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A Semester in Nantes

By Matt Camp ('03)

Matt with his host family

I spent the 2001 fall semester studying in Nantes, a city of about 500,000 in the northwest of France, with IES (International Education of Students).  Students studying with this program are automatically enrolled at both the IES institute, conveniently located in the center of town, and at the Université de Nantes.  We could choose to take as many or as few courses as we wished at either institution.  Not entirely confident in my level of French, I chose to take all but one of my courses at the IES institute.  At an orientation period at the beginning of our stay we were given a placement test that assessed our respective linguistic capabilities and helped us to choose courses that were best suited to our varied levels of proficiency.  I took several French language courses, but also courses in other areas of study, such as Economics and Sociology.  All of these courses were instructed in French by French faculty.  This was a challenge, especially at first, but I soon got used to it and by the end of the semester, it seemed completely natural.

I really enjoyed living in Nantes.  The city is full of beautiful architecture, made possible, unfortunately, by the slave trade that prospered there during the 18th century.  Nantes is still a thriving port city, situated at the mouth of the Loire River, and is surrounded by countryside filled with vineyards and châteaux.  There are plenty of great restaurants, crêperies, cafés, and nightclubs, and a large student population.  The IES institute organized events that allowed us to meet other French students, with many of whom I became good friends.

All 50 of the participants of the program, Americans from all over the country, lived with their own host families.  I found this aspect of the program to be extremely valuable as it immersed me in the French language and culture.  My host family was very kind and encouraged me to improve my French.  I enjoyed our dinner conversations, which, to my amusement, often consisted of my host father explaining to me that just about everything important ever invented was invented by a Frenchman, from whom credit was often taken by someone else.

The IES program included several trips that allowed us to discover some of the surrounding region.  Our four-day orientation period was spent at Batz-sur-Mer, a small resort town on the Atlantic, from which we made several short excursions to nearby points of interest.  Later, we took a weekend trip to the northern coast of Brittany, where we visited Mont St. Michel, a fortified medieval village that becomes an island at high tide, and St. Malo, another strategically positioned medieval town.  Finally, for our last trip as a group, we visited six different châteaux of the Loire Valley, including the famous Chenanceau.  I also had the opportunity to take several trips of my own.  I further explored the region of Brittany on a road trip with several friends, visited Paris several times, toured the landing beaches of the Battle of Normandy, and even made it to Scotland, Switzerland and Italy.

My semester in Nantes was an incredible experience.  I significantly improved my ability to communicate in French and increased my cultural understanding of France and of the French people.  I also had a lot of fun along the way!