My first week in Bordeaux has been off to an incredibly busy start.  My host brother brought me to the Université Bordeaux Montaigne on my second day here for a picnic and orientation with all of the other UC students studying abroad here.  Joelle, who is in charge of our program and classes, and Anaïs, who is in charge of our housing and activities, gave us an incredibly warm welcome.  We discussed details of the schedule for the upcoming two weeks, including the French placement exam that we would take the following morning.  

The French placement exam was 3 hours long, and consisted of three sections: reading, written, and oral comprehension.  The exam did not count for a grade, but was rather used to place each student in one of four levels for the Intensive Language Program (ILP), which takes place in the two weeks prior to the start of classes at the university.  I will explain this program in more detail later in the next post! 

The University of Bordeaux has campuses located in different parts of what is called the Bordeaux Métropole, which is essentially the city of Bordeaux itself and its surrounding suburbs.  Each campus has a general specialization, such as humanities, or science and technology.  For the most part, many of the campuses are concentrated in the suburbs of Talence and Pessac, located about 25 minutes by tram from the city center. After the French placement exam, we traveled by tram as a group to the city center for a tour of the old town and to try the famous Bordeuax canelés!  These little caramelized rum and vanilla flavored cakes are the city’s specialty. 


That Friday night, I went with my host family for dinner at a family friend’s house just outside of Bordeaux.  We didn’t leave for their house until after 9:30PM…simply put, the Bordelais eat just a little bit later than we normally do in the United States.  On the car ride over, my host mom quickly explained that there were some singers over at her friend’s house from the Basque Country, located in northern Spain.  They had some sort of car trouble returning home after a performance at a wedding that day, so her friends were simply hosting them for the night.  What I didn’t expect was to arrive to a complete choir of nearly 20 people, full of men and women of all ages!  Seated around a very long wooden table in the middle of the garden terrace, they sang traditional Basque folk songs as we feasted on gazpacho, fresh sausage, melon, and cheese (of course).  They even dedicated two songs about California to me.  It was simply incredible, and something I could never have imagined happening back home.  What a wonderful introduction to all of the culture Bordeaux has to offer!  

Saturday and Sunday I did a little exploring around Bordeaux to get oriented with its layout, and I met a couple other girls from California for a picnic in the Jardin Public and to taste some local foods in the open air market along the Garonne River!  The Garonne flows through Bordeaux, and a majority of the tourist attractions, as well as the university campuses, are all located on the left bank.  Wonderful, wide paved paths follow the river, which are great for strolling and bike riding.  I’m really looking forward to getting to bike ride here, as well as to discover everything else Bordeaux has to offer!  I feel like I saw so much in just four short days! 

Natasha Szombathy studied abroad in Bordeaux, France in 2017: