With the magical power of Felix Felicis (Harry Potter reference :3), I was able to go on a 2-week cultural trip in France, sponsored by the French Embassy in Manila. First and foremost, thank you so much for still giving me this opportunity! I think that they figured out that I needed to learn French now since I wasn’t able to speak/write/listen well in my student exchange back in 2010. Like Tiff, you should stop putting learning French off, get going! This time, I’ll be going alone and it’ll be my first legitimate solo trip. I’m finally doing it. I’m just going with me, myself and I. Here’s to finding myself as well!
I was given the freedom to choose a language school anywhere in France with a budget of 1,200 euros that should cover the tuition and the accommodation. After researching for weeks, I finally settled on 2 schools based on reviews – French In Normandy (FIN) in Rouen and Accent Français in Montpellier. Both have excellent reviews on EducationStars on the teachers, environment and accommodations which were the 3 most important aspects in choosing a school for me. I wanted to SERIOUSLY learn and it shouldn’t just be all fun and games. I also wanted to be with like-minded people who thought the same and most of all, I wanted a host family who didn’t just view this opportunity as money-making tools. I wanted an authentic experience. These schools also accepted short stays (like mine) so I knew they got that covered. If I could only stay for months, I would! But I needed to work and I had my business. Money doesn’t grow on trees you know? They actually have a joint program as well which allows you to study 2 weeks in FIN and 2 weeks in Accent Français but… again time! Would have been perfect!
After narrowing it down to these 2, the deciding factors for FIN were:
- It was located in Normandy. I’m a history nut and the fact that D-Day beaches were located here and Rouen was the place where Joan of Arc was put on trial and executed… I just couldn’t help latch on to some affinity to Normandy. It was also cooler and coming from the sunny Philippines, I figured that I had enough of sun and Montpellier being located in the South of France, would be just too hot. I needed the cold air, not beaches! And did you know that according to my host mom, Normandy cuisine is one of the best gastronomical experiences in France. It’s famous for its apples (please get Apple everything, EVERYTHING!), apple cider, calvados (it’s like apple brandy), camembert cheese (coz Camembert is in Normandy, it’s a tad too strong for me though), and seafood. Oh glorious food! No brainer, I was going to Rouen.
- It had almost 100% positive reviews on host families. I was really scared at this part. Being an introvert, I am quite shy when meeting new people for the first time. What more if I have to live with someone who is a total stranger to me at first. I considered staying at a student residence at first but my last experience in my student exchange dormitory was not the best (maybe French residences weren’t really the best in general) and I didn’t want the hassle of searching food everyday. Plus if I was with a host family, I’d definitely eat and breathe French. Throwing insecurities to the wind, I chose staying at a host family and I consider it one of the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. NO REGRETS! My fear of not making friends, acting like a fool because I didn’t know the language, all disappeared because I got the best and kindest host family in the world! Well arguably. Shoutout to Mme. Valerie!
- Most of the reviews were in French. That could only mean that they really learned French right? Man, couldn’t believe that I was going back to school after 4 years!
- Class size was perfect. There were at most only 8-10 people in a classroom and in my experience, the smaller the class size, the better you learn! They also had weekday and weekend activities. I really wanted to do something other than staying in a classroom and this was perfect.
But trust me when I say 2 weeks is too short. If you are going to learn a new language and being a total beginner, 2 weeks might get you to give you conversational skills but you would have a hard time grasping more vocabulary and grammar. Just keep practicing if you can after 2 weeks or take my suggestion and study for at least a month or 2.
FYI, not sure if this will be a big factor for other students… but FIN uses a LOT OF COMIC SANS. Don’t ask me why. I was at first put off by this but I shrugged it off. They put Comic Sans in EVERYTHING. I’m glad I did shrug it off though coz that really didn’t mean anything. I think it just shows the wackiness of the teachers and I’ll talk about it after you scroll down.
So now let me walk you through the process so you don’t have to go through it blindly like I did.
PROCESS OF APPLICATION
First off, check their Youtube channel to see reviews of students, see the environment, the classrooms, etc.
1. Contact French In Normandy via any of their channels (but I prefer e-mail) of the course you selected.
You can even skype them! In this case, I chose General French Semi-Intensive because like I said previously, I wanted to attend activities as well. I think the price wasn’t too bad. DO NOT FORGET TO INDICATE PREFERENCES. I specifically asked for a host family/homestay with strong Wifi and who can speak English. This is not Paris and this is France so do not expect them to have good English. I needed someone who spoke at least a bit of English because all I knew was to say “Bonjour!” and some words. Didn’t know how to string a phrase or 2 together.
Told you about the Comic Sans. This is what their registration form looks like. Not bad for accommodation as well. Eleri,their super kind Director was the one who even replied to my email!
They will send you a confirmation email with a welcome document and payment instructions after.
2. Pay via Bank Transfer or Credit Card and take their Online Placement Test.
I literally failed mine so don’t worry. I knew that I was A1 level, the lowest level meaning you know only a few French words but cannot form sentences. Or you’re just really knew to the language. If you do arrive on the first day and feel that you want to go to the next level, do not hesitate to tell them on your first after the first break in the morning.
Mélanie Raymond, their marketing director will e-mail you all the details once you have confirmed your booking. Btw, you may ask for airport transfers but since I’m on a budget, the French embassy booked trains for me instead. Odd route though since instead of traveling straight from Paris to Rouen, I went from Paris to Lille then to Rouen. Well at least I got to visit my old city! Man, memories.
