – feel free to send me recommendations if you have a WordPress plugin or program that would accomplish such a map.


For the most quick (and likely least interesting) updates, I will be posting on Facebook and Twitter. More in-depth posts will be posted here, including photos and links when relevant. While these posts will be automatically shared to Facebook and Twitter, you can also get notifications for updates through this RSS feed or by selecting the “Notify me of new posts by email” option when commenting on a post.