In just under an hour from the time of writing this post, my plane from Paris will hit the ground in Detroit, completing my eight-week study abroad program with MSU. While I have a few final reflections yet to share, that will be done in a later post from my comfort of my own home, since I have yet to detail my final week in Tours. As is evident by the lack of a post during the week, I’ve been busy finishing up my studies, soaking up as much of the city as I could, and spending time with a group of what I hope will be long-lasting friends from MSU and beyond.

The biggest personal event of the past week came in the form of the DELF B2 exam, which I have previously discussed and took last Friday, July 19. Due to the scores on our placement tests for July courses, I and three other students among our group were eligible to take the DELF B2, which signifies proficiency in the French language. While I did not spend a lot of time studying (contrary to the norm, as those of you who know me well are surely aware!), I went into the four-part exam with average expectations and a positive attitude, hoping our continued work at the Institut in improving our use of French would help me succeed.

The first portion of the test was written comprehension, in which I had to read two passages and answer questions about them. With previous in-class variants of such tests producing fairly positive results, the section was not one of my primary worries going into the test. As it turned out, it was easier than the tests we had taken in class, and I ended up passing with 24/25 points on the section. Following that was written production, which asked candidates to read a short paragraph, then respond to the prompt in letter form. I had a few small comprehension issues within the paragraph which I later realized caused me to mess up the introduction of my letter, but the points I made within were apparently enough to score me another ten and a half points.

Following the two written sections came the oral half of the exam, beginning with an oral comprehension test to finish the morning session. This was where I had the biggest worry going into the exam: I am usually fairly able to understand Francophone people when they are talking to me with the help of normal conversational nuances like gestures and lip-watching, but listening to fast, muffled speakers without such aids makes it more difficult. While I did better than I had feared overall, I did leave a few questions blank on the second listening portion (the first excerpt was played twice, but the shorter second section gets only one play), yet I still managed a solid 13.50/25 points. Those playing along at home will notice that I only needed another five points (two to reach fifty and five since the DELF requires a minimum of five points per test to pass, even if you get over fifty points overall) in the last test, but of course, I didn’t find that out until afterward, which meant I had to sweat it out from the end of the third session at noon until my individual listening session at 16h00 (4:00pm). For the final oral production section, I spoke one-on-one with an Institut professor about whether or not sugary products should be taxed like alcohol and tobacco. Thrilling, huh? Nevertheless, I scored 20/25 points and successfully received a diploma in French studies, which I found out under two hours after finishing the oral production test. Take that, ACT.

Saturday was spent detoxing with English while visiting Mont Saint-Michel and St. Malo as part of another Institut-sponsored excursion. Mont Saint-Michel is an island town with a large, well-known abbey that receives over 20,000 visitors during the summer, but has very few permanent inhabitants. We spent the early afternoon touring the abbey and shopping a bit before returning to the bus and driving to the port city of St. Malo. There, we had a couple hours to get a quick peek of the city, including its sandy beach, and enjoy crêpes for dinner.

The Mont Saint-Michel and St. Malo excursion was somewhat bittersweet, marking the last weekend in France for most of us (several students chose to travel on their own or with family afterward). My final week of classes began with our last two quizzes, leaving the rest of the week for more lessons. We also got to learn about all of our home countries, which was neat due to the diverse population of my class. When we weren’t in class, we spent our last free afternoons crossing items off our final to-do lists, including shopping for food and souvenirs to take home and eating our last lunch at the Institut as a group. The final week also included an Institut-hosted talent show, which was fun to watch especially as most of the participants were MSU students. However, with every new experience racked up during those days, our date of departure grew closer and closer. Soon enough, I was spending my final night at the Guinguette talking with friends from MSU and beyond, then catching a few hours of sleep before being awoken at 4:15 to heavy rain and my alarm clock, signaling the end of an eight-week trip that I will certainly remember for the rest of my life.

A brief word of advice to other MSU students reading this blog: whether you’re interested in following my footsteps to Tours, another country, or just experiencing a different part of the United States, this university has so many opportunities for studying abroad that I hope everyone strongly considers the experience. Not only will you expand your horizons in our increasingly globalized world, but you will be able to make countless memories with new, lifelong friends from around the world. It sounds cliché, but I truly think every student would benefit from participating in a study abroad trip while studying at Michigan State. Feel free to contact me on Twitter, Facebook, or email if you have questions I can answer!

Ten days ago, I spent a quiet Sunday in with my host family. Looking back, that doesn’t seem too long ago. Realizing that I will be on a plane back to the United States in another ten days makes me very aware of how quickly our time in Tours is running out. However, I am (unsurprisingly) filling the next ten days with enough work and activity to keep me busy through then, so maybe I can keep my mind off of it for just a little longer!

