A Week in the Life of a Study Abroad Student

Before I left Seattle, I hadn’t really had enough information to imagine what would soon become the new normal in Grenoble. I had my routines back home to be sure, but I felt like I just wasn’t able to grasp what my life would be like here. I wanted to write this post in the hopes that by reading it, you might be able to get a better sense of what the routine here will be like, and anticipate how your time might be spent. Keep in mind that these are my experiences, and other students in the program may have had vastly different opportunities or desires to do other things.

Monday

Ah Monday. If I’ve traveled over the weekend, and I didn’t get the chance to do laundry during the evening of the night before, I may be scrounging at the bottom of my clean sock drawer from something to wear. Luckily, today is the day I have class at 10:30 am instead of 8:30. I tumble out of bed and the first stop is the bathroom, the second the kitchen for some food. If my host mom has woken before me, she might whip me up some scrambled eggs (by special request, as this isn’t a common breakfast staple in France). Breakfast might include yogurt, a banana, some fruit juice, and a bowl of cereal. Altogether not too bad. Then it’s off to getting ready for the day. I typically leave 40 minutes before class starts, and arrive by tram (which takes about 25 minutes) about 5-10 minutes before the professor.

I’ll spend my time waiting with other students, talking about our weekends. There are several other American students, whether with API or by themselves, or with other programs. There are also several South American and Chinese students, and it’s interesting that our common language is French, when so often in the U.S. it’s English. The first class of the day is our language class, and there are three other students from my school in the class with me. The teacher is one of the better ones, and he also teaches the two literature classes (for levels B1 and B2). This class is level B2.1, and other students from my program are in higher and lower levels (B2.5 I think is the highest one, and B1.9 is the lower one). In this class we work on grammar and vocabulary, often doing exercises and sometimes presentations on varying topics. We have a short test about once every other week, and compositions (250-450 words) are often weekly. As the semester has gone on, we’ve started to concentrate more heavily on presentations and advanced grammar rather than compositions. The homework load isn’t too bad- usually if we have a composition we have the weekend to complete it, and if we have a presentation we have about a week to complete it.

After the hour is up, we move as a class to the lab, where we listen with provided headsets to audio recordings like songs or news reports, and often fill in the blank spaces in worksheets (for songs) or respond to questions (for news reports). This is one of the more difficult parts of the class, but it’s necessary to practice critically thinking and responding to audio clips.

Then there’s about an hour and a half break, where usually I’ll buy lunch at the cafeteria and then head to the API office, which is located on campus. There I’ll run into both the API program directors and other students with API and my own program. Most of the time we just end up talking, but there are some who manage to get work done.

At 2:00pm I have my first culture class, which is Contemporary French Literature with my same grammar teacher. In this class, most of the students in the foreign language program (who are level B2) attend, meaning a wide range of ages and nationalities in an auditorium. In the beginning of the semester we read from excerpts of novels and focused on the themes and underlying struggles of the protagonists. Now, we are on the second novel (that we had to purchase) and spending several class periods covering each book.

After Literature is History of French Art. Having never taken an art class before, I was very intrigued by the subject matter but quickly found that I needed to find a way to study for the exams that worked. In this class we study classic styles of French art, famous and influential artists and painters, and the most important paintings of the time/style period as they are presented in a PowerPoint presentation. The professor often asks the students their interpretations of the paintings, of color and style and our impression of what we see.

The class finishes around 5:00pm, after which I make my way back to my host family’s house and settle in for the evening. Dinner is usually from 7:30-8:30, which is really quite late, and during dinner we talk about our days, we watch the news while we eat and talk about that. The conversations I have in the evening with my host family are really quite interesting, we talk about the differences and similarities of American vs. French culture, and more often than not the U.S. Presidential Election gets brought up.

If dinner finishes early enough I’ll tackle my laundry, but usually dinner lasts until 10:00 or so, and afterwards I’ll say ‘bonne nuit”! and head to bed.

Tuesday

Tuesday is my other late day, and so I’ll do a repeat of  Monday morning. Today there’s no lab, so it’s two hours of class instead of one. After class I have a much longer break, three hours until my next class which is translation. During this time I’ll grab lunch at the cafeteria and then head to the library on campus (where the wifi is much more reliable than at the API office) and spend my time doing homework or putzing around on the internet. Or, I might go back to my host family’s house where I’ll eat some leftovers from dinner the night before for lunch or my host mom might cook me something. To be noted, this is not in the contract with API, my host mom offered to make lunches for me because I’m typically gone over the weekends, and to her its a balance to offer me lunches on the days I’m in Grenoble.

Another option, since there’s so much time, is to do a little shopping or get lunch in town. If I’m by myself or with a small group I might get sandwiches or some stir fry in the center of Grenoble, and then we’ll make our way back to campus for our translation class. The translation class is one of the most difficult classes to get through, not because of the subject matter but just because it’s very monotonous. We take turns among the students reading English and French translations of articles, dialogue, etc.

Wednesday

Wednesday is my first early day of the week, when class start at 8:30. Today is the Techniques class, which is a class that focuses solely on helping us prepare for the DELF exam. I took the exam (and passed!!) in March, but for those others who haven’t been able to schedule it yet, it’s an incredibly helpful class. It’s a little bit like being back in middle school, when I originally learned how to write a paper, but since it’s all in French, complete with key words and transitioning phrases, it’s made much more difficult. In this class we didn’t used to have compositions, but recently we’ve been tasked with oral presentations, similar to what we would do in the actual DELF exam.

Luckily, this is the day where I have only one class. So usually on Wednesday I’ll do my laundry and errands, like buying snacks or toiletries, and maybe I’ll go to a movie if there’s something good in the theater. Sometimes, I’ll go back home and just nap. Other students I know will go to the park, or take a long lunch, maybe do some shopping. Not a bad way to spend humpday!

Thursday

On Thursday, I have my regular grammar course, and my last of the three culture classes, French Business & Economy. If you’ve taken an introductory economics class before, this really isn’t too challenging intellectually. It is of course, like all the other classes, completely in French. However the teacher has us work from little packets, and the PowerPoint presentations as well as video clips shown in class are useful in filling out the information. The added bonus is that for the exams and midterms (not applicable to everyone at the school, but applicable to my program) the test questions are sourced from the packets we work on in class.

If I have plans to travel for the weekend, I’ll typically leave for the Lyon airport via train from the station in Grenoble after class, since the train takes an hour to get there, I usually book my flights to leave around 6-8pm, meaning I get into the city I’m visiting about 10-11, which isn’t too bad. Typically I’ll already have directions to the hostel via public transportation, and I download a map of the transit system before I leave Grenoble.

Friday-Sunday

If I’m not traveling over the weekend, I’ll sleep in because there aren’t usually classes on Fridays. Sometimes a class earlier in the week will be rescheduled on Friday (this has happened twice now with my Literature class) but this is rare. Other than that, there’s the whole weekend to relax, do what you want to do, take a day trip somewhere, do some homework, or spend time with your host family. I know of a few students who have gone skiing over the weekends, or traveled with their host families like I did in Marseille.

I hope that this has given you a better idea of what you can expect to do and how you can expect to pass your time while you’re in Grenoble. Know that there are always different choices you can make too!

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