Student Journals: AIFS in Grenoble, France

Evette Lang
Howard University
University of Grenoble, France

October

Evette long and friends
Kim, Matt and Evette in Grenoble.

I love Jesus, I love my family, and I love food. My life really is that simple. So, obviously what astounds and fascinates me most here in Grenoble has been my experience with the food. I never knew that such a different world existed and was only a stove away!

Even before I could enter into this new dimension, the first thing that I had to get over was the time-frames that have been set for mealtimes. The French are so persistant in their routines, especially the one where it is only proper to eat thrice a day. It's not weird, just different from what I am used to. And, it is not that easy to break that rule because most restaurants are only open during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So, once I established self-control – yes, I admit that I had allowed my stomach to control me – I then had to be open-minded about everything else, including food.

When I met my family, it was like love at first sight, but when I found out that I wouldn't get meat three times a week, much less three times a day, I thought I would die (or have to change families). Oh, what a difference French cuisine and Pascale (my mom) can make. Every meal that I have had at my house for dinner has been a new experience and adventure. Literally! Before studying abroad this semester, I had never had quiche, paté, radishes, zuchinnis, crêpes, creamed spinach, semoule, and the list goes on and on (there about twenty more dishes not including dessert). But I am loving every moment of it.

Last night, going against everything that my own culture has taught me about frying all my food and making sure that everything is cooked thoroughly, if not burned, I ate a crêpe topped with ham and an egg. Like an afterthought, the egg was not cooked, only purposely placed before I was served. So, keeping with my upbringing, I ate what was set in front of me. Verdict: It was good, and I'll try it again…and again.

So, to be honest, that first week and a half, I did find myself in McDonalds almost every evening before dinner, but now things have changed. After a month, I know not to eat certain of the wax that gives cheese its shape. I know not to put my bread on my plate. I know not to eat before the lady of the house (that's politesse). And I know not to expect dinner before eight. But, I know how to eat everything on my plate and to mop all the remains up with bread and eat that too. I know that dinner is the best meal of the day because it means time with the entire family and meaningful conversation (which of course is the perfect opportunity to practice my French). And I know how to be open-minded because a great world lies ahead, and it's only a spoon away.


November

So, the French experience is all about getting used to what I am not used to, exploring new waters. I am used to my soul, hip hop, gospel, and R&B. So, I knew that I would have no way to keep up with the latest in music when I arrived in France. I was right, but I was wrong at the same time. The French don't do gospel (or maybe they can't) but they have R&B. Now that I am here, I'm disgusted with the fact that the youth is so in love with American Rap and R&B artists.

Anyway, I gave up all 25 CDs that I so deliberately and systematically chose from my collection back home. Fortunately, my French mom loves gospel (and like I said earlier, the French can't do it like the originals), so I am letting her borrow them for the next few months. That left me with a CD player and my one French CD with songs like "In the Jungle." That just wasn't going to work. So, to my local neighborhood-friendly FNAC. I had been watching some music videos and someone had caught my ear, not to mention my eye, so I went to the FNAC with the intentions to preview his CD. I ended up buying it. Thus begins my story.

In the last six weeks, I have learned a lot from this artist (Gage). Though music is a universal language in itself, one must learn the lyrics to the songs that one listens to. It is not enough to know the words, one must also know the meaning. Consequently, I have spent my free time translating the songs on my Gage CD. I'm not the brightest crayon in the box, but during class, I recognize words and phrases that were once foreign to me…briser - as in break my heart - and quand même - as in I'll love you just the same. I'm learning tenses and my vocabulary is growing!

After having my CD for about a month, who would have a concert in Grenoble, but my favorite French musical artist (actually, the only French artist that I am familiar with). This gave me the opportunity to practice my French with the people who work at the ticket office, and to experience an authentic French concert, not something catered for Americans or foreigners. The concert was excellent, it was held at a club, but there was no dancing, just people who wanted to listen to their favorite artist in a friendly laid-back environment. So, I've learned, and perhaps I already knew this, that learning is taking place outside of the classroom just as much, if not more than it inside if only you let it.

"Language Relationships"

On September 29 I broke it off with a friend that I had known for the majority of my life. I realized that I didn't need him anymore, especially now that I'm in France. Yeah, it was hard, but sometimes you have to let go in order to grow and learn more about the world around you. I don't mean to sound shallow, but I felt like I didn't need him; he was holding me back from achieving my goals, so I turned him loose. But, he stays in my mind, and when I must, I use him – once a week during my European Union class. Yes, I'm talking about my English.

After switching back and forth between French and English between classes and free time, I figured that I was going to have to call it quits with one. The logical, and only option was English. So how goes my life without my life-long friend? Just fine! In fact, it was a great idea because now I even speak to myself in French. I admit that the beginning was a bit difficult, especially since the first day of my commitment was during the three-day excursion with AIFS, where everyone else could speak and understand English. How did I make the change you ask? First I lived a double life with things in both languages- my Bible, the DaVinci Code, films in English with French subtitles. Then, I slowly cut off my English. I bought the Chronicles of Narnia (all seven) in French, and now I use an actual French dictionary instead of the French-English dictionary. All the films that I have seen have been in version française. I pray in French, I read French newspapers and magazines, and finally, I go to Bible study weekly, where everyone speaks French.

So, I gave up an old friend to get better acquainted with a new one, but there will be plenty of time to mend the broken relationship when I return to the States. Until then, I'm enjoying myself, and my French friends can enjoy me even more now that they know what I am saying.


