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Trekking in Brittany

By Scott Dalessandro('04)
French/Spanish Double Major

If there is one thing that I would suggest that every student do, regardless of his or her major, it would be to spend at least one semester abroad. I was lucky enough to spend the academic year of 2002-03 in Rennes, France and Seville, Spain.
Located in Brittany, Rennes is a small university town of about 200,000 of which thirty percent are students! I remember well considering where to apply – Should I go to Paris? Or Nantes? Perhaps Mali? I chose Rennes because it seemed to have just what I was looking for. It has a smaller town feel, but you will certainly not run out of places to see, things to do, or people to meet. You are also only two hours away from Paris, with trains leaving about ten times daily. In Rennes, your classrooms will not be full of other Americans like many programs – my peers and new friends are students from Thailand, Brazil, Peru, Vietnam, El Salvador, Serbia and more. Since French is the only language you will probably have in common, you learn lots about other people as well as experience different approaches and ideas that people hold about the French. With the Council programs there is also an option to enroll in University classes with the French students, which is where I met most of my French friends with whom I still keep in contact.

One of the things that I miss most about my time abroad is the amazing public transportation systems. In France I lived with a host family about thirty-five minutes from the university, first taking the bus downtown and then riding the metro along with many, many other students. The schedules are always very accurate, coming every few minutes until the small hours, and then running once every hour for those memorable late nights out with friends. I also decided to take advantage of the bike paths that cover every major route as well as many smaller roads. With my chic black, hot pink and purple second-hand road bike, I made the 15 kilometer trek over the well-paved paths and lanes strictly reserved for cyclists almost everyday for two months despite the frequent Breton mizzle. (I would not recommend taking off one’s wet sandals in a French classroom!)

Four months in another country and language is only a tease – it will pass faster than you can fathom, you’ll be just getting comfortable when it is time to leave. My sincere advice to anybody that really wants to become proficient in another language is to ask lots of questions and to not be bashful– even if you might think you know the answer. Your host family is one of the richest resources that you’ll have – enjoy them as much as possible. Also, stick around your city or region as much as you can – try not to spend every weekend in a different European city because this is when the other students are hanging out and getting to know each other, and so should you!