Chase Burnham: Université Catholique de l’Ouest in Angers, France

This summer I had the opportunity to study abroad in Angers, France. For four weeks I studied French language, culture, and history at the Université Catholique de l’Ouest. Each day I took classes in language and grammar, oral expression, and culture and history of the Anjou and surrounding regions as well as France as a whole. Each class involved projects and exams to test my abilities in expression and comprehension.

In addition to classes, each week, the university had a set of excursions and activities in which the students could participate. Because of the excursions, I was able to travel all over the northwestern portion of France. I attended the Puy du Fou in Vendée (a theatrical performance detailing French history from the medieval period through World War II), I visited the cathedral of Mont Saint Michel and the beachside fort and city of Saint-Malo in the Bretagne and Normandie regions, I explored several castles of the Loire Valley including Château de Chambord and Château de Chenonceau, and I was able to visit the World War II Museum of Caen, Omaha Beach, and the nearby American Cemetery in Normandie. The activities were more focused on Angers, itself. The activities included a boat ride down the Loire River to see the local flora and fauna, a demonstration by a master chocolatier at one of the most highly regarded chocolateries in the region, and a tour of the Cointreau Museum and brewery. One of my main motivations for the trip was to experience French culture, and the excursions and activities allowed me to experience much more than I may have been able to do alone.

I was lucky enough to be able to have more experiences like the activities outside of the university. I made some great friends while there, and we did several of our own activities. We visited the Château d’Angers, a magnificent castle originally built in the 9th century, and now it is home to the Apocalypse Tapestry. Near the castle is the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which houses some of the most magnificent works of French art, including a sculpture gallery by Angers native David d’Angers. Just outside of Angers is Terra Botanica, an odd combination of an amusement park with a botanical garden. The gardens are gorgeous, and there are nearly 300,000 different species of plants. We were also lucky enough to be in Angers during Tempo Rives, a free music festival that is held every Tuesday and Thursday during July. The concerts are held on the banks of the Maine River and feature musicians native to France; many are also from the Anjou region.

One of my favorite aspects of my travels is also the most basic. For a month, I was able to live somewhere where I was forced to speak French. Many people in Angers do speak English, but the majority do not, forcing me to speak and practice my abilities. It’s also great being able to stay somewhere where I hear the language spoken. Up until this summer, I had not had the opportunity to speak at length with native French speakers, and I adored every second I was able to do so. Towards the end of the month, I was more confident in my French than ever, and I spoke it more openly in public. Once, I was approached by an American tourist who, after overhearing me speak, asked me, in French, if I spoke English to give him directions. While I’m not fluent yet, my French has greatly improved, and I have more confidence to speak than ever before, and that was my main motivation for wanting to study abroad. I can’t thank the Honors College enough for giving me this amazing opportunity.