Cornell students traveled to Aix-en-Provence with French professor Devan Baty in 2011, and with French professor Rebecca Wines in 2013. In addition to their course work and independent research of French culture, students improved their linguistic proficiency and cultural competency by living with home-stay families and participating in local cultural excursions and activities such as guided visits to a local cheese shop, bakery and vineyard.
Weekend excursions included visits to the Papal palace in Avignon, the French Riviera in Nice, the beautiful French-speaking principality of Monaco and the perched medieval village of Eze, a site of an internationally-known perfume factory.
I had an amazing time in France. I lived in the country with a great family and had the opportunity to greatly improve my French skills. We had a classroom in the city, which allowed us to have class every morning, and it allowed us to go out into the city and experience what it had to offer in the afternoon. We went to museums, cafés, and little shops on our own. Every week, we also had several “field trips.” We went to a bakery and learned how to make some bread, went to a vineyard for a wine tasting, and spent the weekend in Nice and Monaco for Carnivale! This class allowed everyone to experience complete language immersion, discover a new place, delve deeper into the French culture, and do a project on a topic that interests them. My French greatly improved, I met many great French people while also getting to know my classmates, and I made many great memories that I will cherish forever.
While the main goal of my French 205 course was to obtain the various fundamentals of French grammar, speaking, and composition, the class in Aix-en-Provence focused largely on the conversational French that my classmates and I were surrounded by each day. We would meet in the mornings to cover textbook materials, then use the afternoon to explore the city of Aix and immerse ourselves in the culture. This would usually follow with a coordinated event that allowed us to use our French comprehension and speaking skills, but far from the textbook-rehearsed environment we had been so used to!
It was no longer the formulaic question and answer setting with you and your partner; the same scenario recreated ten times with a different noun and verb for each repetition. It was speaking to the actual Français—food vendors, bus drivers, our host families—hoping our accent didn't give us away and hoping even more to comprehend their responses at four times the speed we were used to. A whole day of this would follow with class the next morning, where we'd recount to each other the common phrases we heard, the slang we didn't understand, and the aspects of French living we found fascinating. It became clear to me that this class was not just about comprehending the language in its mother environment but about observing and understanding the culture that went along with it.
My favorite part of the trips were the planned visits to the boulangeries and fromageries. We were allowed to meet with the owners, see how they created their food, and, most importantly, taste said food. I got a sense of great enthusiasm from these people; they had an indisputable passion for their craft, la fabrication artisanale. These visits gave us an intimate and in-depth look at a particular aspect of French life. Being in a country foreign to your own can be terrifying. I for one feared lacking the ability to assimilate. But these glimpses into French culture put my little tourist heart at ease!