I live still, yes, despite my one-week absence, and in France! It is still all too surreal, probably because the process which has lead to my being here was long, frustrating and tiring. Nevertheless, I am here in Nantes and am lucky to have a really nice host family, and meet really interesting people.
My first day in Nantes, after many-a-lugging suitcases, and one expensive taxi ride, I found myself in the small apartment that is called IES Center, in the center of the city, completely exhausted not only from the 40-hour flight but also from dragging my 3 suitcases up 3 flights of stairs. All the new students, barely known to each other, did their small talks of “my name is …” and ” i’m from…”, such and such. We were all to wait for our host family to come and meet us at the center, thus creating a common atmosphere of anxiousness each time the doorbell rang, as to whose host ‘ mother’ or ‘father’ it would be next. It was practically like an adoption center, as everyone was hoping the next doorbell would reveal their home for the following semester. You sense this certain air of jealousy and a little desperation, each time another student runs to get his/her stuff to leave with the new family.
Monsieur Thierry Brecard, my host father for the semester, arrived quite early, hence ending my initial anxiousness and curiosity, which later turned into simple awe at the beauty of the Brecard’s apartment. Pardon my being cheesy and lame, but, it just looked so french, cozy, and welcoming, with a calm blend of warm hues in between numerous antiques and paintings. I was, as you can imagine, a bit stupefied. Monsieur and Madame Brecard are probably in their late 50s, early 60s, as they are both retired. Madame Brecard teaches classes of painting on ceramics, which explains a bit the plentiful of porcelains in the house and Monsieur Brecard, who used to work in real estate, is a wonderful talker and has an unbelievably humorous personality. He also can speak English quite well, but he only helps me out when I’m really trapped on the french island :P. They have 2 kids, Alexandre, 23 and Eloise, 17. The son, whom I met the first night, has actually gone to the US to study for the semester, thus leaving a room to me. The room is awesome and there is WIFI! Eloise is the most fashionable 17-yr-old I have ever seen, which leads me to my first moments of cultural shock in France.
I had finished taking a bath, so I put on this sweatshirt, and with my wet hair still, I descended barefoot for dinner thinking it’s completely normal to do so (yes, I’m weird)…only to find the whole family and a friend of Alexandre, who is a girl and also very fashionable, mind you…there….in very proper, elegant clothes, with jewelry, make-up and leather boots. It would have been too weird to run up and change and so, me wet-hair, barefoot, sweatshirt, sat there feeling even more out of place as french came blazing across through one ear and out the other. The dinner was, nevertheless delicious and I was able to have good conversation with the family. I think, I have been adapting quite well to the food…it’s undeniable, french cuisine… and my host mom (and dad, mind you) cook amazing food. The first night went well, I thought, minus the small wardrobe malfunction ^^.
The next 3 days was actually offsite orientation in another city called Tours, and we got the chance to visit many a castles that are along the Loire River. We stayed in a small hotel, in which they served more than enough food…i’m still trying everyday to fit the- 3 -or- more- courses- in- a- meal- french-culture in my stomach, it’s completely impossible to do so at lunch and I foresee days of weight gain by the end of this stay. It all tastes excellent though, with the exception of one or two really bizarre, fishy dishes, which I avoid to recall. The castles were breathtaking, much more in person than through pictures which I have seen…and I post some here for your enjoyment. The amount of traveling in those three days though, plus the three-hour placement exam, I think, exceeded, my capacity and perhaps that of many others, to avoid jet-lag.
So, in my return to Nantes, I really appreciated the trip but I was drained to the last bit of energy…The real orientation will actually last all this week. Since yesterday, we have been in a room, with breaks in between of course, from 9:30 am to 5:45 pm, listening to all sorts of should, should-nots, precautions in french life, and french language. I give you, before I am obliged to go bed for tomorrow’s session, one of the many amusing language precautions IES has given us: the word “preservatif” does not actually mean the equivalent english “preservatives”….if you say “are there any ‘preservatifs’ in my food?” in french, it very well means “are there any condoms in my food?”. Thanks to IES, we know well now that if we were to ask for “preservatives”, you must say “conservateur” and not the ‘ other word’…Shocked just a bit more every single day, I bid you farewell for the night. A bientot!