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Gina Veltman

My life in France is most memorable to me not because of the amazing monuments I saw (truly spectacular!) or the mouth-watering croissants I ate (several times a week on my way to class), but because of the home I found there. My wonderful semester was due in large part to the people I met and the conversations in which we exchanged opinions and viewpoints, intimate stories and weekend plans. When I reflect on my time in Nantes, my mind highlights the people I will never forget: my host-mom Annie with her kitchen walls plastered with facts and statistics, forcing any guest to confront the pressing issues we often ignore: racism, injustice, poverty and environmentalism. I remember the night we sat in front of the map on the wall for hours, "unraveling the problems of the world all in one night," as my host-mom said. I think about Annie showing me (nervous and shy) off to her neighbors with, "Voilà ma nouvelle fille!" (Here is my new daughter!). Nantes is Madame Rouchet, the compassionate directrice of IES Nantes, with her short, chic, white hairstyle and her pink lipsticked smile, so quintessentially French. It's taking walks along the Elbe River through the centreville with cones of gelato and my French-Senegalese best friend, Anta.

I left my American home with tears and a sense of dread about the coming four months, but I didn't anticipate that I would cry equally as hard when I left Nantes, my new home, my life there and the people I'd grown to love so dearly.

I honestly could continue writing for pages about life in my perfect city, Nantes, with its friendly bakeries, and its beautiful mote around the Château des ducs de Bretagne, which, in the springtime, is filled with sunbathers and young amants. I loved the bustling and friendly city, taking public transportation and enjoying the traditional Breton cider and galettes. It was truly une belle vie.

I fell in love with the French life, but I also loved my Study Abroad program (IES Nantes) and the courses I took (except grammar). IES really helped me to adjust quickly to the city and avoid making faux pas in French etiquette (addressing people older than oneself as "vous" is much more important than I realized!). I also sincerely took some of the best courses I've had throughout college. Studying French politics, religion and art, I not only learned new information, but I was able to understand old issues from a completely new perspective.

Although Nantes is a lively city, some of my f vorite adventures throughout the semester were traveling through France. There were several fieldtrips with IES to sites around the country: several of the Châteaux de la Loire straight out of fairy-tales, Le Mont-St. Michel (my absolute favorite!), the beaches of Normandy and even a vineyard for a picnic and wine tasting. I also did some of my own travels to the French cities of Nice and Lyon (plus a trip to Rome!) during my school breaks.

My semester abroad goes way beyond preparing me for a career! Perhaps a bit cliché, but living in Nantes has prepared me for the future and has enhanced my life in the present. I be- came exponentially more independent and confident in my own abilities. I learned that there is a time to speak, but there is also a time to be quiet and listen, which sometimes means giving no answers or opinions.

Though I felt I was already culturally tolerant, my understanding and also the solidarity I now feel for aliens in my country have grown. I am not only confident in my language skills, but have developed a better understanding of a new culture, an appreciation for differences, giving me the ability to collaborate in our global society.

I could not be more grateful for the lessons learned in Nantes and the people who helped me learn them. It is a wonderful feeling that my years of studying the French language have provided me with such irreplaceable opportunities: to form friendships across the ocean, to learn from a different culture and to understand and be understood.