France | Back Home!


I’m now back in California, and the past few days have passed so quickly between family Christmas celebrations, seeing old friends, going to doctor appointments, shopping for my new apartment in Los Angeles, and experiencing the strange sensation of reverse culture shock.  Through all the busyness and jet lag, Bordeaux has been one thing I cannot stop thinking about.

On my final evening in Bordeaux, my host family invited my Californian friend Tracie over for dinner one last time.  That final week was so difficult because I felt like each daily activity involved with life in France was the “last time.”  “The last ride on the tram C,” the “last coffee date with friends,” the “last breakfast with my host dad.”  Even though I was sad because all of those things felt so final, I know now that it only felt that way because they were part of a new life I had established in a foreign country.  When I consider this fact now, I feel so happy!  Going abroad and being able to feel at home in France was such a personally transformative experience.  I have gained a sort of self-awareness and confidence in new situations that I didn’t have before, and for me that was a truly valuable adjustment.

Best of all, I now speak French, which was my ultimate goal with this program.  Over the past few days I have been calling French friends and speaking on the phone with them!  It feels like such an accomplishment to be able to do that now, especially when I think back to when I first arrived in France and struggled to get out a proper sentence.  It is weird not to be speaking primarily in French anymore, and I am trying to take every opportunity I possibly can to keep in practice with it.

Reflecting on the UCEAP program, yes there were a few flaws, but in general I found it to be a really phenomenal program.  All of us California students took for granted the fact that we knew where we would be living before we arrived in Bordeaux (there was a housing crisis in Bordeaux this year, as there were so many students in the city and not enough rooms to house them!).  I can attest to the fact that Anaïs worked so hard to place all of the home stay students with families who truly matched well with them.  I love my family in Bordeaux, and having a small personal support system there was so nice.  Joelle and Anaïs also prepared many pamphlets of information on the city, and the ILP, even though sometimes filled with what many thought was busy work, was a good transition into university life in France before school officially started. Joelle was so helpful during the truthfully very stressful class registration period at the university, but everyone eventually found a class schedule that suited them well.  Most complaints by students from California stemmed from differences in French university classes and those of the UCs.  Yes, lectures can run two hours without pause. Yes, many professors don’t have PowerPoints to accompany their lectures.  Yes, grading can seem very arbitrary on oral examinations.  Yes, the class website system is very outdated in comparison to CCLE.  But, these are simply trivial problems when one accepts the fact that they are no longer home, and once you look past them university in France is much more enjoyable. I can certainly guarantee that you will feel accomplished by the time you get through an entire semester abroad! It is uncomfortable, confusing, and stressful at times, but you will learn so much about another country and yourself!

I thought I’d just end this post with a few of my favorite things about Bordeaux that I will miss:  chocolatines, the Marché des Capucins, Saint Michel, biking or strolling the quays of the Garonne, soccer matches, my host family’s cat, shopping on Rue Sainte Catherine, visiting la Tour Pey Berland, the Cathédrale Saint-André, simply getting lost by strolling aimlessly, and, most of all, my host family and dear friends.  I could go on with this list forever, there is just so much I love about Bordeaux.  Merci, France, I know I will be back.

Natasha Szombathy studied abroad in Bordeaux, France in 2017:

France | Saying Goodbye!


Wow, I cannot believe my time in Bordeaux is coming to an end in just a few days.  I have just completed my final oral exam for my medieval art history course, and I have to say that it was my hardest final.  The professor gave each California student in the course an image of an edifice studied in class, and we had to analyze it individually before him.  As I mentioned, it is just important to keep your cool in this type of exam, as it makes it much easier to find your words in French!  Since this was an art history course, we were given about 300 edifices throughout the semester to study, and the professor expected us to know the name and location of all of these pieces for the final exam, as all of our pieces we had to analyze for the final were from this bank.  So, just know this for future reference if you decide to take an art history course at Bordeaux Montaigne!  

