Name: Nathan Bennett ‘ 15
Hometown: Lynnwood, WA
Major: Foreign Language & Literature: French, German Studies
OCS Program: IES: Nantes (Fall 2013), IES Freiburg Language & Area Studies (Spring 2014)
Studying abroad has been one of the most rewarding intellectual experiences I’ve had the chance of participating in. As this is the first time I have ever been to Europe, everything is new here; I find myself struck simply by the fact that I’m actually studying in France, something I never could have pictured myself doing even just at the beginning of my studies at Whitman.
Obviously, as a French major, studying in France provides me with a fantastic opportunity to “live” French in a way that’s simply not possible in a solely academic environment. My French language skills are much better now after almost three months of speaking almost only French, and even if I am still not perfect in my ability to speak French, this semester has given me the confidence to speak out in French even when I know what I am saying isn’t 100% correct. Now, simple little phrases like “donc” and “en fait” seem second hand, and it’s almost difficult not to using them when speaking English with my parents over Skype.
In addition to academic benefits, my semester in France has allowed me with the opportunity to better understand Europe and its role in the world. Previously, France and the rest of Europe have always seemed like a far-off concept: the birthplace of the renaissance, soccer, and almost any “ism” you can think of. Living in France has allowed me to put more of a human face on the continent, although the amount of historical significance here is still mind-boggling for me. In France, I’m always struck by the fact that the people, land and even the language all seem more connected to the past than in the United States.
As I said before, this semester is the first time I have ever been to Europe, so even after almost three months, everything still has a shiny new sparkle. For me, Europe’s “new car smell” has yet to wear off (we’ll see if it ever does). That being said, there have been many moments that stand out as highlights this semester. The first time I saw a cathedral in Vannes, for instance, was probably one of the most awe inspiring moments of my life. Between the sheer size of the building and the significance it has held for hundreds of years, actually getting to see the cathedral rather than just a picture finally allowed me to connect everything I had ever learned about Christianity and European history with what I was actually seeing.
As for interacting with locals, I have thoroughly enjoyed spending the past semester with my host parents, Pierre and Martine. Before coming to France, I can’t recall ever thinking of anyone as adorable, but seeing my host parents interact with each other and the world around them in such a quintessentially French way has been incredibly fun and interesting to watch. Still, of all the interactions I have had with the French, my most rewarding have come from getting to play soccer with a French club. The past two months, I have regularly gone every Wednesday and Friday, regardless of weather, to the small village of Saint-Luce just outside of Nantes to train with the local soccer club. Even if I am not A team caliber, and probably won’t even get to play in a competitive game with the C team before the semester ends, getting to interact and bond with the other players has been a fantastic experience and one that I’ll never forget. Even more than studying abroad in France, I honestly can say that I never would have dreamed of getting to play soccer in France.