December

"Church and the Fire"

I’ve been in France for over three months now, and I only have nine days left to enjoy my experience. During my stay, I have not taken a single excursion out of France to the oh-so-accessible countries nearby. Even now; I’m contemplating whether I will go to Geneva this weekend, and do I regret my decision to stay within France’s borders? No, not one bit. After ‘tromp’ing the placement exam, I was more determined than ever to live in France and learn the language and not just study abroad. So, how do I do that? I meet people. But where? At the same exact place that I meet people back home, my heart – the church. Yeah, the food changes, the language, the length of my showers, and how often I eat meals, but the Word remains the same. And luckily for me, just like Christians love each other in the US, they love each other here too, and welcome newcomers with open arms. So, I found a church, actually, AIFS provided the address and I just went. It has turned out to be one of the best parts of my learning experience.

Each Sunday (those where AIFS doesn’t have a planned excursion), I go to Eglise Evangelique Protestante on rue Germain. From the beginning, I was a bit lost and all I could understand were the important words, like Dieu, grâce, amour- things like that. Even worst; I felt a bit awkward because my Bible was huge compared to everyone else’s. After a couple of Sundays, I finally slowed down and stopped being afraid of the unknown, of someone approaching me and wanting to have a long drawn-out conversation. So, one Sunday, as I was walking a bit hurriedly to the door, someone stopped me and asked me my name. This wasn’t a problem because I had already met others and such conversation doesn’t require much dialogue. Then the lady, who happened to be very close to my age started telling me about something called the FEU. Within a week, the FEU had become something like my best friend.

FEU stands for Foyer Evangelique Universitaire. I go to the FEU each Sunday, Monday, and Thursday afternoon. On Mondays, I meet with others my age and we have Bible Study, and on Thursdays, other Bible Study groups join us and we have group discussions, game night, or a soirée with a theme. Sunday at the FEU is basically fellowship. Each of these afternoons, I join whoever else is there, and we have dinner. At the FEU, I also have free internet access and as much French conversation as I want. Much of my time is spent with my friends from the church.

Going to the FEU has really helped me to learn the language, even if it is biblical vocabulary. Some people may think that I am being “deep” with my conversation when I talk about my soul, my spirit, but that’s because I read my French Bible and religious literature instead of the newspaper, and I use what I know. Because of my interaction at church and the FEU, I actually know French people and not just students. Now, while walking in Centre Ville, I’m not so surprised if someone calls my name, or if I recognise faces. I’ve made friends here, and missing the rest of Europe has been worth this experience.

"Crew"

I’m a healthy person (when I want to be), and I try my best to stay in shape. In deciding to study abroad, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to remain physically active. In the states, I was a member of the women’s flag football team, but unfortunately “football americain” doesn’t exist here and I am not a fan of soccer. When it came time to sign up for activities, I decided to try my hand at crew, aka aviron. On the first day of the activity, it took me and two other friends over an hour to find the Grenoble Crew Club (obviously, some French are as bad at giving directions as some Americans). When we finally found it, we were given instructions how to “faire l’aviron”. This had to take place because we were all beginners. After a practice run in a stationary boat submerged in water, we all headed out to the docks.

I’m not always that bright, but I was pretty sure that we were all going to watch the experts that day. Was I ever wrong!!! We all got a chance to go out on the river. This may sound marvellous, but imagine being in a boat with four other people who have never practiced crew before in their lives. Three of which are American. Sadly for us, the other person was French and so were all the instructors. The instructors in the motor boat spent half the time yelling directions that I couldn’t understand. What’s worse, when they figured out that we were American they tried to give us directions in English that weren’t clear at all. All the time while I was in the boat, I was worrying about what I would do if the boat tipped over (I hadn’t been swimming in over a year). After an hour, we had all gotten the hang of it to some degree and were able to turn the boat around and safely arrive at the dock. That first day was dreadful. Crew required more muscle activity than I had expected and my entire body was sore. Fortunately, the more I came to understand the art of crew, the more I enjoyed it.

"Language Classes"

The fact that the location of the class changes daily, there is no minority race, and only the teacher knows the direction in which the course is going makes my French Language class all the more enjoyable. My learning experience at Stendhal is nothing like I had expected. The fact that I spend ten hours a week learning French apart from what I learn in the streets, at the movies, and at home, doesn’t diminish at all my eagerness to go to class and be there on time even when the class begins at 8h30 in the morning. The course follows no visible outline; we just learn what we didn’t know before, and somehow, we make progress. The workload here has been heavy, but I didn’t notice until recently when I ran out of space in my notebook. For the average person, this wouldn’t mean much, but for me, it means a lot because one page handwritten equals a page typed in 12 point font.

I was scared before coming to Grenoble because I heard that the grading system was out of this world, and that only rocket scientists made perfect scores. This is partially true. No one makes a perfect score, but you still earn what you have worked for. The grading is just. The teachers aren’t horrid. In fact, they are extraordinary. They are aware of the learning styles of each nationality, and cater the course to improve our weaknesses and maintain our strong points. During class, we spent the majority of the time expressing ourselves orally and reading texts. If the teacher saw that we had a problem with grammar, she would take time out to review or teach that material.

Overall the French education system baffles me. I am a secondary education minor, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out how a teacher can teach 2 Latinos, 1 Canadian, 1 Japanese, 3 Chinese, 1 Korean, 1 Swedish, and 6 Americans (all of different ethnic backgrounds) in a language that they don’t fully understand to learn that language! Anyhow, it works, and that’s amazing!

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