Yesterday was not only the last day of my finals, but also my last day with all of the UCEAP students in the program.  We had a small cocktail evening at the university, with all of those involved in our program, even the host families.  Wsadly said our goodbyes to each other and also to Joelle and Anaïs.  Our lovely methodology professor, Melanie, was also there, so it was really nice to speak with everyone who made our program special for the last time.   

I am leaving France on Christmas eve (warning: don’t be like me and purchase your return flight to California in October because it will be even more expensive than it already is!).  Now, as I wait out my final four days in Bordeaux, I will have some time to reflect on my time here.  I started that today, with my good friend Adam, from UC Riverside.  Every week we took one afternoon to go try a new patisserie in the city, and we had our final outing today.  We actually went to what was ranked in 2017 as the greatest boulangerie in France, Maison Lamour (157 Rue Judaïque, 33000 Bordeaux).  They are very well known in Bordeaux for their chocolatines, so you must try one.  I also had a royale, which is like a chocolate cream cake.   

Later in the afternoon, Adam and I joined our friends Amy and Tracie for a final coffee date all together.  This was another almost daily tradition for the four of us, and we all were definitely sad that we had to have our last one.  Everything now feels so bittersweet, but I suppose with all of the difficult goodbyes I am having to make I am realizing how many truly incredible friendships I made thanks to this program.   

Beyond friends, I feel like I have my own little family in Bordeaux.  I have absolutely loved my time with my host family, and I cannot recommend the experience enough.  The other evening, we enjoyed raclette, a popular dish in the wintertime here, composed of melted Swiss raclette cheese served with potatoes and cured meats.  My host parents invited my good friend from California, Tracie, and my host brother also invited his best friend.  It was such a wonderful time.  My goodness, how I will miss them and my little community I’ve gained here in Bordeaux.   

Natasha Szombathy studied abroad in Bordeaux, France in 2017:

France | Choosing Classes


School is in full swing now that we are in week four of the semester!! After three weeks of trying out many, many classes, I feel like I have finally solidified a schedule for myself.  As I mentioned before, it is so important to attend a section for any class you just might be interested in taking while you are here.  It can be really difficult to find a professor you feel comfortable understanding and communicating with.  And, of course, you should try to take advantage of the course offerings available in France that would be hard to find back at UCLA! 

All students at Bordeaux Montaigne (the humanities campus) had to enroll in classes by the Friday of the second week of school.  Because I was not at all confident in my class choices by that date, Joëlle from the California office recommended that I just enroll in all of the classes I am potentially interested in taking.  So, with her guidance I enrolled in the four classes I was sure I wanted to take: gastronomy, methodology (the required course for French track students here with UCEAP), French journalism, and medieval art history.  In addition, I enrolled in antique history, history of modern France, and earth systems, a course in the geography department.  

I had no problem enrolling in these seven courses, as they didn’t enforce any type of unit cap for the international students.  Throughout weeks three and four, I attended each of the three classes I was interested in potentially taking, and eventually I chose to take the course on earth systems.  I was finding, as a biology major, that I was missing the courses on the environment that I was used to taking back home at UCLA, and so the earth systems class ended up being a perfect fit for me.  As an added bonus, I’m hoping to be able to use this course for my major back home.  I have found that the professors in the geography department tend to teach by drawing diagrams and flowcharts on the blackboard, instead of using traditional PowerPoints or simply talking at the class (which unfortunately many of the history professors here tend to do).  This has made learning the material actually much easier for me, so if you’re more of a visual learner I would highly recommend checking out some classes in the geography department!  

In order to drop the other two history classes I was trying out, all I had to do was go to the international student office and notify them of which classes I no longer wanted to take.  It only took five minutes, so if you find yourself unsure of what you want to take at Bordeaux Montaigne by the end of the second week of school, I would just recommend enrolling in a few courses you still want to try and just dropping a few later.  

As far am my other courses go, I am loving them!  Our gastronomy class is going to go on a fieldtrip to an outdoor market and a winery together in November, and in just a few weeks our professor is going to host a cooking session for us where she will teach us to cook some French classics!   

