Preparing for Pau

Pointing to a fresh peach in the outdoor market, I smiled at the vendor and confidently told her, ‘un, s’il vous plait.” Expecting a nod, I looked at the madam with confusion as she crinkled up her eyebrows and gave me the most bewildered expression I have ever seen while purchasing produce. After dramatically waving one finger and pointing to the peach, she finally understood, laughing and pronouncing ‘un’ in the French-iest accent possible. Thus, my first goal for my study abroad trip materialized: to master (or at least begin to understand) the art of French pronunciation.

I am extremely excited to begin working on this goal when I travel to Pau, France, in a week to embark on a month-long intensive French course. Pau, located on the foothills of the Pyrenees and just under the Basque country, has been tantalizing me ever since I signed up for this study abroad experience. I adore French, nature, history, and art; Pau, with its ideal location straddling the mountains and Chateau of Henry IV, offers all that and more. Plus, I am looking forward to getting to know a smaller city, in contrast to the more metropolitan meccas of France.

At UF, I am a second-year studying Environmental Science and Economics, with a minor in French. After a week in Paris last year, I became enthralled with the language and began self-studying, as well as reading French literature, listening to French music, and traipsing around google maps to see the cities. I enjoyed France’s expansive history and beautiful language so much, I decided to pursue my interest and see where it takes me!

However, while my initial plan was to learn French—I am quite the beginner, with a semester under my belt—a two-week backpacking trip in southern France has solidified my love for the place itself. After backpacking for 10 days on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain, I decided to do an in-depth tour with my time. I enjoyed the sunny French Riviera in Nice, the Roman history of Provence, and as I type, the architectural wonderland of Toulouse. My last stop before Pau is the both modern and ancient Bordeaux, with its vineyards and châteaux. As I approach my visit to Pau, I am excited to embark on intensive French study (I know now how much I don’t know!); however, most of all, I am ready to further my knowledge of French history and geography. Before this trip, I studied French history as a history of kings and wars, but I am learning more and more that France is the overlapping and intersection of its various regions’ histories and cultures. I am glad to have the chance to hear Pau’s story.

Thus, after acquiring some language skills, my second goal in Pau will be to understand the region from a historical basis and a cultural basis though the span of my month. In conjunction, I am thrilled to be living with a host family! After travelling solo for a few weeks, being accustomed to doing things my way and on my own, I am aiming to do just the opposite in Pau. I hope to connect with my new family, meet fellow students, and perhaps strike up a few conversations. I look forward to documenting my discoveries of the region and its people—and maybe, with some more French, go back to the market vendor in Nice and ask for a peach with a perfect accent.

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