Studying Abroad in Bordeaux, France: First Impressions

Between January and June, I will be studying abroad in Bordeaux, France. My classes will be conducted completely in French, and all of course assignments must be written in French, as well. Additionally, unlike Paris, the chances of meeting a fluent English-speaker in Bordeaux is much lower. Although curiosity almost got the better of me, I decided not to research or look at any pictures of Bordeaux before arriving. This was due in part to my experiences during my first study abroad last summer in Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France. I found myself disappointed in the cities that I had heard about and researched thoroughly before arriving, such as Paris and Munich, while loving the new sights and experiences in places I had never even thought to research, like Brussels. I believed that my 5-month experience in Bordeaux might be more enjoyable if everything I saw and all the information I learned about the place was seen and learned for the first time. So far, I have not regretted this decision.

What I have learned about myself since I began my study abroad experiences, however, is that I probably have some sort of travel curse. On my flight to Germany last summer, I nearly missed my flight in New York because I didn’t know I had to find transportation from LaGuardia airport to JFK until about 2 hours before my flight to New York took off. Then, when I finally found the shuttle to JFK, I realized that my ticket didn’t even have the terminal number for my airline, because it was one of the handful of airlines that doesn’t have a set terminal. So, I just randomly picked a terminal and got incredibly lucky with that choice, since that’s where my airline was. Then, on the return trip, there was a freak storm in Chicago that made me have to sleep overnight in the airport and then wait an additional 5 hours for a flight back home. So, needless to say, I wasn’t too optimistic about the flight to Bordeaux. And I shouldn’t have been. Neither Oklahoma City nor Norman had experienced any sort of precipitation, let alone snow, since the winter began. This past Christmas was a dry one. So, imagine my surprise when I look out the window at around 4am and see a literal BED of snow covering the roads, the house, and my car. Apparently, winter decided to really start the one day I needed there to be clear skies. The drive to the airport was long and dangerous, since no one had prepared for the freak storm and the lines on both the roads and the highways were completely covered in snow. That meant that pretty much everyone on the highway was guessing where these lines were, and we definitely almost got hit once or twice on the way to Will Rogers. By some miracle we made it there on time…only for me to find out that a.) This was the first flight of the day which meant that b.) The plane we were using needed to be de-iced, but c.) It couldn’t be de-iced until the pilots and crew were present and  d.) The pilots and crew were trapped in their hotel because of the snow. Needless to say, that 2-hour layover in Chicago wasn’t going to be enough and I would have to reschedule my flight. So, after an 8-hour layover in Chicago, I finally made it onto a plane headed towards Madrid, where I had yet another 8-hour layover.

I landed in Madrid and decided to take a look around instead of waiting around for 8 hours in an airport yet again. So, I took the train to the center of the city and did some light exploring. I was way too tired to really retain any of the sights I saw, but I did enjoy the colorful scenery that stook in stark contrast to what I had seen in Munich and parts of Paris. I remember hoping that Bordeaux was a little like that as well. I strolled through a botanical garden while I waited for the museum to open, then abandoned the museum altogether in favor of just ambling around the gardens and then ambling around the city itself. I really wanted to try tapas, since there was a tapas restaurant on every corner, but my stomach was feeling funny from the sleep deprivation and I didn’t want to risk it. I looked around a bit more and then took the train back to the airport and waited to board to Bordeaux.The flight from Madrid to Paris was a strange experience. I heard some people speaking French, others speaking Spanish, some speaking Spanish with a French accent, others still speaking French with what seemed to be a Spanish accent, and then some in-between thing that I couldn’t quite make out, but learned was later another language called Occitan.

I had come a few days earlier than my lodging would let me move in, so I had ordered an Airbnb in advance to give me some time to adjust to my surroundings. This was a very very good idea. I took an uber to the Airbnb, realizing quickly that I was WAY too tired to comprehend let alone speak any French. Luckily, the driver understood the broken French I could speak and we made it to the destination quickly. I didn’t know that we were in the outskirts of Bordeaux, so I figured that it was a very suburban area with very little to do. It reminded me a lot of Edmond, actually. Since it was late at night by this point, I decided to walk around this small town for a few hours and then go to bed.