My class on French journalism is also wonderful, and its giving me a great reason to go pick up a French newspaper in the mornings.  Since the journalism class is instructed at the DEFLE (the department for French for foreigners), there are students from all over the world in it.  I’ve been really liking getting to know the other students, and discussing the news with such diverse perspectives is so interesting.  

My medieval art course is a full immersion class with only French students, so that one has probably been the most difficult at this point.  I have learned that just writing down anything I think I hear the professor say has been the best way to take notes, even if my spelling is a little off.  I’ve been going back and retyping my notes on my computer after every class, and I just research the parts that I had trouble understanding.  This has actually been a great way for me to prepare for all of the upcoming lectures, as it reinforces the vocabulary.   

My first exams are coming up in week six, so for now I am just trying to stay on top of all of the information! I have some fun day trips coming up, so I cannot wait to share those with you!  À bientôt! 

Natasha Szombathy studied abroad in Bordeaux, France in 2017:

France | Finals Week!


Finals season is in full swing!  This past week I had my first two finals.  For the majority of courses here in Bordeaux, your final grade will be based only upon a final exam, and from time to time a midterm and final exam.  For others, you will be graded based on what is called “contrôle continu,” which essentially means that your final grade is composed of multiple assignments or exams administered throughout the entire semester.  This is a little similar to what happens in most UC courses, except the final graded exam doesn’t have any significantly higher weight on your final grade than the previously administered assignments. 

For me, the obligatory methodology course was graded as a “contrôle continu,” so on Monday I had my final in-class essay exam.  It went really well, and I am very satisfied with my score!  My other exam this week was for my Système Terre class in the geography department, for which my entire grade depended only on the final exam.  Lots of pressure!  I was sooo extremely nervous because this was an oral exam, meaning I was to meet with the professor in her office and she would give me one question on any subject discussed in the course and I would have 15 minutes to basically teach her everything I knew about it.  Most of the immersion courses with French students will be graded this way for you.  I studied so much because I had never had an exam like that in my life, and it ended up also going very well!  My advice is just to try to stay calm in that test setting, like any other!  

All of my remaining finals are next week and the week after, so for now I will just be studying and taking in my last few weeks in Bordeaux.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I went to Strasbourg last weekend for the Christmas markets!  I went with three other girls from UCEAP, and we had such a wonderful time exploring this city which serves both as the capital of Christmas but also of the EU!  It is certainly interesting to see the differences between France and America during Christmas time, and Strasbourg was definitely a winter wonderland.  Strasbourg is located very close to the German border in the French region of Alsace, so the local cuisine is quite influenced by German tradition.  We tried local specialties like choucroute, a sauerkraut dish served with sausages, cured meats, and potatoes, as well as jambonneau, a huge pork leg covered in Munster cheese!  It was a good thing we had all of that hearty food because it was freezing cold!! All of us California girls were bundled up in layers upon layers of thermal T-shirts beneath our coats, but it was so worth it!  The local craftsman ship put into all of the gifts being sold at the markets was beautiful and something like I had never seen before back in America.  The dusting of snow over the city on our final day was definitely the icing on the cake for such a Christmas-y little trip!  

Natasha Szombathy studied abroad in Bordeaux, France in 2017:

France | Bordeaux in the Winter!


Before I came to Bordeaux, I talked with some students who had previously studied here, and “bring warm clothes” was in each of their top three pieces of advice.  I always thought “bone chill cold” was a bit of a dramatic over exaggeration of the fall weather here…but let me tell you, it is not a joke.  It is usually below freezing when I leave for school in the morning, and my trench coat and Patagonia fleece unfortunately do not suffice.  All of the California students have become frequent shoppers at UNIQLO near Rue Sainte Catherine, stocking up on all of their thermal shirts and leggings. 

