A Taste of France

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The weather in Michigan is getting colder and colder, so let’s think back to sunnier skies and warmer breezes. For Jayla Irons, last summer meant intensive language classes, exploring châteaux, and hot summer nights in Place Plumereau, the hot spot for after-class dinners and drinks in the city of Tours, France. Jayla Irons graduated after her summer abroad in Tours with a major in Political Science with a focus in Race & Ethnicity, and a minor in French Language, Literature, and Culture. She is currently pursuing a research position while she takes a year or two off before returning to school for her Master’s.  

Jayla has been studying French at MSU for years, but the highlight of her language learning experience was her time in Tours. This past summer, she participated in the Intensive French Program at the Institut de Touraine. Although she had classes Monday through Friday, she had plenty of time to explore the city and its surrounding areas on her own and with friends. She says the thing she appreciated most about the program was its emphasis on life outside of class. She had plenty of breaks between classes, took long lunches in the bustling plazas, and experienced productivity outside of the American “hustle mindset.” Discovering this pace of life was a culture shock, but a welcome one. 

This pace even impacted her student life. Although she expected to be placed in a more accelerated class, Jayla came to realize her class placement was the perfect place for her to be. The courses at the Institut are taught entirely in French, and she found slowing down a bit to be helpful for her language learning experience. The classes were more focused on in-class lectures than out of class assignments, and the majority of the grade was composed of her biweekly exams. The classes were, as the name suggests, intense, but she noticed her French skills rapidly improving during the program. 

Immersion in a language is the best way to learn. Fortunately, the learning doesn’t end at the classroom door in Tours. The school organized several excursions and activities for the students to participate in. They toured tons of châteaux, Jayla’s favorite being Château de Chenonceau. She was fascinated by the many stories surrounding the castle, as well as the different styles of French and Italian design. She also got the chance to fight off beignet-hungry pigeons at Mont-Saint-Michel and dine on mussels in the beach town of Saint Malo, peculiarly located in the northwest of France. In addition to the excursions, the school organized activity nights such as quiche and crêpe cooking classes, and a French swearing workshop. 

Jayla lived with a host family that was discouraged to speak English over the summer, where she shared the house with up to four other international students, a host sister whom she grew close to, and a host mother with whom she was able to discuss cultural differences. Many people in France made assumptions about Jayla, asking her where in Africa she was from and some even going as far as to not believe her when she explained she was from the United States. This had initially included her host mother, who had hosted African students but never any African American students. Fortunately, her host mother was very willing to learn, and the two were able to have an open dialogue (en français!) about the disconnect. 

One of Jayla’s favorite opportunities was getting to spend a weekend in Paris with her new friends. She shared an AirBnB with them in Montmartre, a neighborhood at the very top of the hill in Paris full of artist squares, stunning churches, and lively restaurants. She said she was glad to have stayed there instead of around the Eiffel Tower, as Montmartre brought a more unique and aesthetically pleasing vibe to the weekend. She was there for Bastille Day, the national French holiday. The military parade marched up and down the streets during the day and fireworks burst through the sky at night, creating an unforgettable experience for Jayla and her friends. 

Of course, everything about her summer in Tours will be unforgettable for Jayla. From trying escargot to navigating language barriers, Jayla learned so much about culture in France, and she can’t wait to explore even more in the future.  

Story by El Taverna