Katie Nodjimbadem - 2013 Program Participant

Visiting Les Chateaux de la Loire

Katie spent an afternoon exploring Les Chateaux de la Loire.

Why did you choose to study abroad? Why did you think it would be beneficial?

I chose to study abroad because I wanted to be pushed out of my comfort zone and experience something outside of the American university system. I also wanted to improve my French language skills, and I knew that immersing myself in French culture was the best way to do that.

Why did you choose to study in Nantes as opposed to other cities in France? 

I chose to study abroad in Nantes because I wanted to be in a city where there would be few English speakers so that I could be fully immersed in the language. I also chose Nantes because I wanted to be in a smaller city that I could get to know and feel comfortable in quickly.

What did you live in Nantes?

I lived with a wonderful host family that consisted of two parents and four children between the ages of eight and 14.

Status of Duchesse Anne in front of the Chateau des ducs de Bretagne

Visiting the statue of Duchesse Anne in front of the Chateau des ducs de Bretagne.

What was a normal day like as a student in France?

On a normal day I ate breakfast with my host family before my host siblings went to school and my host parents went to work. During the day I attended classes at both the IES Abroad Center in downtown Nantes, and the local university. In between classes I explored the city; taste tested new foods, window shopped in bookstores and read in local parks. I also participated in a tennis class at the local university as a way to meet French students.

What was the most memorable experience you have from your time studying abroad in France? 

It’s very difficult to choose just one memorable experience, but one that always comes to mind is the night I made Christmas cookies with my host sisters. My two host sisters were fascinated by American baked goods and they frequently asked me to tell them about foods that I ate in the U.S. So, I decided to spend one of my last nights with them showing them how to make typical American Christmas cookies. I asked my mom to email me recipes and I went to a specialty cooking store to find cookie cutters. The girls were thrilled to learn how to make the cookies, and I enjoyed explaining the process to them with the French skills I had gained throughout the semester. After we baked the cookies, the entire family sat on the floor in front of the fireplace in the living room to try them. This type of exchanging of cultures is the purpose of study abroad and that night will be something I remember for years to come.

What important tips can you give to future study abroad students headed to Nantes?

Take time to be alone when you need it. Some of my most valuable learning experiences happened when I took a stroll through the city by myself after classes. Sometimes when you’re alone it’s easier to slow down and absorb the sights around you because you have fewer distractions. I made it a point to walk home instead of taking the bus several times a week so that I could look at everything around me without the distractions of a crowded bus or tram.

Spend time with your host family. Although I learned a lot of French in my classes, I learned so much more about speaking the French language just from conversing with my host family. They really did become like a family to me and because I took time to get to know them, I felt very comfortable in their home.

Large mechanical elephant in Nantes

One of the most famous attractions in Nantes is a large mechanical elephant.

If you could study abroad again, where would you go?

If I could study abroad again I would go to another part of France or another francophone country. I would consider the Provence region in the south of France. I had the opportunity to visit a couple of regions in the south of France before I headed off to Nantes and I absolutely loved it. The culture is colorful and lively just like the landscape that is marked by wildflowers and beaches. I would also go to Switzerland if I had the chance to study abroad again because Geneva is such an important city for international relations, and the beauty of the country is unmatched.

Did you feel like you had reverse culture shock when you arrived back in the U.S.?

I wouldn’t describe my re-entry as reverse culture shock exactly, but I did find it difficult to reintegrate myself into my life in the U.S. I missed Nantes terribly and wanted to be there instead of in the U.S. because I did not feel the same connection to some of my student groups and extracurricular activities that I had before studying abroad. It was a slow process of rediscovering my place at Northwestern, but it forced me to reflect on how study abroad impacted me and what it meant for the rest of my college career and beyond.