I am the type of exhausted that only 2 hours of soccer in light French rain with swarthy French college students on a gravel soccer pitch can make you feel. I'm the type of well-fed that only a customary 9 o'clock 3.5 course French dinner with salad, plat principal, cheese, and after dinner tea, can make you feel. In fact, I'm getting the proportions of mind blowing and entertaining that only a study away overseas in a foreign language can give you.
Do you ever have one of those days where everything swings into stride? You awake after a tidy 7.5 hour sleep to French talk radio announcing that this weekend will be the first sunny one since you arrived nearly 2 weeks ago. Just enough time to pack a lunch of leftovers from last night's dinner cooked with friends, banter a bit with your house mother and the maid who comes on Mondays, and forget to pick the things up off your floor (again) as you dash out the back gate of the garden to catch the bus. You know the stops well enough now to read on the way towards the first real class of the semester, only pausing to hit the "Arrete demande" button, deftly sweeping out from between the hissing rear bus doors to be greeted by the leering Johnny Depp, wiping what is presumably blood from a barber's razor. "Le Diabolique Barbier de Fleet Street" posters have just arrived for the upcoming release of a film that has doubtlessly been playing in the U.S. for a couple weeks. No time for Sondheim music or cannabalism now because your French grammar professor has this charming way of chewing out people who cross her, and your thusfar successful attempts to laugh off her criticism would best be saved for later.
The Peugots and Citroens seem to hurry themselves out of your way, not wanting to break your stride across the few streets you cross en route to your class in the centre ville. Class is smooth and no homework given, since although not exactly a university your study abroad program is decidedly european and this mean the teachers don't tell you precisely what to do for their course. We're told that European professors see their job as being to deliver a course. Not hold discussions, or assign and correct homework. They deliver info, you absorb and practice etc and then you deliver on your controle or exam at the mid or end of term. None of this bothers you in the least- you haven't even committed to courses yet and you'll be showing up to as many as you feel like before coming to a decision in the week to come.
After reheated (and cheap!) lunch in the little dining room with your fellow study abroad Americans, chatting in broken French about the successful soirees of the weekend, you ally with a group in search of sports. The street-car-esque Tramway seems to find you, and you happen to stand in the exact spot where the door comes to rest, opening with a conviviality that only efficient public transportation can offer. Arriving at the University of Nantes, the land of French speaking classmates to come, you and your foreign friends make the pleasant discovery that registering to participate in sports in groups of 2 saves you each about 18 euro. Super chouette! That's more than a week of lunches, or a pretty good night out on the town. You get yet another goofy ID photo taken and receive yet another plastic card covered with some combination of trivial identifying factoids and your face. Register for soccer? Great! Register for a capoeira class? Why not? What better place than France to learn a Brazilian martial art?
Parting with your American friends, the crowd seem to part as you decide that you may as well pass the time before soccer by attending an astrophysics course at the nearby Faculte de Sciences, which who knows, you might like to take. Finding it before it starts is the real trick, but between a simple conversation with the bonhomme at the Centre d'Acceuil and running into a fellow student looking for the very same class, things continue to fall into place. With the international power of two, no lecture room can remain unfound.
The prof arrives some minutes late, and you get to hear your first ever scientific lecture in French. Surprising, the vocab is relatively easy to pick up since technical terms seem to be specific by nature. It's the names of common symbols and mathematical expressions that you later decide to find a reference for, since those are concepts not being written out and explained, not even in your second language for the understanding of a cultural reference you're only beginning to wrap your mind around. Turns out you learned most of the content of this course in the one week crash course in astrophysics for your NASA summer internship 2 years ago. Bof. Well, there are more science courses.
You're the first one out of the lecture hall and the Tram pulls up just as you approach to return you 2 stops to the soccer pitch. 90 minutes and some dozen 7on7 matches later, you're back on the bus towards your delightful host family home just outside the coeur de ville. Nantes is looking like a pretty decent city. And with only a few hours by TGV high speed train to Paris, and something like 3 weeks of break between now and May, the choices are looking pretty wide open.
Tonight, you'll sleep heavily and well. Maybe in another few weeks you'll hit the true language threshold... and start dreaming in French.
Above: At the height of French communication technology.
Below: At the height of French 17th century architecture.