I was really reminded of this cold when I met the students and professors of our gastronomy class early last Saturday morning, as we headed out in an icy-windowed mini bus to a honey farm about an hour outside of Bordeaux.  All of the dewy fields along the way were so pretty, and the couple which runs the farm showed us all of the processes they use to produce honey.  Even better, we got to taste at least eight different varieties of honey, as well as many different types of candies made out of the honey!  It was so delicious. 

We then hopped back in the bus which had fortunately thawed out during the visit, and we went to the old little village of La Réole, to visit the Saturday market and have a few hours to explore the quant and quiet streets.  A couple of students and I got quiches and éclairs, and we enjoyed them on the sunny riverbank.  

After that, we went on to an organic vineyard.  Once again owned by a small family, we walked through the vines and learned all about the techniques they use to make their wine.  I had a little “aha I’m in France moment” when we, twenty American college students and our two professors, were invited into the family’s home to have some snacks!  They were so incredibly hospitable and welcoming; they even let people use the bathroom in the master bedroom.  It was just something I could never imagine happening in the US, and it was truly just such a nice amicable environment.   

I’m happy to say I feel that sense of friendliness a lot here in Bordeaux, and it was something evident again last night at the Bordeaux-USA Club’s Thanksgiving dinner.  Prepared at Le Chaudron, a small restaurant in the center of the city, all of the students from California and all of the members of the club had a Thanksgiving away from home together.  It was definitely interesting to taste a French version of thanksgiving, but it was great…. especially the mashed potatoes full of French butter.  Can’t get much better than that.  

In other news, final exams are coming up in a few weeks, so I’m starting to prepare for those now.  Oooh!  And the Christmas markets have opened up in Bordeaux!!  I cannot wait to explore the little chalets selling gifts, and walk through all the streets of the city decorated with lights!  I will be going to Strasboug, the so called Capitale de Noël, in two weeks, so prepare for some Christmas-y posts!  

Natasha Szombathy studied abroad in Bordeaux, France in 2017:

France | Fall Break!


Fall break is upon us!  Unlike getting a short break from school at Thanksgiving as we have at UCLA, the Université de Bordeaux has a one week vacation from Saturday October 28 to Sunday November 5.  Since I don’t have classes on Fridays, I was lucky enough to get to start my vacation on Thursday evening, October 26!  

Leaving after school on Thursday, I took a combination of the tram and a bus and got to the airport with all the transit fees included in my TBM card!  Don’t forget you can always take the Bus 1 from Gare Saint-Jean straight to the Bordeaux airport with your card as well, and it only takes about one hour!  EasyJet and RyanAir offer many inexpensive flights to destinations all around Europe from Bordeaux, and for the first leg of my trip I decided to go to London.  Since I was taking EasyJet, the flight was leaving from what is called the “Bili” terminal at the Bordeaux airport.  A word of advice: when flying out of here (all flights on EasyJet and RyanAir), arrive a little extra early.  There are border police that check all passenger’s passports before boarding all planes, so waiting in line can take quite a long time.  Also if you plan on going to London, I would recommend not flying into Luton if you are in a rush.  It is the only airport without a train direct from the airport to the city, and I ended up sitting on a bus for two hours just to get into town).   

Anyways, one of the incredible gifts studying abroad has given me is new friends from other countries. Chris, a friend I made while traveling in Switzerland before coming to Bordeaux, met me in London!  Even though we were in an English-speaking country, which admittedly felt a little strange after a few months in France, Chris also speaks French so I got to keep in practice.  We had a packed three days of visiting the Harry Potter Studios, the London Eye, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, and so much more!   

For only 17 Euros, we travelled from London to Nice for the remainder of the week.  There, Chris and I met my friend Tracie from Bordeaux!  I would highly recommend taking a trip here during your stay in France!  Nice was a great home base to visit all the highlights in the south of France, including Cannes, Monaco, and Èze.  We never paid more than 5 euros for train tickets, as France offers reduced train fares for all people under 26 years of age.   

