Vichy is a small town in central France (for those struggling to pronounce Vichy, it’s like “fishy” but with a “v”). I use “small” very lightly because while you can walk anywhere here in 20 minutes, each street is dominated by a plethora of shops and attractions - so never feel like you’ll be lost for things to do in this “small” town. Vichy is well-known in France for several reasons, the strongest being it’s “magical healing” water. You can drink or bathe in the water from these hot springs from a couple of locations and the locals fill up huge bottles of it (it’s disgusting by the way, unless you like sparkling water).
The first day at CAVILAM was exciting and nerve-wracking, probably because you are faced with a test at 8am on your first day. The test is comprised of aural, written and comprehension work as well as a face to face interview (in French of course). The test starts off easy and increasingly expands to 'what the hell was that?'. The interviewer is quite nice and it seems to pass quickly. Class then starts at 11am where you meet your teacher and fellow students. If you find your class is too easy or too hard, you can ask your teacher to be moved. I did this after my first two days and was moved into a harder class. I feel like I’m actually learning and being challenged now, which is what you are there for.
CAVILAM organises cultural activities each week for the students and they introduce the itinerary on Mondays. This first week they had things such as a tour of Vichy, dance class, ice-skating, a wine degustation evening, movie nights, sports nights and an option to climb the Puy-de-Dôme, which is a dormant volcano. The ice-skating is a bit pricey at €20 but it is definitely a lot of fun and I would recommend it, when you can stay on your feet. I also did the dance class, but we don’t speak about the dance class (it was a bit awkward with an old man teaching and no music to dance too).
The Puy-de-Dôme is an absolute must! Also €20, it is absolutely worth it. If you are going to Vichy in winter (to get away from that 40⁰C Australian summer), you might be lucky enough to climb it covered in snow! Being from a town pretty much bang in the middle of the east coast of Australia, seeing snow was like being a kid in a candy store. It helps that the view amplifies the snow by 1000% as well as being in France which is another 1000%. All up its about a 3000% worth it trip. Good walking/hiking shoes are definitely needed, especially if there is snow and ice. The walk can be hard and steep at times, but seeing your snow-covered surroundings, you quickly forget how hard it is. It’s about a 40 minute to 1 hour ascent time, depending on your fitness level and how often you stop to take photos. The descent is much quicker, especially if you slip on the ice then you just slide the rest of the way down. Okay, you can’t slide the whole way down, just the icy bits. Pro tip: don’t slip on the ice because it hurts (first hand experience here).
I also took a quick train ride to the nearby town of Moulins to visit a French Costume museum, which was awesome. I went on a Sunday and most of the shops in the town were closed, so I would recommend going on a Wednesday afternoon (which you have free at CAVILAM by the way) if you want to do any potential shopping. There are a couple of cathedrals to visit in the town which are gorgeous as well as a pizza machine in a wall which pops out a pizza out of a slot in 5 minutes. I didn’t try it, but I was very curious too.
Adjusting to life with a French host family has been interesting. I seem to be the only student who isn’t living with a single, older person, but living with a family of two parents and three children, two under the age of 10. They have been so lovely and welcoming though that I am beginning to feel at home. The parents are helping me with my French and will repeat things three times for me or say it another way to help me understand and then will tell me in English if I’m really struggling. The strangest things living with them are probably the dinners and the shower. One night for instance, dinner comprised of a fried egg, a large amount of rice and some sort of runny, gloopy, pureed, blended spinach blob thing. The shower is also not a proper shower, yet a bath tub with a hand-held shower head and no place to put the head into, you just have to hold it which is awkward if you want to stand up as water sprays everywhere. I have given in to just sitting in the bath tub and washing myself that way so not to make a big, watery mess.
Overall, this week has been big and exciting with potential trips already planned for Lyon and Geneva!
The experience really ignited my passion for the topic of International Security and gave me an unquenchable thirst for adventure, culture, and for involvement in anything that might take me back abroad.