(I wrote this post on the train from Tours to Paris a week and a half ago but haven't gotten around to posting it until now. The rest of my Eurotrip posts will probably have to wait until I'm home.)
Compared to Argentina and Senegal, my time in France seemed easy in a lot of ways: host family, culture, physical distance, even food, though I wouldn't say my host family's attempts at vegetarian cooking were gourmet. But the experience was meaningful in other ways. In language accomplishments, in exploring the area, in getting to know the city, in enjoying the last little leg of a whirlwind year that I can't believe is coming to a close.
In terms of language: I loved that this time really allowed me to focus on French and quickly improve. You never see the progress while you're making it, so I didn't realize until I arrived in Tours how much of the language I'd picked up while in Senegal. Since my only formal background was two years of class in middle school and a few hours of tutoring in Senegal, I was in a weird place, knowing close to no grammar but being able to function in everyday French already. My daily classes at Tours definitely helped with that, and I'm planning this summer to try to cement more of my grammatical knowledge since I know that that will raise my level of speaking and writing fast.
Some parts of class at L'Institut de Touraine were very helpful, like phonetics lessons that focused on the small, key details of vowel distinctions and elusive consonant sounds. Others were fun, like making skits with my classmates or narrative writing exercises. I was less enamored with some other lessons, like when we reviewed vocabulary from a reading exercise. Being the only native English speaker in my class, a lot of "big" words were obvious cognates to me, while my mostly Asian and Arab classmates struggled.
Like in Senegal, out-of-the-classroom opportunities were just as important for learning. Talking to friends (especially the Asians and Arabs who didn't speak English), grocery shopping, eating dinner with our host family. My favorite dinners were with just the kids of the host family - some or all of the five teenagers in the blended family. While the parents were lovely and welcoming, somehow in their absence we all felt more at ease to chat about American TV shows and laugh at the funny things that had happened that day. One of the most fun nights was when our university-student host sister was having people over and invited us to join, so Maddy and I sat on the porch with Océane and her law school friends, eating dinner and discussing everything from music to McDonald's. I don't always understand the rapid-fire French, but I usually can at least follow the conversation.
Tours is not a big city, so I quickly got to know my corner of it. I'd see the same people every day while on the elliptical at the gym with the elaborate antique wall moldings. I had a defined but oft-expanding ground of friends with a collection of favorite haunts from coffee shops to bars. We'd go out on weekends to Place Plumereau in the center of town, an excellent people-watching spot. We'd spend weekend afternoons at a local park or by the river or hanging out in a friend's apartment. Maddy and I were regulars at both the falafel and naan fast-food restaurants. We made a point to see Touraine, going to new châteaux every Wednesday. I wouldn't want to life in Tours indefinitely, but for a short time, it was perfect.
Another great French practice, even if it wasn't intended to be, was spending hours at the train station in Tours with Maddy reserving tickets for us and Tamar to take our two-week Eurotrip before heading home May 12. Even more than the rest of my gap year, France has forced me to budget, and deal with logistics, and actually plan. I've had to be independent and responsible and accountable. But I've also had the ability to travel and move about more freely than ever. Going to Ireland that weekend in April already feels like a dream but was so worth it. Things like that - taking initiative, making decisions, paying with my own money, planning what to do and how to get places. And sometimes just taking the leap of clicking "Confirm" on the Ryanair website even if it's a little bit impulsive. So while planning our two weeks of train travel was challenging - we're budget-conscious and severely time restricted but very ambitious - the trip has worked out thanks to our organization and forethought.
It's lovely how many moments I've had on this trip, and this year, where I realize there's nowhere I'd rather be than right here, right now. I'm going to carry that feeling, and everything I've learned this year, with me to school and beyond.