When I woke up, my Airbnb host had left a pair of tram tickets with a note suggesting that I take the tram to Bordeaux Centre. So, thinking that it would just be a larger version of what I had already seen, I got on the tram and just watched the scenery pass by. I realized quickly that my initial impression of Bordeaux may not have been the most accurate:

 

 

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Improving my French Skills through the lens of SLA

In addition to taking an additional night class while in Bordeaux, I actually want to try to use some of the learning strategies and concepts that I learned about in my Second Language Acquisition course and my Techniques for Teaching Foreign Languages course this semester. One concept that was emphasized in both courses was the extremely important role that motivation plays in learning another language. The limited research that has been done on motivation has shown that students with different motivation levels and different types of motivation have varying levels of success while learning a language. For example student who has a positive attitude toward a language and culture and have an extrinsic desire to learn and assimilate into that culture using that language seem to usually be significantly more successful in learning a second language than someone who has a negative attitude toward a specific language and have no desire to use the language to integrate themselves further into a culture. Being motivated to learn a language by a need to use it to communicate and integrate also seems to be more effective in learning a language than being motivated to learn a language through obligation, which is sometimes the case with businesspeople who may learn enough of another language to get by and communicate in the business world but may not necessarily strive to learn past what they need.

Knowing this concept, I would like to strive to be more extrinsically motivated to learn French while abroad by putting myself in environments where I would be more likely to want to communicate for the sake of communication and integration rather than doing it out of an obligation like I might in a classroom. One initial thought I had to facilitate motivation were to join a volunteer group, where I would need to use French in order to communicate with the people I’m helping or collaborating with, as I was actually hoping to find a group to volunteer with in France.

Diwali Night 2016-17

While my role in the International Bazaar may have changed from actor to audience, my role as a dancer for the India Student Association has not. This year, I was a performer for ISA’s Diwali Night for the 3rd consecutive year! For those not aware, Diwali Night is an Indian holiday akin to a festival of lights that happens around this time every year. The India Student Association celebrates this event by holding an annual Diwali Night at OU, complete with dances, singing, and really really good food. Now, you would think that doing this event semesterly would make the dances easier. I disagree. A lot. The choreographers I have had always have super wonderful and elaborate ideas for their dances that take lots of power and grace to execute correctly, while I pretty much walk around like a baby giraffe on stilts. However, they are always very patient (and run practices every night for a month before the performance) and eventually we produce something like this:

This was a dance dedicated to the Hindu god Ganesh. Our choreographer, Dhanya, told us that a lot of the moves and poses we created in the dance were actually religious symbols, which I thought was super cool. In my opinion, the best (and most elaborate) part of the dance is when two of my fellow dancers get on the shoulders of two other dancers and make two elephants. We were all terrified of someone falling though, hence why another dancer and I are holding their backs. Then, while keeping the girls balanced, we had to squat and sway in sync with the dancers holding them, who had to squat and sway at the same time and the same distance as the person helping them hold their dancers up. If they moved too far or too fast, the girls would have fallen off, so it took extreme precision (and lots of trust) to get everyone in sync in that part of the dance!

International Bazaar 2016-17

For the first time since I started at the University of Oklahoma, I went to the International Bazaar as a visitor, not a volunteer or someone setting it up. And even though I still had my fretting tendencies (like routinely going around to the different tables and asking people if they needed anything), overall I would say that its very enjoyable to be a participant in IAC events! For those who don’t know what the International Bazaar is, it is a yearly event that the International Advisory Committee puts on and is a like a mini international marketplace and showcase. Different international student organizations have the opportunity to sell items from their country, such as food or clothing, and perform dances and songs if they’d like. It’s pretty fun:

I tried (and failed) to do some Angolan Kizumba dancing:

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Got some nice henna from a friend (after my own failed attempt; you can see the awful flower I did on my wrist):

 

 

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Tried (and failed) not to impule-buy all of the jewelry at the event:

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And got to see some other cool features of the Bazaar as well:

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Overall, I had loads of fun at the International Bazaar this year. I’m super proud of the new IAC executive committee for pulling this off much more flawlessly than I’ve ever witnessed!