Even though we were having a very fun week of travelling, we still had a little schoolwork to do!  Tracie and I are both in the same méthodologie class required for all California students, and we each had a presentation scheduled for the Monday back to school after break.  A great thing about this course is that it prompts us California students to always learn more about Bordeaux.  We were simply tasked with creating a ten-minute exposé in the French style on a place that can be visited in Bordeaux, and to expand on the history of the location and its role in the city today.  Because I spend almost every Sunday morning going to the market with my host mother, I decided to do my project on the Marché des Capucins.  It was Bordeaux’s first open-air market, and the largest still to this day.  Full of local producers and small restaurant counters, the market is truly the stomach of Bordeaux and also something you must visit during your time here.  

All in all, I had a fantastic week of traveling during the break.  My presentation went very well at the return to school, and now I am getting ready for some more midterm examinations and projects.  Many interesting things are coming up that I cannot wait to tell you about, such as a visit with my gastronomy class to a honey farm, wine producer, and another outdoor market outside of Bordeaux! 

Natasha Szombathy studied abroad in Bordeaux, France in 2017:

France | Pain au Chocolat? Boulangeries in Bordeaux!


It’s a rainy Sunday in Bordeaux, so my friends Adam, Tracie, and Amy and I decided we would spend the morning in a cozy café in the city center.  Little did we realize, brunch is a huge thing in Bordeaux.  Originally trying to eat at the British restaurant The Breakfast Club, which was raved about by other students, we met an hour and a half waiting time to be seated.  So, we walked around in the pouring rain looking for somewhere else where we might be able to eat.  After trying four other cafés and meeting the same fate, we realized we got up a little too late for Bordeaux brunch, as most restaurants don’t take reservations.  

We ended up at Le Parlement, a tea house at la Place du Parlement, right in the center of town.  We each ordered the “petit dejuener gourmand,” which consisted of viennoiseries, baguettes, fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee, and cake.  It was just delicious, and it inspired me to do a little post about some of my favorite boulangeries in the city!  


First of all, there is a very important bit of local slang you must know when you go to a boulangerie in Bordeaux! While in the rest of France, a chocolate croissant is called a “pain au chocolat,” be sure to refer to these little delicacies as “chocolatines” in Bordeaux. People will give you funny looks if you don’t, guaranteed 😉  They will probably follow up with asking if you if you’d like “une poche” for your chocolatines, which is the bordelaise version of “un sac” (or a bag).  Get these words right, and they will know you’re a local!  

One of my favorite boulangeries here is “Le Boulanger de L’Hôtel de Ville” (76 Rue des Trois-Conils, 33000 Bordeaux).  Also great is “La Boulangerie” in the quarter of Saint Michel (51 Rue des Faures, 33000 Bordeaux), and Anaïs from the California office will tell you to check out the boulangerie right across the street from the tram line A station at Hôtel de Ville. 

If you are in the area of Université Bordeaux Montaigne, the closest, and tastiest boulangerie in my opinion is Bernils (92 Avenue du Dr Albert Schweitzer, 33600 Pessac), which specializes in Basque treats!  They also have really great quiches and sandwiches for lunch, which you can combine with a pastry and a drink for about 6 euros.  The only downside is that this boulangerie does not have any seating, but there are nice grassy areas to sit right across the street on sunny days! Another quite good boulangerie close to the university is at the tram B stop at Forum (285 Cours de la Libération, 33400 Talence).  Here there are a lot of tables, so it is a great study spot (and the wifi usually works)! 

Hope you’ll enjoy these recommendations if you find yourself in Bordeaux!  The boulangerie is truly an integral part of French culture, and it is a strange day if I do not find myself in one!  You’ll quickly learn, especially if you are staying in a host family, that bread with confiture and butter is something French people can’t live without for breakfast!  Even if you’re not at one every morning for breakfast, most boulangeries, such as the ones I mentioned, offer very inexpensive lunch formulas, which is great for students!  Bonne dégustation ! 

Natasha Szombathy studied abroad in Bordeaux, France in 2017:

France | Exploring the Outdoors in Bordeaux


Now that I’m finally really settled into school and life in Bordeaux, I thought I would share some of my favorite things to do around the city!   

