Our Meet an AUCP Student series continues, read on to see what an AUCP experience looks like in Marseille!
Bonjour ! For starters, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Sarah Elena. I’m from El Paso Texas, and I’m a Political Science and Environmental Studies major at Austin College. Last semester at Austin, I lived in the French section of the « Jordan Language House », which caters to students studying different languages. Actually, a teaching assistant from Aix-en-Provence lived with us, and I spoke French with her and my housemates already back at school. In general, I like meeting new people and I’m a real Francophile, I love the French language.
Tell us about your language partners.
My language partner Marine is great! She’s so nice, and is truly interested in me and my story. It’s funny because she can speak a little English, so she helps me with my translations. We get along really well. Recently, we spent a day walking all around Marseille and she showed me her favorite places.
What are you doing for your community service?
I work at Vélos en Ville, an association that repairs bicycles and promotes “bike culture” in order to reduce the number of cars on the road in Marseille. It’s fun because there are always lots of people there and they’re all different. It’s funny because I had absolutely no idea how to fix a bicycle, it’s hard! But it’s fun to learn and I really enjoy it.
Can you tell us a little bit about your host family?
Ohh!! I live with Marie-Paule in the Noailles neighborhood of Marseille. It’s a really diverse area with people who come from all over North Africa and elsewhere. Sometimes when you cross the street, you can hear people speaking Arabic and other languages, in addition to French. All of the shops are really diverse and different, I love it! My host mom’s apartment is really close to the center: the Vieux Port, Cours Julien, the open air market… and with several tram and metro stops right nearby, it’s easy to get around. It’s a great neighborhood and I honestly find it really interesting.
I’m having a great time with Marie-Paule. She’s just so so nice, and even though I don’t live with a big family, we’ve created our own kind of “real family” between the two of us. We’re really close and we talk a lot, she’s so warm and welcoming and I really enjoy spending time discussing my day with someone older than myself.
What is your favorite class so far?
I really like the class Linguistic Strategies for Integration. The professor, Noëlle, is great! The class helps us with useful French for written and oral expression, and it’s geared towards native English speakers in France. It’s really the foundation for all my other classes, because it helps me get better grades across the board. It’s also really practical because we learn lots of new words and phrases, and we can ask Noëlle anything. But I have to say it’s really hard to answer this question because all of the classes are really good.
What club or personal interest activity did you choose?
I chose to join the Club Baret Gym, which is close to my house. I work out a lot in the States and it was really important for me to continue doing that. I also enjoy meeting people here who have the same interests as me.
How would you sum up your first months at the AUCP?
My life at the AUCP and all of the professors who work here, it’s perfect. Everyone is just so nice and really makes a sincere effort to make sure that everything is going well for us. The excursion we had on our first weekend here was with AUCP students from both Marseille and Aix. It was great. I admit though that it was a serious adjustment to not be able to express myself as clearly as I’m used to in English. It’s a real challenge to speak in French all of the time, but I feel that I’m becoming more and more at ease with the French language.
Before leaving for Fez, what did you imagine Morocco would be like?
A few days before leaving for Morocco, I tried to avoid having a preconceived idea of what it would be like. I wanted it to be a surprise. I knew that it would be extremely different: the houses, the value system, and the way of living. I just wanted to be open and hope for the best. I was a little scared but I was really excited for the experience.
Did you have a favorite experience or an experience that surprised you?
I think one of my favorite experiences was our participation in a debate around the subject of veiled women in Islam, with young Moroccan women our age. It was an open discussion on a very complex subject that is often hard to understand for Westerners. It’s a very complex issue; clearly it isn’t just about covering one’s hair or face…it’s something that is truly part of the society and culture. It gave me insight into what motivates young Moroccan women to wear the veil, and it really was really eye-opening to hear about the subject from their point of view.
Anything else you want to add about your experience in Morocco?
My host family was in the Medina, which is the old city of Fez that dates back to the 13th century. My Moroccan host family lived in a huge traditional house within the winding maze of narrow streets, It was like going into another world. There were fourteen people in my host family, all living together! Given the cultural differences, I found it really interesting that French was so present in Fez. In my host family, we discussed government, cultural values and religion. Being a Westerner, I admit that it wasn’t always easy for me to understand certain arguments or ways of life, but I never felt left out or excluded.
In our French & North African Cultural Patterns course with Professors Jean-Michel Cosse & Sylvie Requemora, we learned how Morocco is a collectivist society that has different concepts of proximity, time and space. But it’s all pretty abstract before you’re actually there. It really prepared me for a lot of the discussions and experiences I had with my Moroccan language partner and host family. Overall, it was an amazing experience.