For the two weeks leading up to the start of university classes on September 11, our group of UC students had classes for the Intensive Language Program (ILP).  For the first week of classes, we had six hours of class per day, but we only had two hours per day in the second week.  We took the courses at the DEFLE, the department for French for foreigners at the Université Bordeaux Montaigne.  Each UC student was placed in a course according to their results on the placement exam we took in the first week.   

Each class focused on different material, depending on the needs of the students.  I was placed in the advanced class, and we did a light review of grammar (mostly only on the passé simple), but focused much more on written and oral comprehension, as well as written expression.  I know some of the other classes focused more on grammar than we did, but all of the professors were really great at tailoring the subject matter to what the students felt like they needed to learn.  Michel and Christoph, my professors, were so happy to teach us everything from social rules in the tram to how to set the table in France, and even local slang!   

After our first week of the ILP, the entire group of UC students took a trip to le Bassin d’Arcachon and the Dune du Pilat, the largest sand dune in Europe!  We started our visit at le Musée de l’Huître (the Oyster Museum), where we learned all about the unique oyster farming industry in le Bassin d’Arcachon.  It is one of the few places in the world in which oysters can be successfully farmed, as the location offers the precise environmental parameters needed for oyster babies.

As new experts on the oyster industry, we headed over to a restaurant to taste the local delicacies!  For many of us it was our first time tasting oysters, but Joelle made sure to teach us all how to properly eat them!  I can already say that that knowledge has come in handy, as the Bordelaise eat oysters all the time!  Following up the oysters was a feast of roasted ham, salads, fruits, and cheeses.   

Next we were off to the Dune du Pilat.  What better way to work off all that food than to trek up an enormous mountain of sand?  We all thought it would be better to run straight up rather than taking the nice staircase that had been installed for visitors to take up the dune…needless to say we were very breathless by the time we reached the top! We followed up our visit with some relaxing and swimming at the beach!  I highly recommend a weekend at Arcachon if you’re looking for a little relaxing getaway during your semester in Bordeaux!  

The following Wednesday we took a trip after our morning ILP classes to the historic home of the famous French author François-Mauriac, which is surrounded by beautiful vineyardsFollowing our tour of the residence, we walked through a vineyard with the maker of Sautern wine.  Learning the economic and social importance of the wine industry of Bordeaux from a small-family winemaker himself was immensely interesting, and brought all of us closer to understanding one of the most key aspect of Bordelaise life.  We even got to learn, by tasting grapes off the vine, how a winemaker decides which grapes of his vineyard are ready for harvesting, and how the “terroir” of Bordeaux creates grapes with the unique flavors that define its wine.  

Natasha Szombathy studied abroad in Bordeaux, France in 2017: