One Classroom, One World

Hello. My name is Kellene. I’m from the United States. I’ve been in France for a week and a half.


That’s how I introduced myself in all of my classes, which take place at the IRFFLE (l’Institut de Recherche et de Formation en Français Langue étrangère) at the Université de Nantes. IRFFLE is the department where foreign exchange students learn French. For this first week, I took hours of grammar, phonetics, oral comprehension, oral expression, French literature, theatre and French cinema! During this first week, I’ve met so many foreign exchange students. Some are my age, some are older. Some are planning on living in France, some are planning on returning to their home countries. Some are from Africa, some are from Asia, some are from Europe, some are from North America, some are from South America. Some are against guns in America, some for guns, some don’t have an opinion. Some speak English, some don’t. But all are in one classroom. All have a passion for the French language and culture. Sometimes, it is our similarities that are stronger than our differences.


No matter what our countries believe or what our personal beliefs are, we are on an equal playing field in the classroom. In a classroom at IRFFLE, an American can discuss French literature with an Iraqi student, a Mexican student, a Chinese student, a British student. It is our common goal of learning the French language that drives us forward, not our differences. From these remarkable individuals, I am learning about the world, not just the French language. I love listening to their stories of struggles and triumphs of navigating the human condition. We often judge individuals by how different they are from us, but we should, instead, strive to see the commonalities that link us together.


Today, I had lunch with a student from Columbia and discussed French literature. I went to a Galette de Roi (King’s Cake) party hosted by the international student organization. There, I met many students from many different countries. I knew that the Université de Nantes had a huge international population, but I had no idea how incredibility diverse the program was. I truly enjoy conversations with other international students.


However, I am also striving to integrate myself into the French society and French language. Besides the long hours I spend in school, I am integrating French into my daily life. Every day, I read the regional newspaper. Hulu is blocked here in France, which is fine, because I am now watching several French TV shows. I haven’t found a French radio station I like yet and most of the French radio stations have American music anyway! I speak only in French. Sometimes, when people learn I am from America, they switch to English (especially international students – English appears to have become an international language meaning most people I’ve met speak English). I have to tell them to please speak in French. I’m here to practice my French.


Of course, English pops up everywhere. My computer is in English. I write my blog in English. I communicate with friends back home in English. I communicate with my parents in English. I think in English.


But I’m trying. My plan to immerse myself as much as possible is having some success. I was pleasantly surprised to be walking on the sidewalk and I had this thought come into my mind:


Okay. Let’s cross the rue now. Wait. Rue. That’s not English. What’s the English word for ‘rue’? Oh yeah. The street. Let’s cross the street now.


Yes, I talk to myself in my brain. My thoughts are strange, I know. But I do have moments where I can feel the French seeping into my brain…and it’s not just the French language either. It’s the culture.


I’ve kissed so many people! Let me explain. In France, to greet someone (or to say goodbye), you kiss them on one side of the cheek and then the other (and it’s more of an “air” kiss). This is called “bisous.” Everyone does it, but I was so nervous the first time someone tried to kiss me. Here were my exact thoughts…


He’s coming a little close to me. Oh gosh. No. No. No. Yep. He’s going to do that whole bisous thing. Oh dear. Do I go to the left? Or the right? How many times do we do this? What if I mess up? I’m so embarrassed. I think I’m blushing. Okay. Act natural. Here it goes… Right. Left. Done. That’s it? Okay. That wasn’t so bad.  


Depending on what region of France you are in, the number of bisous given can vary. Here, at least in my experience, it is only done twice and it starts on the right and ends on the left. I’m starting to get used to it, although I might need more practice…especially with some nice looking French boys. I’m kidding of course!


There you have it. My name is Kellene. I’m from the United States. I’m here to learn French, about the French culture, and about the world. So, what about you? What’s your name? Where are you from? Why are you here?