We’re a week in to the French portion of my sabbatical adventure, so I thought I’d share some details about day-to-day life here in Villefranche, and at the Institut. And I’ll throw in a few photos to keep things interesting…
My apartment is in the old city, in a pedestrian-only area with lots of restaurants and shops.
It’s a few blocks from the port. It’s generally charming, though a bit loud at night. Oh, and they ring church bells on the half-hour beginning at 7am. Even on the weekends.
At around 8am, I start the climb up to the Institut. Breakfast is served from 8:15 to 9am. Three days a week we gather at 8:40 to watch the French news and talk about the stories reported. Classes start at 9am. I was placed into Intermediate 4, the highest Intermediate group and the 6th out of 8 levels. There are 10 people in my group ranging in age from 19 to 60-something, from Canada, the US, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
From 9 until 10:40 or so, we have conversation, grammar and usage lessons, and other activities. After a short break, we have an hour of language lab. This is a bit draconian, and involves headphones and workstations and endless repetition of exercises. The upside is that it’s the only time of day that we’re not being constantly corrected – it’s just me and my headphones.
Then it’s back to the classroom until lunch at 1:10pm. Lunch is decidedly NOT a break. Attendance is required; we eat with Intermediate 3 and Advanced 1 and 2. There are instructors at each table who keep the conversation going, and, yes, continue to correct our errors. The instructors are, uniformly, excellent. Within 2 days they knew the name of every student – no small thing given that there are almost 90 people in the program. They are creative, enthusiastic, and endlessly patient.
After lunch we have a session called “séance practique”, which covers topics like introductions, phone etiquette, and social situations. It’s probably the most enjoyable part of the day, as it’s interactive and usually pretty funny. We get a 30-minute break in the afternoon, then class resumes until 4:45 or 5pm. Afternoon tea is served, and then we’re free to go. I have about 20-30 minutes of homework each day.
Late this week, a new activity was introduced: the exposé. Each person in the group is asked to talk for 10 minutes on a topic of their choosing. Each member of the class is required to ask at least one question of the speaker. It’s sort of the verbal equivalent of a firing squad.
In case you’ve forgotten, we’re speaking French this ENTIRE TIME. During breaks, during lunch, during tea. The focus of the program is on spoken language, so they’re making sure we have plenty of opportunity to speak and to practice, and to make lots of mistakes.
It can be exhausting, but the payoff comes in moments like today, touring around Eze with a fellow student. We stopped into the shop of a glass artist. Her work was quite complex and beautiful, and without having to think too much about it, I asked her if she could explain her technique. It was so satisfying to be able to engage directly with her. And she was more than happy to continue chatting with us in French.
With a week behind me, I have to say that I couldn’t be happier with this experience. While the class is challenging, every element of my stay has been wonderful. I stroll through town each evening and pinch myself that I get to be here for another few weeks.