 

 

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Engaging Europe 2016: Nuremberg and the Rally Grounds

On the second day of our Engaging Europe trip, we visited the Nazi Party rally grounds in Nuremberg, Germany. I vividly remember the stark contrast between the large and intimidating grounds and the peaceful field that lay only a few yards away. The peaceful field of trees and flowers was supposed to be used by Hitler for his Nazi propaganda speeches. The -delicateness of the field is ironic, given the dictatorial and pro-war nature of the speeches that would take place in it. The actual grounds, on the other hand, matched the mood of these speeches. The grounds consisted of a large colosseum-like building and a large marching path behind the building. Touring the rally grounds was one of the most intimidating experiences of my life. Nazi architects had deliberately created the building to be intimidating, using harsh lining on the brick walls to create a savage effect and, as our tour guide pointed out, making all the entrances to the grounds giant in order to make the individual seem insignificant. Even though the building was only half-done, these architectural decisions were enough to make me feel both afraid and insignificant.

The harsh brown lining of the rally grounds were dissimilar to the bright white stones used in the marching grounds. Due to the blinding white coloring of the path and its simple square pattern, it looked like it stretched on forever. Our guide informed us that the lengths of the individual squares on the path were long enough for soldiers to perform exactly 3 or 4 steps per square. The brown outfit of the Nazi soldiers on the path would create yet another intimidating effect, and the synchronized movements of thousands of soldiers wearing the same thing would ensure that any onlookers and bystanders would feel an even deeper sense of individual insignificance.

The feeling of fear and intimidation I received from the Nazi Party rally grounds was the first time architecture ever evoked an emotional response from me. After this experience, I feel a greater respect for the power of architecture. It is ominous that the Nazis figured out that something as subtle as enlarging a door could subtly alter the mindset of the one walking through it. I thought this was an ability reserved for great works of music or great paintings, but the feeling of fear I got from this building was just as intense as any feeling I’ve ever gotten from great musical pieces. This experience as a whole also made me realize just how much thought the Nazis put into their propaganda techniques. Using something like architecture, which many people just accept as commonplace, to control the minds of people shows how intensely the Nazi party used indirect methods of propaganda just as much as they used overt propaganda.

Engaging Europe 2016

This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to do a study abroad trip in Europe! During this trip, we spent three weeks travelling across four different countries—Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. The trip was split into two different classes. The first class, led by Dr. Mitchell Smith, focused on how the European continent rebuilt and reunified itself after the devastation of the two World Wars. We spent the first half of the class touring Germany, Luxembourg, and Belgium, and then ended this class in Strasbourg, France. These locations aren’t random, either. As I learned during the class, one of the biggest contributors to European cohesion post-WWII was the European Union. Two of the three EU institution headquarters stand in Belgium. The third resides in Luxembourg. And one of the institutions, the EU Parliament, also has a building in Strasbourg that is only in use once every quarter of the year. The second half of the class began in Strasbourg, France and moved to Lyon and finally Paris. This class, led by Dr. Jessica Pearson-Patel, was geared towards looking at France in a global context. Part of the class was used to discuss France and the French resistance during World War II, which is why we began in Strasbourg, an area that was passed between Germany and France for ages and was taken again by Germany during WWII. Then, we discussed the plight of Algerians in France after the war for Algerian independence, reading a novel specifically about an France-born Algerian who was raised in France but struggled with both his Algerian and his French identities. This novel took place in Lyon, where we visited next. Then, in Paris, we visited the 18th arrondissement, whose inhabitants are mostly of African descent. However, before I go into the specifics of this study abroad trip, I would like to begin my discussion of Engaging Europe by talking about my favorite place—Brussels.

