Case Study: Language Travel in France
My Summer in Montpellier
by Zsofia from Berkshire
Zsofia, 15, from Windsor, went on a four week Language Travel summer program to Montpellier in July 2019. Zsofia joined the Young program and enjoyed sun, sea and a lot of language learning, making her summer holiday both exciting and educational. Here she tells us a little more about her experience.
Account written just after returning home…
I can’t put into words my experience in Montpellier.
I think that the 4 weeks that I spent there might have been the most amazing 4 weeks of my life. It’s crazy how many connections I made, how much I learnt and how much I am wishing I was back there now.
The Language School was an efficient and professional school that not only taught me French, but also provided millions of activities to experience in Montpellier. I had such close relationships with the Animateurs and students that they feel like a second family.
When I went to Montpellier I expected to make friends and to enjoy myself, but in reality it was so much more than that. I have friends from all over the world – different cultures and languages.
It’s been three days since I left them and I have been missing the whole experience every second. I have made so many memories that I will recount endlessly and so many stories for every conversation.
I don’t think there was any more than an hour where I was not doing anything – every day the activities were well planned out and even though they all tired us out and had us sweating crazily, I would give anything to do it all again. I don’t think I can criticise Montpellier in many ways – maybe the food wasn’t amazing but that seems irrelevant when I look at my whole 4 weeks of activity and enjoyment.
I picked up phrases and traditions of the French – especially the shouts of Christine every morning waking us. And maybe at the time all I wanted was to keep sleeping – I now miss hearing her voice every morning “alle les filles, petit déjeuner!!!”
My summer in France has been one of the best so far and I would love to repeat it time and time again. Thank you for this amazing experience and, truly, words can’t explain the relationship I feel with Montpellier. I want to cry every time I think of it because I miss it so much but I feel so satisfied and grateful so I cry in happiness also.
I am so thankful for MyEducation’s help with making this happen. I really hope that many more people will go to places like Montpellier and feel the same elated way I do about their experience.
9 months after returning home, Zsofia answered some more questions for us…
Looking back, what are your memories of your language trip to Montpellier?
I have so many memories from France, beginning with the fear I felt getting off the plane in Montpellier, followed by nervous excitement when I met my housemates (tip: if you bring them food eg. cookies, they will like you a lot more 😉 ). I will never forget when – on my second day – we got on the wrong tram to school and didn’t realise until we had left Montpellier. (We actually ran for 40 minutes to try and not miss the second lesson). (NB: a new feature of the Montpellier program in 2020 is that students living with a host family are taken to and from school.)
I loved talking with my housemates all night, 5 of us sat on 2 beds, eating food and getting excited about the differences and similarities in our cultures. And, typically, you remember the saddest moments in your life more than your happiest moments, so I remember leaning against the lockers at the ice-rink crying with my friend and then watching her leave with a tram thinking I would never see her again because she was going home at the end of her program. (In fact, had her to visit me in England for a week and I am going to Switzerland this summer to see her so it’s actually a happy story.)
And, of course, as part of a bittersweet memory when I left. When we came out of the disco all crying and hugging each other but laughing through it all as we know it was the best time we had had. I was so satisfied.
What do you miss about the French culture?
One of my favourite things about France was the amount of activities we did. There was never a time when we sat still not doing anything. The French were always so spontaneous, everything was naturally happening and I think I loved the feeling that something new was going to happen everyday, and that unpredictability in French culture is what I miss the most. Never knowing what we are doing but it always turning out to be the best thing.
What part of the French culture surprised you the most?
I can admit that I knew this before, but having experienced it I can confirm it’s true: the French love to have a good time. Everybody was always really outgoing and active. So many of the things we did were just spontaneously planned and always became a really intense but enjoyable activity. I think it’s typical of European culture to have this easygoing and relaxed way of life and the French govern that.
What were the most challenging aspects of the trip?
Honestly, I didn’t face many challenges on my trip, there were, naturally, the nerves of when I first saw my host family waiting for me, when she first spoke to me in French and me not understanding anything, but I guess that was a given.
