This time last year, one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of my university journey this far was drawing to an end. I am, of course, talking about the first-year summer school to France, Spain or Italy which is, perhaps, one of the biggest selling points of the Modern Languages Department. And rightly so! Three weeks of culture, language and sunshine. Think of it as a trial run for your year abroad, except with the bonus of travelling with your friends, a fraction of the paperwork and no expenses.
I spent three weeks last August in Montpellier, France. My best friend and I were living with the same host-mum, Patricia, whose specialty was cooking an inordinate amount of food and enthusiastically encouraging you to ‘mange plus!’ We quickly realised that, to meet her four-helping expectations, small platefuls were the way to go. While the thought of living with a native and having my every linguistic error noted and corrected terrified me, Patricia did everything possible to make us feel welcome and was kind enough not to cringe when we butchered her language.
The main purpose of the trip was not, unfortunately, to taste every flavour of ice cream on offer or the weekly party held in the square. It was classes at l’Institut Europeen de Français, which occupied our mornings in an attempt to consolidate all that we had learned that year. Three weeks might not sound like long but, when you’re surrounded by people with whom your only common language is often French, the improvement is considerable! While summer classes are certainly not my preferred manner of enjoying the nice weather, I certainly felt more confident about speaking the language when I returned.
For most people the cultural visits to nearby places of interest were the highlight of the trip. While the cheese factory at Roque-Fort, where they serenaded us (or maybe it was for the benefit of the cheese) with opera music received mixed reviews, we also visited the city fort of Carcassonne, the world’s tallest viaduct and Couvertoirade, a hamlet hosting 150 residents which had me seriously debating whether 20 was an acceptable age to retire and emigrate. I’m still not convinced that I made the right decision. Having never visited this region of France before, I was delighted by the opportunity to explore the area and loved it so much that I’m considering finding time next year to return and see it all again!
Taking this trip with some of my closest friends was one of the best adventures of my life and one that, a year later, still comes up in conversation. It has also given me a lot more confidence in the face of my year abroad as that three-week snapshot of what it is like to be fully immersed in a foreign culture and language proved to me that this is something that I am capable of. With two weeks left before I depart for Spain, I am certainly doing my best to remember this!