Signature Experiences at Peddie enable students to spend the summer before their senior year pursuing their passion. For her Signature Experience, Daria Kuiantseva '19 spent six weeks in France to learn about the language and culture.
For my Summer Signature Experience I decided to learn more about French culture and language by spending six weeks living in Paris with a French family and taking lectures every day in an international school for French immersion.
My first experience getting off the plane from New York to Paris was the feeling of relief I get whenever I leave America and land anywhere in Europe. I wouldn’t be able to explain why, but Europe just feels like home, like I know where I am and what to do. America still doesn’t feel that way for me.
I was extremely nervous to meet my host family. What if I didn’t like them? Or they didn’t like me? I knew there would be very little I could do and I’d have to stay with them for all six weeks. Thankfully, they turned out to be absolutely lovely. My main hostess was Louise - a retired lawyer whose older children moved away to start their own families, leaving her with her youngest daughter Maha, who was a few years older than me. I was surprised to find out I wasn’t the only student staying with Louise; besides me, there were three other girls who were from Switzerland, Mexico, and Norway. They had all been there for some time already and were nice enough to show me how to use the subway. I found the Paris subway system to be in pretty good condition-- definitely better than the one in New York, but certainly not nearly as good as the one in Moscow. (In case you are somehow still unaware, Moscow subway, though awfully crowded, is run incredibly well.)
My typical day would consist of taking a 40-minute commute to class (5-minute walk from home to subway, 30 minutes on subway with 2 switches, 5-minute walk from subway to school), then one 2-hour long general French class and 2-3 elective classes. At the beginning of the course they let us choose which four electives we wanted to take; I chose Vocabulary, Communication, Pronunciation, and Grammar. After the first two Pronunciation classes, my teacher said my accent was fine and that I should probably switch to a different elective (which really helped boost my confidence), so I took a Cuisine class instead and ended up loving it despite never having cooked before. Every class we divided into two groups and made one dish each: savory and sweet. I usually ended up in the savory group due to both my aversion to sugar and the fact that I was one of the few people not too squeamish to work with meat and poultry. In the months following my trip I often had an urge to try cooking something, which I’d never actually felt before.
As for my free time, I usually spent it visiting Parisian landmarks or wandering around the city center. I found that my favorite arrondissements (~districts in plain, old, non-poetic English) were 1,2,3,4 - I know, shocking that I would like the oldest ones. I would go to the Louvre (even managing to take a not-entirely-unsuccessful-selfie with the Mona Lisa while being physically attacked from all sides by others on the same quest), walk along the quay of Seine, cross the Pont Notre-Dame to see (surprise!) Notre-Dame. Probably my favorite place, though, was the Rue Montorgueil, which went up from Les Halles and Église St-Eustache. It’s a lively, steep, brick-laid pedestrian street that has all sorts of little restaurants, cafés, and shops along it. To me, it embodied the spirit of Paris, or at least the way I imagined and remembered it to be.
During one of the weekends I went on an overnight trip to Normandy and Brittany, visiting the picturesque port of Honfleur, as well as the town of Deauville, famous for its American Film Festival and being the location of Coco Chanel’s first boutique. The highlight of the trip, however, was Mont-Saint-Michel - the island with the fortified abbey that looks straight up magical, especially if the lighting is right. Doesn’t it look just like Hogwarts in the picture above? I think it does.
On my third day there, to my absolute delight, I found a small coffee shop around the corner from my school that had pretty good coffee and wonderful little brioche-bread sandwiches with tomatoes, mozzarella and spices. They also had reasonably priced fresh orange juice, so my breakfast always consisted of those three things.
While I was there, the World Cup was taking place in Russia. Since I was already 18, I went out to watch both the quarter- and semifinals that France won. After France defeated Belgium to get into the final, Paris was basically on fire. People were climbing street lights and bus stops, everybody was shouting, drinking, running around. Every car was honking. Most people had a flag in one hand and a drink in the other. Some things were in flames that I was pretty sure weren’t supposed to be. I had to elbow-shovel my way into the subway car to get home. It felt like Paris had won Blair Day, but times ten (sorry Peddie). I had flashbacks to learning about the riots during the French Revolution. It was so wild that I was glad I would no longer be in the city for the final.
"Europe just feels like home, like I know where I am and what to do."
One bone I have to pick with Parisians is how many of them smoke almost non-stop. The number of people I had to walk entire blocks behind that were smoking the whole time is terrifyingly high. Obviously, I don’t judge people for smoking - it’s everybody’s personal choice - I would just much prefer if I didn’t have to be so close to them while they were doing it. The situation was so dire I felt grateful whenever I found myself near people who were vaping; at least that smelled pretty nice and ensured I wouldn’t be a passive smoker for the next few minutes.
Overall, living in Paris for six weeks and interacting with French people every day was an amazing experience, I loved every second of it and wouldn’t trade it for anything else. It truly helped me immerse myself in French language and culture, advancing my language skills as well as my understanding of the Parisian way of life.