French students embark on trip to France in June

Lauren Urschel and Sadie Putnam

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The early summer sun is gleaming down on the paved streets of Paris as a group of Americans walk through a crowd of both tourists and natives. Cafes, patisseries and boutiques crowd against each other on either side of the path, their patrons spilling out French in what seems like warp seed to the foreigners.

On June 15, a portion of the French 4 class travelled to France for two weeks for the chance to experience French culture and improve language skills. Among this group of students was senior Hannah St. Clair St. Clair said it took some time for her to decide to go on the trip.

“I actually was not going to go because I was so scared of the language barrier and … getting all the money for it, but my best friend’s mom was like, ‘You’re not passing this up. You need to go on this trip,’ and I was like ‘OK, I’m going to go to Europe,’” St. Clair said. I just kind of pulled the plug like, ‘OK, I’m doing it; I can’t second-guess myself at this point.”

Senior Claire Rips-Goodwin also went on the trip and said the choice to go to France was based on her want to better her French. She said the opportunity to live with a host family would help her with the language.

“I was really excited to see all these beautiful things and be able to spend time with my friends,” Rips-Goodwin said. “I was extremely nervous about the family stay because I was terrified that my host family would hate me. I was worried that my French wasn’t good enough and I’d end up making a fool of myself.”

Like Rips-Goodwin, St. Clair said she was both excited about culture and nervous about the language barrier.

“I thought I was going to get there and forget how to speak it and not be able to form actual sentences and my family would be like, ‘Oh my gosh, a foreigner. She’s such an idiot,’” St. Clair said.

When they arrived in France, Rips-Goodwin said she experienced some difficulties with her American accent and the speed at which the natives spoke, but found amusement in it.

“I had some trouble understanding people when they were speaking at a normal pace,” Rips-Goodwin said. “For example, on the first day me and the other girls from [Blue Valley] Southwest went to a sandwich shop in Paris for lunch and the woman — who was very nice — asked us, in French, how much mayo we’d like on our sandwiches and we all just laughed.”

St. Clair said she also struggled understanding French speakers, as well as speaking it.

“I couldn’t speak as quickly as the natives, obviously, and they would get annoyed with me and the rest of the group and be like, ‘Can we please speak in English?’” St. Clair said. “I understand they don’t want to make it difficult for us, but we were there to speak French and they would speak to us in English like, ‘Oh, they’re just a foreigner. They’re speaking like the basic French phrases,’ and I’m like, ‘No, I know some French, I can speak it to you,’ and they would not be super welcoming to that all the time.”

Along with some difficulties, both St. Clair and Rips-Goodwin said they had enjoyable experiences with the group.

“Some fun moments include — but are not limited to — gossiping with Madame [Emilie] Grant about the other mesdames, getting to experience the fête de la musique, which is a country wide music festival in the streets and eat lots of crêpes,” Rips-Goodwin said.

St. Clair said the majority of the trip was pleasant, especially her time with her host family, which she said helped her speak more frequently and understand more of the language.

“When I was with my host family, it was really fun to be able to be introspectively aware of how much more I comprehended every single day, because the first day I got there, I was just like, ‘Oui, uh-huh, merci,’ and that was all I said for the first two days,” St. Clair said. “Then every day I would slowly be able to comprehend more and more of what they were saying. I think that was what was most exciting for me.”

Senior Katherine Garrett had the opportunity to travel with the group to France, but ulitmately, did not. She said she regrets this decision, but notes that it wasn’t the “right time” for her. Her dream trip to France is a work in progress, however, and it is much like the trip the French students took over the summer.

“If I were to travel to France, I would want to do everything,” Garrett said. “First of all, like most tourists, I must get my tourist duties out of the way. I have to see all of the famous attractions and sites that we have learned about in French class. I want to experience the French culture completely.”

All three students will continue in French 4 this year. Rips-Goodwin and St. Clair plan to obtain a French minor in college. St. Clair said she will try to continue to include French in her life following her graduation from college.

“I don’t know yet, but I’d want to be a kindergarten teacher but if I could do that in a French immersion school, that would be awesome,” St. Clair said. “Or if I even taught abroad and taught English in a French-speaking school, I think it would be a good experience for me to do it throughout my life and not just stop after college.”

To those thinking of going to France — or any foreign-speaking country — St. Clair said to ‘just go for it,’ as the opportunity may be fleeting. Rips-Goodwin said those who are considering learning a new language or going to a foreign-speaking country should have open minds before travelling.

“A lot of things are going to feel very similar to here in the US, but just slightly different,” Rips-Goodwin said. “It kind of feels like a cultural uncanny valley in that way, so it’s incredibly important to keep an open mind and not think about everything relative to American culture. Yes, things are different, but they’re not worse nor better. Differences are what make things exciting and experiencing them is the best part of travelling.”

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