It’s been almost two weeks since I flew over from Ireland and set up camp here in the beautiful city of Avignon, south-east France, for my third year of university.
The time has absolutely flown. Avignon has the small-town feel of Galway, where I will return for my final year of undergraduate studies in September 2012, and has all the ancient architecture, beauty and laid-back approach you could ask for in a French commune.
As part of the University of Avignon’s welcome programme for Erasmus students, we’ve had nights out in Avignon (from Irish pubs to the local cinema, ‘Utopia République’), we’ve had information sessions galore, library visits, presentations, French grammar classes and a tombola (a prize draw). To my amazement, I won a goodie bag…I never win anything!
We’re a huge bunch: there’s about one hundred and twenty Erasmus students from all over the world currently crashing the city. There are ninety nationalities among us: English, Australian, Canadian, Brazilian, Italian, German, Czech and Spanish, just to name a few, and, of course, there are four of us Irish from NUIG representing our country! English seems to be the first or, at least, second language of the majority of us. While this is useful for quick communication, we have to make a conscious effort to speak French to each other, as it is the language we are there to improve on.
It’s been difficult trying to decipher what courses to do, but I’m going to pop in to Français Langue Étrangère, which is a subject specifically designed for students whose maternal language is not French. The English courses are quite varied and we get to do a sport (hmph) and a cultural module too, such as choir, theatre or writing (yay!), as part of our sixty credits for the year. I, however, am entirely evaluated on my writing that I submit weekly to Galway, which I talked about in my last post, so I’m going to the university classes for my own benefit. It’s still amazing and utterly terrifying that I am being marked on how I will write my first novel, but I’m ready for the challenge.
France, of course, offers more to me than third-level courses, a wonderful university and an opportunity to write my novel; it’s ideal as a base for travelling. My aim is to focus on a few cities around the country and, by the end of the academic year, have them ticked off my list. I’ve already been to Paris, but then again, I was nine. All I cared about was going to Disneyland Theme Park (which was unbelievable)! I still have great memories from that trip: walking around Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (which I shall be forever enchanted by), meeting Mickey Mouse, going on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups ride, and clutching my massive instant camera. After my sister and I had had our fill of the amusements, the family went to soak up some French culture at the Notre Dame Cathedral, which was strikingly beautiful.
This time, eleven years later, I will only be a two hours and forty minute zoom on the train to the capital. I will hang out at the Eiffel Tower, visit the Palace of Versailles and I’d also like to see the most visited art museum in the world, The Louvre. I can’t wait to dine out in one of the most celebrated metropolitan centres of the world and no doubt I will haunt many French bookshops during my trip there.
Not only do I plan on terrifying the Parisians, I’ll also call in to the Southern cities of Nimes, Arles and Marseille. All of them are within easy commuting reach from Avignon and I’ve heard nothing but great reports about them. While I’m based here in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, I’ve been told, it’s important to take advantage of the insanely fast Train à Grande Vitesse (literally meaning ‘Train at High Speed’, yikes) and the proximity of the wonderful places to visit nearby.
Hopefully, I will be able to squeeze in a trip to Northern Italy before the year is out – I’d love to get to Milan, Genoa, Florence or Bologna because I haven’t seen any of those places before. My favourite city ever – tying with my love of London – is the magnificent city of Verona. I will never forget the brilliant time I had there six years ago and I can’t wait to go back.
All in all, I’m sure a fantastic year lies in store for me en France. Bring on the excitement, adventure and fun!