Our Meet an AUCP Study Abroad student blog series continues with Kaitlin, a full-year student from New York and Boston, currently studying abroad at the AUCP in Aix-en-Provence. A French major minoring in Anthropology from Colby College, Kaitlin began her French studies in middle school and is also the President of the Colby French club.
Bonjour ! For starters, can you tell us why you chose the AUCP?
Well, I knew that I didn’t want to go to Paris. Paris is beautiful, but it’s cold! I wanted a smaller city, I wanted greenery. I’d been to Paris before and noticed that the Parisians tended to switch to English all the time, as soon as they heard an accent. I knew that I wanted to go abroad to practice French all the time. And, the 300 days of sunshine in Provence doesn’t hurt either!
Can you tell us about your language partners?
During my first semester, my language partners were Adeline and Mailys. Adeline & I, we got along really well. We spent a lot of time together, hanging out at least twice a week either for lunch or going out in the evenings. She’s from a town near Monaco, so she took me to Monaco and Nice and showed me where she grew up! It was really cool. Mailys goes to Sciences Po (a prestigious French university) so she had a lot of school work. But we managed to find time to eat lunch together each week. This semester, Adeline is studying abroad and Mailys is just swamped with her last semester of school, so the AUCP gave me new language partners to meet and hang out with. I actually had met Baptiste last semester, he has a big group of friends and they do everything together: dinners, going out, etc. They’re just so nice and inviting, and they’re some of my favorite people that I’ve met since coming to France.
I think that the language partner aspect is one of the best parts of the AUCP program, because not only do you have your own language partners, but you also meet other people’s language partners. You can really spend time with different groups of French students at any given time.
What are you doing for your community service?
I work at l’ACLAP, it’s an association that arranges visits with elderly people who are alone and simply need someone to talk to. I spend two hours a week with Philomène, she’s 92! She’s so sweet, and really interesting. She’s lived in the Aix/Marseille region her entire life. We talk, drink coffee, last time we played cards… once she shared her Christmas traditions with me and explained the story behind the nativity scene that she’d set up.
Can you tell us a little bit about your host family?
Françoise, my first host mom, is an extraordinary cook – seriously the best cooking I’ve ever tasted. We’re got pretty close close, we watched several movies together (in French of course). Once Françoise, her family and I went mushroom picking in the forest. I was really bad at picking the right mushrooms apparently, but it was fun all the same. Françoise had to move in the middle of the year (she still lives in Aix, but too far away to take the bus to school). I was lucky enough that my second host mom ended up being her friend Annie who lives closer by, whom I knew really well already. We talk a lot; we have a lot of common interests. We went to Antibes and Cassis together recently, and we keep in close contact with Françoise and see her as often as we can.
What have been your favorite classes so far?
Last semester’s “English to French Translation” was a fantastic class. I really like working with the texts, and I made the surprising discovery that translating is like art. Through word choices, phrasing, punctuation, each person creates a text that is their own. Francesca is a great professor and incredibly patient. This semester, I’m really enjoying the Culture & Business of French Wines with Joël Corre. It’s an opportunity that I would have never had back home. I really enjoy learning about the process of how the wine is made, the different wine regions, and on top of it, tasting some of the best wines in France.
This semester, I’m doing direct enrollment at Sciences Po, the professors are great and it’s cool to be in class with other French students. The classes are lecture style, so it’s definitely a rich experience to have both the intimate Franco-American style classes at the AUCP, as well as the purely French lecture style classes at Sciences Po.
What club or personal interest activity did you choose?
Last semester, I did yoga and Zumba. There are also free Salsa dancing classes at the French university across the street from the AUCP that I’d been wanting to try and I finally went last week for the first time. I loved the music, I loved the ambiance…but unfortunately, I’m a horrible dancer! I felt bad for my dance partners! It was interesting how the French don’t seem to see Salsa as a stereotypically feminine thing to do, there were way more guys than I expected, and they were there to really learn. I was reassured to see that there were other bad dancers like myself, at least I’m not alone. They have a “beginner’s hour” at the end of each class to get us up to par, so I’ll try and go back.
How would you sum up your experience thus far here at the AUCP?
My first semester was hard, but in a good way. It was a huge learning experience. In one semester, I learned more about myself, about life, about French…about everything really, than I had in years. That said, I admit that when I got home for the holidays, I had some doubts. I started to get scared of missing out on stuff with my friends, at my university…I was back in my comfort zone and I wasn’t feeling as excited as I thought I would to come back to Aix.
But, as soon as I got back to the AUCP, everything fell into place, and I realized how happy I am to be staying a full year. I think everything clicked into place when I saw the new Spring students arrive. Looking at their experience within the perspective of my own semester, I could literally see how far I’d come. I’d worked so hard during the Fall semester to establish relationships with the city, the language, my host family and my French friends, and I was just starting to be able to take advantage of all of that work at the end. I realized that I’d really started to “live” at the end of the first semester. For the next four months, I can “relax” and take advantage of the foundation that I’ve been building since September. I truly feel like I have a life in France now, and I’m really excited to live it.