Katherine Karr, a MA Cultural Policy, Relations and Diplomacy student, completed a French language course in Toulouse. She was awarded a £300 Santander Universities Go Abroad bursary to help fund her experience.
As a Canadian student, when I was younger, I took my elementary school years of education in French. From a young age to about 13 years old, I was completely fluent in both English and French. However, when it came to go to High School, I decided to go to an English school where I didn’t have any opportunity to uphold my second language. This led to me, sadly, losing my ability to speak in French. Although I took a few classes, I knew if I truly wanted to regain my bilingualism I needed to go back into an immersive experience. It is for this reason that I sought out an immersion class in France while studying at Goldsmiths. After looking online, I discovered that Toulouse has an intensive 2-week program that was meant for intermediate learners – it sounded perfect!
For two weeks I lived with a French couple in the outskirts of the beautiful Toulouse. I went to class every morning where I engaged with other international students or recently immigrated individuals who were trying to either learn French from scratch or improving their abilities like me. I learned rather quickly that the group was quite diverse (and that I may have underestimated my abilities by being in a lower level class) and eager to learn just like me. However, getting to live with a French family who spoke little English pushed me to speak in French all the time when I was out of class and really made me feel immersed in the language. Although the classes were useful, the immersion was truly what worked for me.
One of the highlights of my every day schedule was going to the little bakery on the corner – picking up a baguette for breakfast or just chatting with the shop owner after a long day of class and work. The pace was very different to London and was a good reminder that sometimes it’s a good idea to just slow down.
My biggest challenge while abroad was that I sprained my ankle badly. Although in the UK I knew what I would have to do, being in France – and on a religious holiday weekend – I realized I had no clue what the process was or how to find a GP. Thankfully, my host family was very gracious and offered to help me get medicine and even book a doctor’s appointment. Although I’ll be healing from the injury for several months, I am very grateful to have had the support of locals. If I had one tip – other than making sure you have travel insurance of course – it would be to ensure you have at least one local friend while you’re abroad. You might feel inclined to hang out with other expats or internationals, but in times of crisis it’s nice to have someone who knows the area.
Overall, my experience going abroad with the Alliance Toulouse and Go Abroad was amazing. Not only did I get to have a structured class to practice French, getting to live in an amazing city like Toulouse where not many people spoke English was a huge plus. I really got to feel immersed in the culture and would not exchange my experience for anything.