Arrival in France / Paris / Rennes
Stepping off the plane and into the first week of my program in Rennes was an absolute whirlwind. Fun, chaotic, unexpected and jetlagged. During the flight I sat next to a friendly dude named Pierre who tolerated my attempt at practicing the language. After sleeping maybe five hours, non continuous, I rushed off the plane and through immigration. I have only dealt with immigration two other times in my life: once going to Costa Rica, and the second time on my return to the United States. Costa Rican immigration I hardly remember due to being fatigued, and American immigration was a nightmare. With this in mind, I expected the worst. So when it was in-and-out, under five minutes dealing with French immigration, I was thoroughly and pleasantly surprised. The hardest part of the trip was navigating Charles de Gaulle all by myself. For a French native Charles de Gaulle is a headache. Now imagine me, a jetlagged foreigner who is using all of my five hours of sleep to process and speak in French, navigating Charles-de-Gaulle. Good news is I found the meeting spot for our group. It took ten minutes of blindly wandering, a conversation with some door-guard-guys in French, a map, and the terminal connecting train ride.
We began the program with two days in Paris in the fourth arrondissement. The first day was the longest day of my life so far. However, we did see Notre Dame, walk along the Seine, and begin learning more details about the remainder of the program. Protip: DON’T REST YOUR PHONE ON THE WALL OF THE SEINE. We had one girl, bless her heart, who did that and we shared a moment of terror so great it left us both speechless- watching her phone fall into the Seine.
Day two we visited the Eiffel Tower, l’Hôtel de ville, the Louvre, and Sacré-Coeur. There is nothing quite like eating a Croque-Monsieur from a street vendor in the grass under the Eiffel Tower. (Seriously-do it! You won’t regret it). Or, try a cafe au lait in Montmartre, sitting in the sun. Yes, these are some of the most touristy things ever but how many times in your life can you say you’ve had a Croque-Monsieur and cafe au lait in Paris?
Day three we transferred to Rennes. Our stop in Chartres along the way was not only beautiful, inspiring, and a spiritual experience all on its own, but it also helped distract me from how anxious I was to meet my famille d'accueil. Entering the Cathedral of Chartres was absolutely breathtaking. You could feel the energy from thousands of years of worship permeating from the walls themselves. I honestly have very few words to describe Chartres because visiting the Cathedral and seeing all of the history unfold before my eyes left me speechless.
And then, meeting my host family. It was my host mom, Cecile, who picked me up from Rennes 2. In all honesty, she was the opposite of what I expected. She is super laid back, friendly, loves to live and laugh. I had thought my host mom would be all stuffy and proper. Instead, I was placed with, in my own humble opinion, the best family in the program. She made me feel comfortable and at ease right away. That night I met my two host brothers, my host dad, and a friend of theirs who stopped by for dinner. We laughed, joked about languages, had a lovely conversation about tattoos and their opinion on them.
Day one navigating Rennes was made easier by my older host brother dropping me off and riding the bus and metro with me to Rennes 2. After that it was a lot, and I mean a lot, of informational meetings and waiting in lines. However, I was capable of carrying on a conversation with the woman who worked at the bus pass place and another woman who worked at the bureau de tabac. (No I wasn’t buying cigarettes, you can buy a monthly phone plan there.) I knew I definitely had a long way to go with my proficiency and mastery of the French language, but being able to make myself understood by two native speakers was a much needed ego boost.
In closing, the first month is going to be hard. I won't sugar coat it for you. Even if you found French classes in your home country easy, you will struggle, and that’s okay. Expected even. That first week especially is a whirlwind and everyday is a surprise but don’t sweat it. Have fun, learn, grow, and truly embrace the experience.
Northern Illinois University
When I decided to study away in Rennes, I knew that I would spend part of my time going to shops throughout various parts of Rennes. Most of the time... keep reading