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On the scene: A testimonial from a not-so-traditional student in France


  City Paris
  Country France
  Subjects Covered: Cultural Study
    Mature Adults (50+)
    Language Study
  Program Starts: Weekly


'I spent a month living in Paris with a host family, taking French classes every morning and absorbing the ambience of the city for the rest of the day. My adventure abroad may not sound so unusual. But I am not your typical student. I am a woman in her 50s, with a husband and two teenage kids whom I left behind!

My month long immersion was an absolute delight. My host family was a typical family in a wonderful location, walking distance from the Champs-Elysees! My host parents were somewhat younger than me, with four children ranging from 14 down to 6 years old. I soon found out, however, that they would be away on vacation for most of the month. Isabelle and Olivier, the mom and dad, were there for the first days of my sojourn. I only met two of the four children. In their absence, my host mother was 20 year old Ombeline, Isabelles young cousin. And a wonderful host she was, cooking for my roommates and me, even insisting on doing my laundry!

My roommates came and went during the month of my stay. There was Alexandra, the 20 year old Swiss woman who arrived the day I did and stayed a total of three months. She was delightful, we became buddies despite the disparity in our ages, and I hope we will continue to stay in touch.

There was the young man from Mexico who was finishing his stay at the time Alex and I arrived. And the boy from Turkey, shy at first but much warmer once we got to know each other. There was 17 year old Ari from Long Island, who seemed homesick and only wanted to talk in English. And there was Sam, a elementary language teacher from Denver in her 30s, the closest in age and background to me. (although even she was young enough to be my daughter, yikes!) Sam and I had the same concern, we didnt want to speak English to each other. I knew if I lapsed into English it would be very hard to go back to French. And I am proud to report that we never did speak in English, even the night just she and I went out together to a concert at the exquisite Ste.Chapelle .

We were all students at Eurocentre, a wonderful school in an interesting building in a fantastic part of the city, at Odeon metro in the heart of the 6th arrondissment. New students arrived every Monday. Our first morning, we all took tests to determine our placement. I was assigned to a teacher named Nicolas, who insisted we not call him professeur (too formal!) The class was a melange of ages and nationalities. Although the majority of students at the school were young adults, I had classmates in their forties and fifties as well, from Libya and Mexico and Japan and Brazil and Slovakia and more. I was the only American in my class.There were students and lawyers and an employee of the U.N. and a Japanese woman studying to be a French pattissiere. The class size hovered between 10 and 12. Our class composition changed from week to week, but Nicolas remained our teacher. I couldnt have asked for a better one. He was entertaining and provocative and had a quite drole sense of humor. We discussed music and and sexual mores, Jacques Chirac and the war in Iraq. And grammar and composition, too.

My classes went from 9am to 1pm each day. I had chosen not to take the more intensive regime, which involved an extra 5 hours per week. I wanted to improve my French, but I wanted even more to immerse myself in the ambience of the city, and absorb every bit I could in my month there. Every afternoon and into the early evening, I walked thru a different quartier. I went to the Musee dOrsay, the Centre Pompidou,the Tuileries, the Louvre, and back a second time. I sat in cafes drinking citron presses ( fresh lemonade, served make it yourself style, a pitcher of ice water, a carafe of fresh squeezed juice, a sugar bowl) I went to shops, artists studios, flea markets, tracked down the locations in the books I was reading. I was there for the Bastille Day parade, and danced in the streets the eve before. I was on the Champs-Elysees for the finale of the Tour de France, and saw LanceArmstrong receive his medal. I ate pattisseries in at least a bakers dozen different bakeries. I visited the home/museums of Hugo and Pasteur, and the cell where Marie Antoinette awaited her beheading. I walked miles underground thru the haunting catacombs, I cruised up and down the banks of the Seine observing and absorbing the Paris Plage phenomenon. Tons of imported sand along the Seine, with beach chairs and potted palm trees and people promenading with their poodles. More surreal than like Seurat. Art exhibits and musical performances, and people of all ages and persuasions having picnics on the riverbank at a 10pm dusk. A new tradition in an ageless city.

I had initially hesitated to do half-board (breakfast and supper) because I thought the schedule would tie me down to being home too early. But I soon found out that dinner was never served earlier than 8:30 pm, and by then I was more than ready to return home. The high cost of food in restaurants, and Ombelines home cooking, were also enticements to dine chez nous. But the best part was the dinnertime conversations, between Ombeline, Alexandra, Sam, and me, sometimes joined by one of Ombelines sibllngs or friends

It was over too soon, of course. I spent my last four days in a hotel, needing to vacate my room chez famille Le Mars because the next student was due. I stayed at the delightful Hotel Chopin, located within one of the famous covered shopping passages dating from the late 1800s. It was a pleasant transition from my Paris family to heading home. And Alex joined me for my last supper at the perfect spot, Chartier, a restaurant in a time warp (Toulousse Lautrec, or perhaps Monet, might have walked in any moment), that I had fortuitously stumbled upon around the corner from my hotel.

I missed my family (well, a little anyway) but I hated to leave. Then again, I brought it all back with me, because Paris, in Hemingways oft-quoted words, is a moveable feast.'

Joanna Liss, November


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