Bordeaux is such a walkable city, so taking a stroll has been a favorite afternoon activity of mine.  Over the weekends I have been taking runs on the quays framing the Garonne.  My favorite “loop” so to speak is running from Pont Pierre, the picturesque bridge built in 1819 to connect the left and right banks of Bordeaux, to Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas, and back around.  Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas is the modern draw bridge that was constructed to allow large ships into the port of Bordeaux. A great Sunday activity is watching the bridge open to allow for the exodus of the enormous cruise ships of tourists that had come into Bordeaux for the weekend.  From this bridge you can also see the Musée du Vin with its stunning architecture, designed to look like wine swirling in a wineglass! 

The best part of this run is along the right bank of the Garonne, which is the much less visited side of the river because it is largely host to modern construction and thus lacks the charm of the left bank.  That said, the right bank offers incredible views of the beautiful buildings of the left bank.  Seeing the Place de la Bourse through the trees while running is simply stunning.  Some weekends there are even sailboat races in the rivermaking for a great spectacle for a little break from running! 

If running isn’t really your cup of tea, perhaps biking is!  Bordeaux has an incredible bike rental system, called VCub.  With bike parking stations all over the city, all you need is a credit card to rent a bike for 24 hours….and it only costs  1.60! I have to say biking the same route I described above is wonderful, but biking is also a great way to explore the city itself.  Bordeaux is a city without too much traffic, and most of the streets in the center are closed to cars.  In the busier areas there are always designated bike lanes, so I haven’t had a problem feeling unsafe while biking around here.   

On afternoons free from school, my friends and I have been renting bikes and exploring the city.  We often end up in the Jardin Public after, for some relaxation in the sunshine.  Even though it is nearing the end of October, we still have been having some days with temperature in the 80s! 

While the Jardin Public is my favorite park in the city, also worth visiting is the beautiful botanical garden, the Parc du Château Piexotto, and the Parc Bordelais.  The Parc du Château Piexotto is only 4 stops away from Université Bordeaux Montaigne, and it is a really lovely place to stop for lunch.  I like to stop at a boulangerie near the park and have a quick snack there during breaks between classes.  The Parc Bordelais is definitely a place you should check out if you feel you need a little touch of nature.  Full of old, enormous trees, this park surrounds a pond full of beautiful birds.  The park is also the home to many animals, from rabbits, to goats, to chickens.    

I’ll have to dedicate the next post to some fun things to do indoors around the city…I have so many cafés to recommend!  À bientôt ! 

Natasha Szombathy studied abroad in Bordeaux, France in 2017:

France | Family Time


The past two weekends have been incredible because I’ve got to spend them with family!  Since I do not have any classes on Fridays, I had a three-day weekend to travel to Munich for a “family” reunion on September 15!  My parents, my brother, and my extended family all traveled from California for the special weekend together.  I say “family” reunion because German and American friends also came along, it was incredible!  We spent Friday and Saturday exploring the city, and on Sunday we travelled to a small village about an hour and a half from the city for the formal reunion.  I studied in Paris during the summer before my UCEAP program started in Bordeaux, so it was so nice to be with loved ones after three months apart.   

This was my first major trip from Bordeaux, so I had the opportunity to better learn how to use the airport here!  The bus line 1 takes riders to the airport, and the ride was free with my Bordeaux public transit card (or the TBM card as they’d call it here).  Volotea is the only airline that flies directly from Bordeaux to Munich, but their flights only run once on Fridays and once on Mondays.  Unfortunately, the timing didn’t’ work out for me, so I had to fly with Air France and stopover in Paris…which is where I had my first major travel problem.  It was only after leaving Bordeaux that I realized I was traveling to the Paris Orly Airport, and that my connecting flight from Paris to Munich would be leaving from Charles de Gaulle…which is a completely different airport.  Oops!  Luckily I figured out how to take the one-hour bus ride between the airports pretty easily after the panic subsided.  I even made my second flight (which was delayed to my advantage)!  

