Has it really only been a week that I’ve been here? It feels like a month!

I arrived Sunday afternoon (June 26th, 2016), and Monday morning I had my placement exam to put me into the French language class appropriate for me. My friend and I were placed into the B2 level, which is intermediate bordering on advanced! Aside from the fairly large Australian community here, there are many people studying French with us from Switzerland, Italy, Russia, China and India. Here in Vichy, English is not the communal language, it’s French. If I ever felt we came from diverse backgrounds and cultures, those barriers would be immediately taken down with the aid of a common language between us. How I’m feeling is as a worldwide citizen!

In Vichy, I’m staying with the sweetest grandmother, Mimi! I’m sharing the house with two other students from China and Spain who also attend CAVILAM (the Centre of Live Approaches to Languages and the Media). Mimi is the sweetest thing- she insists on two kisses on each cheek before I leave the house in the morning! Myself being Persian, this kind of thing comes naturally! She also cooks the most fantastic food, and writes every word I don’t understand on a little slip of paper so I can learn! Of course it naturally helps us learn the language when she doesn't speak English- I love it!

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At CAVILAM, I have two classes every day. The morning class commences at 8:45 and goes until 12pm (with a 15 min break in between). We then have a 2-hour lunch break (AMAZING) to amble down the quaint little streets of Vichy, maybe eat a croquet-monsieur from a boulangerie, before we head back to our second class at 2pm, which goes until 3:30pm. On our first day, we can choose what class we want to do for our afternoon session. There are about 8-9 different choices, such as Oral Communication, French Civilisation etc, but my friend and I chose the Preparation for the B2 DELF exam class! Nothing like throwing yourself into the deep end right? Pourquoi pas? [gallery columns="2" ids="7576,7577"]

Now, it can be testing to get your homework done when the university has the most wonderful activities that you can sign up for, every day!!! In my first week, I’ve done a historical walking tour of the town, hiked up a volcano called Puy-de-la-Vache, had a dancing class, watched my favourite French film Amélie screened at the university, visited a 12th century Château and sung a whole lot of Stromae at the karaoke night which is on every Friday! Did I mention there’s rafting and canoeing on the weekends? Half of me is hoping my mother doesn’t read this blog and ask me if I’m getting any study done…

Puy de la Vache was especially spectacular, though this hike is not for the faint of heart. Disclaimer: DO NOT wear Converses whilst hiking up a particularly steep mountain covered in volcanic rock :)

The view was simply magnificent, not to mention the fresh, cool air which was especially welcomed after a week of 30-degree days in Vichy! Our guide from CAVILAM, Elodie, told us that this region, Auvergne, is renowned for its Puys (volcanic hills). Apparently, Puy de la Vache is the baby version of Puy de Dôme, the real thing! So stay tuned for the sequel next week!

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To spread ourselves far and wide, we went for a completely different activity, and signed up for the historical visit to the Château de Ravel, about an hour and a half outside of Vichy. And can I say… This was superb! Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside as it is a private property, so we took many photos in the gardens and courtyard! The custodian for the Château showed us many artifacts from the 12th century and afterwards, and most of which were made in China, Africa, Portugal and Italy! It was fascinating to learn how prevalent trade between countries was, even in the 12th century. To top it off, our lovely driver drove us back via the scenic route! Top bloke.

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During the weekend, I took the opportunity to make a quick trip to Paris! My first, but definitely not my last. I was pleasantly surprised by how easily I could communicate what I wanted in French, and I may have squealed inwardly when the man at the baggage-deposit at the Gare de Lyon (take note folks, if you’re not keen on lugging your bag around all day!) heard me respond in French to his question, and apologised, saying he thought I wasn’t from France. The experience of living with a homestay really consolidates the learning experience. After all, you’re conversing with a local and they inadvertently use colloquial dialogue which is always great to learn! [gallery ids="7589,7592,7591"] It’s only been one week and I’ve forgotten how to communicate in Italian and Farsi… The plus side? Our cohort is going to be pretty fluent in French in 3 weeks! Can’t wait to see what else is in store for us!