Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Putting The "I" In Immersion

I have always been a relatively restless person and prone to snap decisions.  It was these qualities that saw me signing up for a 2 week "super-intensive" immersion course in central France just days after I arrived in the country myself...good idea...we'll see.

For the sake of making this post somewhat useful to those who may read my posts for the actual information as apposed to my witty repartee, let me divulge some of the info:

School: CAViLAM (www.cavilam.com/en)
Town: Vichy, France
Course: Super Intensive French Immersion Course
Cost: About 600 Euro/week (there are cheaper/less intensive options though)
Duration: As long as you want (I did two weeks)
School Period: It runs year round and new students can start every Monday
Transportation: It's about 3 hours from Paris on the train and costs about 90 Euro return
Housing:  They have several options, the cheapest is living with a family in Vichy for about 12 Euro/night and the most expensive is a hotel for 50-90 Euro/night.  I stayed in a "studio" (a dorm room with a bathroom and kitchenette) which was about 19 Euro/night.
Food: Vichy is actually a pretty decent sized town, with a mall and lots of restaurant options.  The school also offers a subsidized cafeteria where you can get lunch for about 5 Euro.
Entertainment:  The school arranges events and excursions for its students almost every night and other than that, I really enjoyed jogging along the river.

Alrighty, with that out of the way...back to my pointless storytelling.

As I said, I had signed up for this course pretty soon after I arrived in France.  Total offers it to its employees who need to get a crash course in French.  Spouses (that's me, in case you're wondering) on the other hand, are kind of on their own.  Luckily, we have made friends in our short time here, and one of these friends is a couple like us (Canadian expats, where the man is the "other").  In their case they paid to go to CAViLAM, enjoyed it, and highly recommended it.

I should also point out that I have learned that I am not the norm.  Not in that I liked CAViLAM (spoiler alert) but that I am a male other.  In fact, this couple is the only other one I know of with a male "other" in Paris working for Total (I'm sure there are more, but I emphasize the "I know of" part of that statement).  Interesting, we'll see what this leads me to as the journey continues...maybe I should take up knitting.

So, it was after this recommendation that I signed up and shipped out to Vichy for 2 weeks.  For those following my non-existent time lines, Julia and I were separated for 1 month (April), reunited for 2 weeks (May) and now, were separated again for another 2 weeks (May)...Oy Vey.

I arrived on the Sunday before my classes started and was greeted at the Vichy train station by a CAViLAM staffer.  She was incredibly nice and spoke only in French...my immersion had begun.  I responded in broken kind and we had a quasi conversation until she brought me to my apartment.

At this moment I have to comment on a general annoyance I have found in the whole immersion experience.  Although it is great to be immersed and forced to speak and listen in French all the time, when your French is not that good and you are being told a "you have to know this" point...it is impossible to ever be sure if you understood what was meant...This ultimately led to me finding out hours before my departure that I had to wash all my bed linens and towels before checking out...lovely.

That little mix-up aside, my weeks did manage to go really well.  I even found myself getting into a bit of a rhythm.  My average day looked something like this:

8:00: wake up and hit the incredibly small European shower
8:45-Noon: General French class (level B1/B1+, hells yeah!)
Noon-2:00: French "How could I take less than 2 hours?" lunch (It's more funny if you read it with a French accent).
2:00-3:30: Comprehension workshop
3:45-5:15: 1-on-1 tutoring
5:30: gain 2 pounds eating pain au chocolate
6:00: Jog 7km to try and lose said 2 pounds
7:30: Pick a random restaurant to undue any benefit I gained from the jogging

I also attended events and excursions while I was there.  The school offered trips that were very affordable (40 Euro netted me an all day excursion), and I took advantage, traveling to Montagnac, Clairmont-Ferand, Puy De Dome and of course exploring Vichy itself.  For some photos of these trips check out my soon to be updated photo blog (http://ericinparis2011pics.blogspot.com/).

Here's A Sample From Montagnac
Because it is an immersion school, everything, including the excursions and activities were 100% in French.  I liked this a lot because it forced me to improve my comprehension, which I did by the time I left.

This immersion was further backed up by the other students at the school.  There was a really interesting collection of students attending the school and the one thing that joined us all was that we could all speak at least some level of French.  That meant that you never were really sure if someone could speak English, but knew they would be able to understand some French and so, conversations and introductions were always at least started in French.  By the end of my stay I had sussed out who could speak English in my class and talked to them in English when I had to, but I still spoke to the others in French as it was our only common tongue.  This made for a very interesting experience, and I managed to make some acquaintances who I never spoke to in my mother tongue.

So, was it a sucess?  Was it worth the money, leaving my wife once again, going to a random town in central France when I hadn't even gotten to know my own home in Paris?  Well here's the success tally:

 1. Got to experience French culture outside Paris and found out was very different than the culture in Paris...To be brief, 90% of the French stereotypes are Parisians, not French people.
2. Got to explore a region of France I would likely not have been interested in seeing otherwise.  That's the Auvergne region.
3. Got to feel like a student again...this was both good and not good...I could have some conversations with the "young-ens" but I was one of the oldest guys there...I am officially an old dude...let's just hope I'm a "the dude" style dude and not a Red Foreman style dude...
4. Got to meet some really interesting people from all over the world and experience their views etc.  Here's a huge spoiler for anyone who is wondering...there a lot like us except the look and speak differently...shocking.


                                                                        Not This
5. I guess I should also point out that I unofficially graded in at a level A2 when I arrived at CAViLAM and a level B2 when I left, which is great improvement.  So, I did actually learn stuff too...

All in all I would highly recommend the experience to anyone, I even talked to a man who was simply traveling in France for a month and decided to take the course at CAViLAM for a week before he began his trek.  It seems that no matter the urgency and duration of your French needs, the immersion school experience is worthwhile.

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