Welcome to La Rochelle! Our first day of class came around pretty quickly and just like that we were immersed into Groupe Sup de Co La Rochelle (La Rochelle Business School) where we would be studying for the next three weeks. La Rochelle welcomed us with a rainy, overcast day – luckily for us the following days were sunny and warmer. The morning was dedicated to getting to know the University, the staff, and of course croissants for breakfast. By the end of the day we all agreed that it definitely takes a little getting used to studying again after having 2 months holiday!
Due to the poor weather our tour of La Rochelle was postponed until Friday, so as a group we ventured out into the small, local supermarket for some groceries. Who knew such a basic and automatic shop could take an hour? When you don’t know what the basics look like, what the good brands are, how to read what’s in the package when you have no or little understanding of French, or what to cook when you have no access to an oven. Once we came back we put our heads down and got our laptops out to complete our first piece of assessment that was due the next day..
Day two started with a (long) walk to the Business School as we definitely took the scenic route – luckily we managed to arrive with only a minute to spare. Our first class was a continuation of the previous day’s ‘Intercultural Management’ information but today we focused on the cultural approach to time and ethics. The topic of time left our minds boggled. The first question that was asked was that ‘if the senior manager called a meeting for 9am, when would you arrive’? We all unanimously answered ‘around 8.50am’. We were then informed that unlike the Anglo culture (UK, Australia, USA etc), the French have a slightly different approach to time. It is pretty common in France for a meeting to start 5-10 minutes late without the staff apologising for being late.
In the afternoon we had our first French class. We were first welcomed into the class by our professor and one of the first things she said was ‘I’m going to only speak French’ – I wish I got a photo of our jaws hitting the ground! Regardless, we started to get the hang of understanding the things she said and only a few times did she need to speak in English. The class was filled with laughter when we attempted to pronounce the alphabet and introduce ourselves in French.
One realisation that a few of us had when we were together after dinner and recounting our French class was that the ‘W’ in French is pronounced ‘double V’, and the realisation was for some of us when I pointed out that in English we pronounce ‘W’ as ‘double U’ – the things we take for granted when we grow up with a language! If you’re laughing at yourself since you’ve never noticed it, then you’re doing well – now you can go share this little enlightenment with others. Wednesday brought a new subject- ‘Leading International Teams’, and with that, more assessments. Between our classes we stumbled upon the ‘beach’. When I mention the beach, it’s actually a bed of rocks along the water’s edge. In the afternoon we seized the opportunity to explore La Rochelle. We entered the Tour Saint-Nicolas (Saint Nicolas tower), which back in the day, was used as the watchtower and along with the other tower, Tour de la Chaîne (Chain tower), they would block the enemies out of the town harbour with a chain – hence the name.
On Thursday morning we put our names down for the transportation to the school’s party (they were giving out free croissants!). That night we really understood what our first professor was saying about the French’s approach to time was. We arrived at the bus about 3-5 minutes before it left at midnight only to sit on the bus until it left at 12.40am when more French students arrived – whoops! Regardless it was great just to mingle with other French students and experience the full French University experience.
We woke up on Friday to an overcast, rainy day. Regardless of the rain, we headed down to the tourism office where we were given a quick history lesson on how La Rochelle transitioned between the ages and how the geography allowed La Rochelle to provide the northern part of Europe with Salt and Wine. Did you know that La Rochelle was the first city in France to appoint a Mayor back in 1142? This was obviously a LONG time before Australia was even deemed a country! Going on the tour and listening to the history really makes you appreciate how far the city has come since the early 1000s and puts Australia’s young history into perspective.
Our first weekend found most of us heading down to Bordeaux, which is about 2 hours south-east of La Rochelle and is well known for their wine. Some of the group enjoyed the experience of wine tasting at the wine museum and even stumbled upon the circus that was in town. Another part of the group stayed the night and took in the scenery through the day and enjoyed the night-life that Bordeaux had to offer. Over the weekend I managed to get two contrasting photos of the tides in the old port (Le Vieux Port). The top photo is at 10am and the bottom is at 2pm – there was a Full Moon around the day that I took the photo and hence the big difference between the tides.
Next week we are continuing our course with two new topics. We are also spending four days in Paris where we will visit two more companies, and as each day goes by, we are slowly getting the hang of the French language.