Study Abroad: Nantes/Paris
July 31, 2008 2:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm a French major (a sophomore) at an American university weighing my options for study abroad and I'd like some input, especially about Nantes, France.

I apologize in advance if this sounds obnoxious; I'm aware that I'm a very lucky person to have this "problem."

My plans, until recently, were to study for February-June 2009 in Paris. I've just decided to investigate the idea of participating in two study abroad sessions, since it recently became affordable thanks to some scholarships that will apply. There is a program in Nantes that looks great and I've heard good things about, but I've never been to that area. It's similar to that Paris program afaik despite location.

So: I have many options. I would like to go abroad for the second semester of the upcoming year (spring 09), and perhaps for either fall 09 or the 09-10 school year. I don't know how to distribute this. (Paris full year? Nantes semester? Nantes full year? Paris semester? Both semester? Paris but not Nantes, vice-versa? I have more opportunities than just these two, so it's fine with me if an answer is "x city is overrated - don't bother.")

Paris is an amazing city, but perhaps too touristy for my needs (which are: learning French. I'm at an middle/upper-intermediate stage and really want to get better.) Though it would, I guess, be an easier place from which to travel during holidays/weekends. I've never been to Nantes but heard good things, and I'm guessing it would be much less expensive than Paris (though I'm doing a home stay either way, so rent/groceries aren't a factor.) I like Paris, but also like the smaller-town feel of places like Chartres.

To get to my point: What are your impressions of visiting each, or of living in either area? I've briefly visited Paris, so I'm specifically interested in hearing from people who have visited Nantes or Brittany, or have lived in either city. Any thoughts are much appreciated.
posted by Solon and Thanks to Travel & Transportation around Nantes, France (10 answers total)
I studied in Rennes through CIEE for the academic year 2006-2007. I chose Rennes over Paris because I wanted a smaller, less tourist-trodden town, and I loved it. I also thought I would encounter less English than in Paris which turned out not to be the case, but if you want to increase your fluency, the single best thing to do is live with a host family.

Paris is more of a central hub, yes, but Nantes is only a couple of hours away by train, so if you want to visit other areas it won't be an obstacle. The SNCF (train system) is incredible (especially if you qualify for the 12-25 fare discount card), and there's also a good network of buses for highly convenient regional travel. Brittany has a unique and interesting history and cultural identity ad even accent. I love being told that I have a Breton accent when I speak French. I spent lots of weekends and day trips in Paris, and I like it a lot, but Rennes is my town, and it got to feel like home. So I personally would recommend staying the whole time in one place.

Bon courage!
posted by jschu at 3:20 PM on July 31, 2008

Throughout your life, there may be many reasons to go to Paris; not so many to go to Nantes. In either place, you'll have a great time.

But in Nantes, you'll have a different sort of great time than you may have many opportunities to enjoy again. You'll like the smaller feel of the place, the people will be more open, and the situations of the students will be more similar to yours. I think you'll make friends more readily in Nantes, and the bonds will be stronger. A year is not nearly time enough to get bored with the place, and hopefully you'll have time to travel around Europe during breaks anyhow. Paris is incredible, but consider this a strong vote for Nantes.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:23 PM on July 31, 2008

Seconding all of the points raised by jschu and Dee Xtrovert. I've lived in both Paris and Annecy (Haute-Savoie) and would definitely recommend Nantes over Paris for your purposes.
posted by ceri richard at 4:10 PM on July 31, 2008

Thirding Nantes: you would get all the advantages of an urban setting (and a good university, AFAIK) without the hassles of a metropolitan city (like, for instance, 1-hour commute to class).

Plus, money might not be an issue for you but if you're taking that into account, consider that studio or apartments rentals in Paris are overkill at the moment. I've seen people ask € 900 (which at the moment is $1400) a month for a "studette" or "chambre de bonne" roughly the size of a closet (10 to 15 sq m). And keep a straight face.
posted by _dario at 4:53 PM on July 31, 2008

I studied abroad in Paris for a semester and now that I look back on it I wish I would have chosen a smaller, less metropolitan place for my experience abroad. Don't get me wrong, I adore Paris and it will always have a special place in my heart, but it wasn't really a true immersion experience because I had so many opportunities to speak English. If your primary goal is to become fluent, I say the smaller the city the better.

Thus, another vote for Nantes!
posted by crunchtopmuffin at 6:24 PM on July 31, 2008

Thank you all for the responses - you've been incredibly helpful. I'm definitely going to apply to the Nantes program, and feel good about that decision. (any other thoughts are still welcome!)
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:35 PM on July 31, 2008

I teach English abroad with native speakers of English, and a word of advice: get out of English whenever you can! It's so easy to come back to your flat at the end of the day with your Anglophone housemates, pop in your English DVDs, read an English-language recipe, put on some English-language's scary, really, how little of our world is not in English even thousands of miles from home!

You need to make a point of dedicating time and space each day to language immersion (local online newspapers are GREAT for this, as you see more infrequent words/more complex structures in print than you hear in speech). Change your web browser and word-processor to French, if you can; book flights and train tickets on French-language websites; buy French-language guidebooks for where you live; get a library card to the local library in see where I'm going here.

If there is any chance for you to live with French students, do it: living on the "study-abroad" floor of the dorms might be pretty shocking if you're seeking an immersion-style experience and your neighbors down the hall are moping and complaining every night because they can't find anywhere with good Mexican food or because French people are, like, totally rude and stuff.

If you were feeling really ambitious and had the time, I'd even recommend joining a local sports team or volunteering in the community somehow: it would be a great way to really get the flavor of the place and escape what can quickly turn into an cut-off-from-everyone-else, ghettoized experience.

A final sad anecdote: While I was working in Riga, the capital of Latvia, last year, I had a colleague who had been there for four years and hadn't progressed beyond the most basic phrases in Latvian and Russian; his social life, therefore, was proscribed to the relatively small number of people and places which spoke English. He never felt the need to learn more, apparently, despite the fact that pretty much every transaction at a bank, a hospital, the market, or pretty much anywhere other than the English-style expat-filled pub required a knowledge, at least, of what the signs on the wall said. He seemed incredibly sad and isolated, and (though this could be an English thing) drank what seemed to me to be a lot more than one should. Don't be that guy.
posted by mdonley at 11:45 PM on July 31, 2008

I spent a year studying in Paris, as there were no realistic provincial options for the programme I wanted to follow. I wouldn't say life in the big smoke was especially easy, but there were a lot of cultural and scholarly compensations for suffering a certain amount of inconvenience and bearing a few expenses. That said, I am sure Nantes would be fine, it's a pretty place and easy to get around — it's very walkable, and I'm sure you could make a ton of friends there, which is difficult in Paris for the normal reasons associated with living in a metropolis.
posted by Wolof at 12:08 AM on August 1, 2008

I lived in several small-to-medium sized french cities over the course of two years, and loved it. I never went to Paris, but spent a few months in Lyon, and will agree with everyone who said that the smaller towns will give you a more authentic immersion. The big cities seem to be made up of so many foreigners that english becomes the default language.

Vive la France!
posted by blue_beetle at 12:26 AM on August 1, 2008

Followup: I've just been accepted to study abroad in Nantes January 7th-May 16th. I'll probably post another question about the situation in the future. Thanks for all the fantastic advice.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:14 PM on October 13, 2008

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