3. Wait for your accommodation details at least 2 weeks before your arrival.
DO NOT PANIC (like me) because they respond quickly! If you have any requests even the smallest ones, they will definitely accommodate you! I asked for a place with good wifi, private bathroom and a kind host who speaks a little English and I got them all! Except the part when I asked to be situated near the school. It took me a good 30-40 minutes bus ride from my house to school but it didn’t matter and I actually liked it more because I get to see the whole town to city everyday. Rouen is VERY BEAUTIFUL. France generally is a very beautiful country.
Travel within Rouen is easy and straight forward and the first school day orientation always involves purchasing travel cards.
4. Prepare your trip!
Book your flights, buy your travel essentials, research about the place and you’re good to go! I’ll post more about Rouen and traveling their in a separate post.
Once you have everything in order, do not forget to write a welcome message to your host family and talk how you’ll be meeting. Better to share photos with each other so you guys know what you’ll look like and finding each other at the train station or wherever will be easier. If you chose a residence accommodation, disregard this last paragraph. haha!
FIRST WEEK OF CLASSES
Train from Lille to Rouen! Woot woot!
Arrive in Paris CDG and choose your own adventure! Get plenty of rest for the first day of classes the next day. As mentioned, I traveled 2 trains and met Valerie at the train station. Good thing I knew what she looked like. She had a car so we drove to her house. I was quite terrified though and kept mumbling odd French phrases and using Google Translate (VERY IMPORTANT) for the hard questions since I couldn’t explain (yet) why I decided to pursue French in Rouen to her yet. She knew how to break the ice though at her home when I arrived and quickly asked me if I wanted to eat cheese. Me? HELL YEAH I LOVE CHEESE! She had Chèvre though and not Camembert which I grew to love. Trust me when I say that the French always has a cheese course. They ALWAYS have it either lunch or dinner.
I want that knife!!
I LOVED MY ROOM! It was in the “basement” behind the garage so I had my own privacy.
Lovely dresser. Portable heater as well. I did go during summer but I needed the heater at night. It was still cold in Rouen
Own Microwave and cleaning area
Private shower! 😀 The last guest though didn’t turn on the ventilation so there were dark spots beneath the glass. Valerie kept on apologising but I told her it was good!
Had the TV and everything. Man I look so tired after that 24 hour trip!
2. First Day of School
To make sure I didn’t get lost, Valerie accompanied me and showed me which bus routes to take, which landmarks to remember and of course give me some tidbits about the place. Going there was a piece of cake. Nearest bus station is Jardin des Plantes which is a beautiful little park (where I caught my first Pokemon. Pokemon Go was released when I was in Rouen). Once you enter the school, you’ll see a bustle of students from all walks of life and age. There’s even a blackboard outside written with all the names of the new students and I did find mine (too bad no photo)! You’ll see a lounge and then near the entrance is a long table with all the materials for the coursework. Just find the folder with your name on it. Your host knows what’s up though and you’ll definitely get to talk to the lovely Suzanne who is in charge of the accommodation of all the students. You’ll be assigned to a teacher and a classroom. Here’s mine for the first week.
First classroom on the left! It was quite small but we were only a few students. Just too tight at the front
There are bulletin boards in the hallways filled with information and sign-up sheets for activities. There’s one activity everyday in the afternoon and also excursions for the weekend.
Love that the motif is red. <3
Students and teachers. Can you guess who’s who?
First thing you’ll ever do is a short oral “exam” where basically the teacher asks you basic questions like what are your hobbies, what’s your profession (Awoo! Awoo! Awoo! xD), etc which… I FAILED miserably again because I absolutely did not understand the first question at all. I just gave her a blank stare and told her if I can speak in English. HAHA! So do not worry on making a fool of yourself. I did that but they still accepted me. Oh this school had really good teachers.
After that, you’ll be huddled out again and given new class assignments and surprise surprise, I was in A1 with Teacher Camille. My classes were to start every 9:30 AM until 11:00AM for the the first half then 11:30PM to 1:00PM for the 2nd half. I was free to do anything in the afternoon but for the first day, the newbies get to go on a free walking tour of the city center.
Here’s a sample schedule of the activities as well
Translation: Monday afternoon extra activity focuses on Grammar, Tuesdays you get to participate in some role playing in theatre, Wednesdays all about reading, Thursdays are for watching movies, Fridays are for hardcore French grammar and Saturdays are for traveling.
So going back to the first day, check out the famous historical city center. My teacher said that everything here is named after Joan of Arc or Jeanne d’Arc in French. Haha and he wasn’t kidding at all! There were streets, squares churches and buildings all named after her!
Love this city view!
The Gros Horlage (Giant clock)! More info on this in another post. You can go inside and get a 360 view of Rouen. IT IS GORGEOUS.
I love the blend of Europe’s old and new
The magnificent Rouen Cathedral. It’s a beauty of Gothic architecture. Seriously, it’s like the pages of The Pillars of the Earth coming to life (Go read that book)
Now that you’re somewhat settled in after the first 2 days, let me share you on how to maximize your limited time here to truly learn how to speak French. You’ll learn that it’s definitely possible to go from zero knowledge of the language to at least some knowledge. Buuut I think the post is getting too long. Part 2 will be devoted to all my suggestions to becoming a conversational French speaker.
Hope you guys were able to glimpse the first part of French In Normandy. For any questions, feel free to contact me.