I went back to Bordeaux that Sunday evening, but luckily for me, Munich wouldn’t be the last place I’d see my parents!  They came to Bordeaux on September 21 for another three-day weekend together!  

We spent one day in the beautiful village of Saint-Emilion, about a one-hour trip outside of Bordeaux by train.  Even better, the train tickets were only €7.50 each way!  This is a trip you must make during your stay in Bordeaux.  The charming medieval village is surrounded by beautiful vineyards, and is the home of the original macarons in France, brought over by nuns.  

Our other two days were well-spent in Bordeaux.  I shopped for some much-needed winter clothes on the famous Rue Saint-Catherine with my mom, and I got to take her to my favorite crêperie in the city.  We also took advantage of the VCub city bike rental system offered here in Bordeaux.  For €1.50 for 24 hours, you can rent a bike and park it at the various stations which can be easily found all over the city.  We rode to the beautiful Jardin Public, and then along the paths next to the Garonne until we reached la Cité du Vin, Bordeaux’s museum on the history of wine.   

 Needless to say, it was incredibly difficult to say goodbye to my parents at the train station last Sunday, but I am beyond thankful that they had the opportunity to come to Bordeaux.  It was so much fun to show them around my new home!  

Natasha Szombathy studied abroad in Bordeaux, France in 2017:

France | Université Bordeaux Montaigne


University classes have begun, and I must admit that the registration process is fairly stressful.  As I mentioned before, all of the students in the UCEAP program have access to all of the University of Bordeaux campuses.  I have decided to try to fulfill a couple of GE and French Minor requirements while abroad, so I will be staying at the humanities-centered campus, Université Bordeaux Montaigne.   

 All foreign students have two weeks to try out different courses before officially registering in them.  In the French system, there are Cours Magistraux (lecture courses), which are often accompanied by a Travaux Dirigié (discussion section).  Some courses have only CM’s, and others only TD’s, but I have found a combination of the two to be the most common.  Most CM courses are 2 hours long, and usually there is not a break halfway through.  Make sure you drink your coffee before coming to class because it is not allowed to have any food or drinks other than water in the lecture halls.  Coming from UCLA, it is a little surprising to not see anyone eat or drink in the classrooms, but, like the extra long lecture times, this is just another little adjustment all of us California students are going through!  

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to try out every course you think you might be interested in within the two-week test period.  I have found some professors to be significantly easier to understand than others.  Do not expect to have a detailed PowerPoint presentation containing images and explanations to accompany your lectures.  Most professors have about 3-5 slides containing key words that they show for each two-hour lecture.  It is quite common that they will sit at a desk in front of the lecture hall and simply speak for the duration of the lecture.  It is a little different than back home where professors tend to be a bit more animated, but this is just a reality of French universities. 

Since I am in the French-track, I am required to take a methodology class, which so far has been a great survival guide to French university!  We learn everything from where we can use our student ID card to pay on campus, to how to properly write essays according to the French standards.   

Students in the English-track program do not have any mandatory classes, but the California Study Center has created a course on French Gastronomy which they have the option to take.  Any remaining spots are offered to students in the French track.  Even though the course is instructed in English, I have been really wanting to learn more about French gastronomy and its regional importance here in Bordeaux, so I felt so lucky to get a spot!  

Students in either the English track or the French track have the option to take courses at the DEFLE, the French department for foreigners.  I have decided to take a class on French press there, but they have other offerings in French tourism, literature, grammar, phonetics, and general culture.   

 In addition to these three courses, I have decided to take a course on medieval art in the art history department.  Today I tried out a course on modern French history, and tomorrow I am trying out another course on Earth systems in the geography department.  In total, we must take a minimum of what equates to 22.5 quarter units.  For most students this is about five or six classes.  With the four courses I have chosen so far, I have 21.5 units, so I am still shopping around for one more class to add.  Wish me luck!  

Natasha Szombathy studied abroad in Bordeaux, France in 2017: