by Stephanie Jamieson
Is it wise to know French if you’re going to France? This question occurred to me as I was filling out an application to partake in an intensive short course overseas. The question, however, did not bother me enough to stop considering the idea of studying on the French Riviera for a month! It seemed too good to be true: you can study in the South of France, maybe see a bit of Europe and get immersed in a different culture all the while contributing towards your degree?! And if something seems too good to be true it usually is..but having been there and back I am here to announce that this experience was an exception to that rule.
Only about 5 weeks after to deciding to go, it was off to our destination for the month: Nice. If you haven’t been to Nice, think warm (European Mediterranean Summer warm), beautiful blue clear water, rollerbladers along the waterfront Boulevard (my favourite), an old town of quaint cobbled streets and markets, a new town full of all the latest designer brands, millionaire’s yachts docked in the marina.. need I go on?
UON has a partnership with IPAG Business School which was where we would be studying. The Nice branch of this university is located quite centrally, an easy bike or walk through the streets. There were only about ten students in total, made up of 3 Aussies from UON, 1 American and the rest were French locals. We could choose our subjects, but it was ‘Luxury Brand Management’, and ‘French Culture and Civilisation’ that stood out to me. These were intensive courses so they were quite heavy in content, all presented in English. They were extremely interesting and made relevant with practical aspects to the lessons.
On Fridays the international students would go on excursions here there and everywhere. These included touring through the town of Nice, visiting museums, wine tasting, and we also went to Italy where we visited markets and Monaco where we saw many Lamborghini’s. This was a great way of not only immersing in the French culture, but (back to the original question), learning some French. It was Florence our language teacher who accompanied us on our excursions and helped us all get our heads around the difference between Vos and Votre, among other things. On one of these excursions I looked over to see a couple of the students swimming in the blue water with Florence, learning new French words. At this point I realised that this was the only way to learn French: in the water, on a beautiful day with the promise of an ice cream on the horizon.
On the vast occasion, the heat and over tiredness would get to us, and our lessons in the classroom would go downhill. One such time was when we were in class with our teacher Yolaine who had us playing a game to guess different aspects of French culture, and something triggered us into fits of hysterical laughter. Nobody was able to regain control of themselves for a long time.. But if anything we all felt more bonded for having been through the experience together, and future lessons after that were extremely relaxed and enjoyable.
On the weekends there were opportunities to travel to countries around Europe, so we chose a couple of bordering countries – Switzerland and Italy. This is one major advantage of Europe, everything is so close and relatively cheap to get to, and our teachers would give us tips and advice on what to see and where to go. We saw the famous Mt Blanc where the weather was so hot at the foot of the mountain, only to step out from the cable car ride into the freezing snow. And Lake Como in Italy (where George Clooney has a summer home.. didn’t see him so cannot verify this) was one of those stunning places that you could spend a long time in if left to your own devices, attending summer concerts and strolling along the lakefront.
Upon reflection, it’s really unbelievable how much was squeezed into the space of a month. It was such a rich experience with truly bonded friendships forged, incredible perspective on French history and culture, and we were able to see types of places that we just can’t experience in Australia. To be able to develop cultural awareness through actually living and being totally immersed in the language and culture was an incredible opportunity, and one that has helped me not only as a student but also as a person.
PS In conclusion, you can get away with going to France without knowing any French, but it’s best to learn it quick smart if you don’t want to incur the wrath of the French population. My advice is just to remember to involve the swimming and ice cream.
Stephanie is studying a Bachelor of Communication at the University of Newcastle.