Classes have been going well, though I have fairly quickly realized that I am in the lower end of the class when it comes to proficiency in using and understanding the language. However, that’s a completely welcome experience for me: it means I have a lot of opportunities to build and learn my French skills. After all, it isn’t every day that you get to practice French with skilled students from the United States, England, Spain, Germany, Italy, Kuwait, Japan, Korea, and Russia all in the same room! Phonetics continues to be both my favorite and least difficult class (hmm, maybe the two go hand in hand), though I’ve unfortunately developed a strong least favorite in oral comprehension. As it turns out, while I can usually understand my friends and host family when speaking French, recordings of French speakers (sometimes with regional accents thrown in, no less) are much more difficult for me to comprehend in two fast listens without the nuances of regular conversation.

In addition to my classes and additional reading for my MSU classes, I am preparing to take the DELF exam on Friday, as previously mentioned. The exam consists of multiple sections much like the ACT or other standardized tests in the United States: written comprehension, written production, oral comprehension, and oral production. The first three sections of the test are taken on Friday morning on paper, while the oral production section is an individual test in the afternoon during which I will prepare an argument based upon a written passage, then present and defend this argument to one of the exam proctors. The exam realistically provides nothing to me but a line on a resume unless I were to pursue the chance to enter a French university, but the opportunity is worthwhile, so I hope I do well enough to pass and receive a diploma.

Though it might not sound like it from the preceding paragraphs, I have had my fair share of fun events during the past week as well. The Tour de France came through Tours late last week, arriving at the end of their stage on Thursday and departing on Friday. While I was unable to make it to Thursday’s arrival due to logistical issues concerning my class schedule, I was excited to see the cyclists leave town on Friday, especially since my family and I have watched the Tour on TV for several years and my father and grandparents are avid cyclists as well. After classes let out early Friday afternoon, we made our way to the departure point of the course, which was right near the Institut de Touraine where we study. Since we were seeing the very beginning of the stage, the cyclists pedaled their way out of town all together, following behind the official vehicle escort that keeps the riders behind them until they’re out of the well-populated town. Because no one could break away from the pack (or as they call it, the peloton) at that point, the actual event of seeing the cyclists start didn’t last very long, but it was still very cool to see up close something that I had previously been used to seeing only on a television screen (and I got a nice picture of the four jersey-wearing riders leading the pack).

Following the Tour on Friday, I spent Saturday alone for what I believe was the first time this trip, doing a little bit of shopping during the soldes and checking out the local IKEA (no, it wasn’t very different from those in America) for lunch.

Les soldes — The sales (annually from late June through July in France)

Sunday, however, was much different: July 14 is the fête nationale, or independence day, in France, also referred to as Bastille Day. After sleeping in, I went to eat breakfast and was stopped by my host parents, who informed me that the parade in Paris was being broadcast on TV, so I watched the military groups and music ensembles march down the Champs-Élysées with them before a barbecue lunch in the garden. Later that evening, everyone in Tours (and I am likely exaggerating only slightly when I say that) made their way to le pont Wilson or la guinguette to watch a patriotic fireworks show. Being accustomed to annual July fireworks during our own country’s celebration of independence, it was a neat experience to substitute that with a celebration of the country where I have lived and studied this summer. And of course, their fireworks were spectacular as well.

Le pont — The bridge

Today brought a return to Amboise, the city nearby that a group of seven visited on our own during our first weekend in France. However, we still were lucky to experience new sights: while we had decided during our first excursion to skip le Château du Clos Lucé (Leonardo da Vinci’s house) due to excessive cost, the Institut-sponsored trip meant that the cost had already been included in our tuition payments. While the house itself was only mildly interesting to my eyes, it was very cool to see a large number of da Vinci’s many inventions modeled or diagrammed throughout the property, including the first automobile and an attempted flying device that eventually became the helicopter. After finishing there, we returned to the Château d’Amboise, where da Vinci had reportedly been buried and where François Ier (Francis I) once lived. Despite having already seen the château, the sights were certainly interesting enough to see a second time, and having a professor from the Institut as our guide gave me a little more information about the castle that we missed when visiting it alone.

While it is now approaching dinner time on the east coast of the United States, midnight is around the corner here, which means that we will officially be in the single digits for days remaining in France. It’s very hard to believe that six and a half weeks have already passed here, but I suppose that’s what happens when you’re having fun, learning French, and, as my mom put it, eating your way through Europe. Speaking of food, I plan to post more about the French delicacies I’ve enjoyed while here, as well as a summer playlist (because how could I write blog entries without including a musical element, right?), a recap of the DELF exam, and our upcoming excursion to Mont Saint-Michel and Saint-Malo on Saturday. A+ (that’s not a grade, but rather modern shorthand for à plus tard, or “see you later”)!