One of the greatest challenges though was leaving. I was really upset to leave and even though I was excited to see my family again, I kept wishing for an extra week in France. I soon got over it but I remember the day after I had said emotional goodbyes to everyone I had met, it was an amazing month for me and I found it really hard to leave the family, the school, my friends and housemates with whom I shared my experience with.
Do you keep in touch with your host families and friends you met in France?
I keep in touch with some of my friends I met in France – since then I have actually had one of my friends over in England and I will see her in the summer again.
I also know some more who I speak to weekly and keep in touch with . I definitely have a much more diverse group of friends now.
Would you recommend a language travel trip to friends? If so, why?
I have been praising a language experience to everyone I know after my month in Montpellier. I would definitely recommend it to everyone but especially to people who enjoy not only the language learning part, but also the cultural influence. Being Central European myself, I found that a lot of the French culture coincided with my own heritage and I found so many similarities and interesting differences which you won’t discover on a simple holiday. I think that to appreciate the culture, the language and the traditions, you have to be immersed with people who are with the same intentions as you and those who want to help you experience their life and for that a language travel trip is ideal and of course I would recommend it to anyone.
How has learning French in France helped you since returning and do you still use it?
You don’t notice how British your accent is in French unless you’ve heard French spoken with a Swiss, German, Russian, Spanish accent (to name a few). My French accent will never be perfect as you can only correct pronunciation and not accent, but I sound much less out of place and a lot more confident in ‘imitating’ the way the French speak (matching their accent and tone). I do get the highest grades for French in school, but I believe that is because I did work for it – it’s not enough to just be in France, naturally you’d pick it up, but you must want to and be passionate about your cause. I try to use my French as often as I can, I am now able to watch movies in French, unfortunately you do forget things but having done the whole ‘go to France to learn French’ bit you do notice that more and more things stick and more cultural phrases will come to mind more naturally when speaking.
What were your favourite activities during your trip?
It’s really hard to choose one favourite as I enjoyed almost everything. In my first week we had a disco which was definitely one of my favourites even though typically it wouldn’t be an activity I would enjoy. Then the second and third week we went ice skating where I met one of my closest friends from France and I’ll tell you that that ice-rink was triple the size of any English ice-rink I have been to! So naturally I enjoyed that. In my last week they decided to reintroduce the disco again and it was the perfect way to say goodbye.
And although I enjoyed all of these activities I think my favourite time of day was after lunch when we had around an hour before any activities began. We played volleyball and racquets with the Animateurs and of course everybody joined in.
But all this said, I’d have to admit that swimming in the Mediterranean as the sun set and eating pizza on the beach was the most favourite point of my stay in Montpellier.
Are you planning to return to France?
Yes! Definitely. I love the French people, their food, their traditions, their attitudes, mindset and culture. And maybe I am biased, but the French language is so beautiful and definitely worth mastering. So, yes, I want to return to France, maybe take my family to Montpellier and the areas around, and I would definitely consider another language travel trip as one of my plans in following summers.
What advice would you give to students about to undertake a language travel trip?
When I first had the idea of going to France I was very hesitant to sign myself up, I had a friend who had convinced me (unintentionally) to do it as they had had such a great year abroad learning their foreign language. And after everything all I can say is don’t hesitate! Everybody on this language travel is there for the exact same reason as you so embrace it!
I was surprised at how easily it became for me to communicate with people as we all have the same interests. It’s so important (once you’re there) not to waste your time in whatever country you choose to go to. Talk to everyone, even if normally you wouldn’t – if you don’t like their impression then that’s okay but you won’t know unless you try.
I also found it really important to speak as much as you can in the language with your host parents, after all they are there to help you so don’t be afraid to test your knowledge. It took me 3 days to form a sentence spontaneously regarding jam and it being empty, but everyone was supportive of it and after that it just became so much easier to talk to my host mum and by the end of the month I was the one having the longer conversations and translating for the rest of my housemates. So my advice is to step out of the comfort zone, to try everything and if going to a hot place (such as the south of France), always take a water bottle!!!
Thank you so much for such a lovely and honest account of your time in Montpellier. We are so pleased you had a lovely time and met some great new friends and learnt a lot of French. 🙂