Brussels, Belgium was by far my favorite place to visit, if only because of the waffles. While I couldn’t eat a lot of Belgian cuisine because it involved seafood, I could still eat Belgian waffles and Belgian chocolate. And my goodness did I eat Belgian waffles! In the span of three days, myself, one of my classmates, and one of our instructors had at least two waffles a day. I knew that Belgian waffles from Belgium probably tasted nothing like Americanized Belgian waffles, but I didn’t know it would be so different! They’re thicker and seem to be made from dough rather than batter, and there are some sort of sugar crystals drizzled on top of them. Even on a simple plain waffle, there was definitely no need for syrup. In addition to Belgian waffles, I was also captured by the architecture of Brussels. Specifically, the main square had tall and beautiful buildings that had gold trimmings.These were definitely my favorite buildings of the entire trip. In addition to the buildings and the waffles, I also really enjoyed the atmosphere of Brussels. People were generally much more welcome and open here than in other the other major cities we visited, and I felt a lot safer here than I did in Munich, for example. Even the nightlife in Brussels seemed less dangerous than in other places. Also, while Belgium is a pretty expensive country to live in, restaurants were still reasonably priced and there weren’t a ridiculous amount of solicitors trying to sell you 1 Euro trinkets around famous areas.

Finally, Brussels won bonus points for this happening during our trip. I think they were headed to the town square for a performance:

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Engaging Europe 2016

This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to do a study abroad trip in Europe! During this trip, we spent three weeks travelling across four different countries—Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. The trip was split into two different classes. The first class, led by Dr. Mitchell Smith, focused on how the European continent rebuilt and reunified itself after the devastation of the two World Wars. We spent the first half of the class touring Germany, Luxembourg, and Belgium, and then ended this class in Strasbourg, France. These locations aren’t random, either. As I learned during the class, one of the biggest contributors to European cohesion post-WWII was the European Union. Two of the three EU institution headquarters stand in Belgium. The third resides in Luxembourg. And one of the institutions, the EU Parliament, also has a building in Strasbourg that is only in use once every quarter of the year. The second half of the class began in Strasbourg, France and moved to Lyon and finally Paris. This class, led by Dr. Jessica Pearson-Patel, was geared towards looking at France in a global context. Part of the class was used to discuss France and the French resistance during World War II, which is why we began in Strasbourg, an area that was passed between Germany and France for ages and was taken again by Germany during WWII. Then, we discussed the plight of Algerians in France after the war for Algerian independence, reading a novel specifically about an France-born Algerian who was raised in France but struggled with both his Algerian and his French identities. This novel took place in Lyon, where we visited next. Then, in Paris, we visited the 18th arrondissement, whose inhabitants are mostly of African descent. However, before I go into the specifics of this study abroad trip, I would like to begin my discussion of Engaging Europe by talking about my favorite place—Brussels.

Brussels, Belgium was by far my favorite place to visit, if only because of the waffles. While I couldn’t eat a lot of Belgian cuisine because it involved seafood, I could still eat Belgian waffles and Belgian chocolate. And my goodness did I eat Belgian waffles! In the span of three days, myself, one of my classmates, and one of our instructors had at least two waffles a day. I knew that Belgian waffles from Belgium probably tasted nothing like Americanized Belgian waffles, but I didn’t know it would be so different! They’re thicker and seem to be made from dough rather than batter, and there are some sort of sugar crystals drizzled on top of them. Even on a simple plain waffle, there was definitely no need for syrup. In addition to Belgian waffles, I was also captured by the architecture of Brussels. Specifically, the main square had tall and beautiful buildings that had gold trimmings.These were definitely my favorite buildings of the entire trip. In addition to the buildings and the waffles, I also really enjoyed the atmosphere of Brussels. People were generally much more welcome and open here than in other the other major cities we visited, and I felt a lot safer here than I did in Munich, for example. Even the nightlife in Brussels seemed less dangerous than in other places. Also, while Belgium is a pretty expensive country to live in, restaurants were still reasonably priced and there weren’t a ridiculous amount of solicitors trying to sell you 1 Euro trinkets around famous areas.

Finally, Brussels won bonus points for this happening during our trip. I think they were headed to the town square for a performance:

oie_10103358xO4b7rqR