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!

July has brought a lot more work with this new month of classes. Unlike in June, where we had one class each day for at most three hours per morning, our schedules during this month change daily and can last as late as 17h30 (5:30pm). While this means a lot more work is on our plates, it also means we have the opportunity to learn more and improve our French. Classes began on Tuesday following a brief orientation among our MSU group on Monday morning, followed by a free afternoon during which I and a few friends saw Man of Steel at the local theater (while it was in English, we could read the French subtitles to pick up a few words and note how they were translated from English to French).

Before settling into our July courses, I returned to my host family in Tours on Sunday night to find new roommates. There are currently four other guests in my house; three are also taking classes at the Institut, while the other is visiting for the third year after being a student here in the past. I have enjoyed the opportunity to speak French with more people at the dinner table and learn more about the differences in their cultures and backgrounds.

Speaking of different backgrounds, I have been exposed to a lot of other cultures while in my classes. In June, our “introductory” class of sorts only included MSU students, but the Institut mixes all of the students into numerous classes based on the results of their placement exams. The levels range from 1 to 9 and there are multiple sections in each level so that each class includes roughly fourteen students, creating a manageably small group for speaking and working together. One major difference between such exams in the United States and in France is that while you might expect your results to be privately delivered to you or available online, here they are all posted in the courtyard of the Institut on the first day of classes, sorted by last name for everyone to see. Working my way through the crowd that had gathered on Tuesday morning, I eventually found that I had been placed in the eighth level. Placing so highly has been somewhat of a challenge for me so far, since my initial impression has been that most of the other students in my class are more advanced (even though some have been taking French for as little as ten months, much less than my seven years’ experience!), but I know that being exposed to such skilled French speakers will undoubtedly improve my own skills. Because of my placement level, I also have the opportunity to take an exam that, if passed, will grant me a diplôme d’études en langue française as a sign of my French knowledge and would also allow entrance to a French university were I to pursue that option.

DELF: diplôme d’études en langue française — Diploma of French studies

In addition to having longer class periods during the week — while our classes in June totaled 33 hours, we now have 20 hours of class for each of the four weeks in July — we also have more varied coursework. The schedule operates more akin to my fifth-grade schooling in the US than anything else, really — instead of having a different professor for every aspect of the language, we have two professors: one who focuses on written work and the other whose focus is oral studies. Throughout the week, we participate in courses such as oral comprehension, grammar, written production, and phonetics. I finish by the noon lunch break on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but have classes until the late afternoon on Tuesday and Thursday. My favorite course right now is the phonetics class, during which half of our group goes to a computer lab, puts on headphones with microphones, and participates in exercises that test both our grammar and phonetic abilities. Despite having to listen to recordings of myself after doing the exercises, it has been enjoyable and informative so far, much like the rest of my coursework.

My fellow RCAH majors at MSU will surely appreciate the amount of transculturation that is occurring here in our classes and in my host family! Between the five of us staying with my host family, one is Spanish and another has Greek parents, with the rest of us being American. My fifteen-person class has students of many more varied cultures: there are about fifteen students in our class (the number has changed almost daily with people entering and exiting the class to move to different levels) with countries of origin that include the United States, England, Italy, Germany, Spain, Korea, Japan, and Kuwait. It has been interesting, first of all, because French is an easier language for speaking with some students than English, but also because we have been able to learn a bit about each country and their culture while discussing subjects like stereotypes and discrimination. The weekly tests take the RCAH experience away a bit, of course, but the discussion topics have made me feel fairly close to home (not to mention the ever-missed opportunity to dodge road construction walking home from class every day!).

Last week was packed with events beyond class as well. Since Thursday was the Fourth of July, everyone dressed in red, white, and blue and (bien sûr — of course!) used it as a prime opportunity to party. We’ll see how hard everyone goes for Bastille Day, France’s annual celebration of independence, on the fourteenth. On Friday afternoon, our group also took a trip to Vouvray and the Château de Chenonceau. We began our excursion at a wine cave in Vouvray, which included a brief tour of the cave and a tasting of three regional wines. (I also bought some jam to share with my family that I am looking forward to tasting when I get home!) From there, we went on a boat and floated upon the river Cher, getting a view of the Château de Chenonceau from the water before getting a closer look.

Fortunately, we have been gradually improving the amount of time that we have spoken French together as a group as well. Whereas most afternoons in June were spent speaking entirely in English, we are transitioning into using French with each other as much as possible. Our goal this week is to speak nothing but French to each other; we may have already failed that during lunch this afternoon, but hopefully keeping our minds on it will mean we’ll get there before the end of the month. Bonne chance (good luck) to us…!

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!