It’s hard to believe that a year ago, I sat in my roommate’s car shaking as I stared at the airport. I was going to France on my own. I had only ever been to Canada, what was I thinking going to the other side of the world? Staying only with strangers? Conducting interviews, taking dance classes, and doing research using my mediocre French language skill? Could I do it? It took all the courage I had to open the car door, wave goodbye to my roommate, and walk into the Chicago O’Hare airport.
My research trip to France was a culmination of six months of work. I started in the spring of my freshman year. I met with my professor and told him about my interest in studying traditional dance in Brittany, France. I enrolled in a class on Breton culture for the upcoming semester, and my plan was to use my experience in France to create a brief film to use as a presentation. I spent my summer preparing my application. My professor helped me find reading materials to get a background in the academic literature surrounding Breton dance. I contacted various folk dance organizations in France to ask if they would agree to be interviewed for my project. I worked diligently to create a research grant proposal. Notre Dame has several institutes and centers (such as The Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement, Nanovic Institute for European Studies, or the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts) which give students money to conduct independent research projects during Fall Break. I was lucky enough to receive funding from CUSE, as well as offers from ND alumni to let me stay with them.
And so I was off! I flew to France with my friend (and fellow intern/blogger) Jeremy. It definitely helped relieve my nerves to know that I had a travel buddy. However, we parted ways at the airport. I was now on my own. I figured out where my train was and used my French as best as I could to ask a lady to help me find my seat. Luckily, she sat right behind me, so that wasn’t too hard. My worries followed me to the train station in Rennes, where I realized that I was meeting an ND alumni who was letting me stay with her and that I didn’t know what she looked like. After a half hour of panicked searching, I found her. With my nerves a little bit calmed, I began my research.
I spent my first day getting acclimated to Rennes, walking around, exploring some historical sites, parks, and old churches. That night, I went to a folk dancing class at a local university. The students enthusiastically taught me new dances and allowed me to record them for my project. The next day, I took a day trip to St. Malo, France, where I interviewed the director of one of Brittany’s best dance groups. I spent my third day visiting the museum of Breton history and then spending time in the Rennes’ library.
My last two days in France, I got a chance to see some wonderful sights. I visited Mont St. Michel, a beautiful old monastery on an island. The next day I went to Paris, where two young Parisians showed me around for the day. They did a good job of making sure that I got to see all the sights- the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triumph, lunch on the Louvre, the Tuleries, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, the Moulin Rouge, and even a glimpse of Versailles. After eating dinner at their house, their dad (one of my dad’s work colleagues) drove me around Paris at night.
By the time the trip was over, I did not want to leave. My week in France was one of the best experiences in my life. It shaped me as a French major, as a researcher, a as a traveler, and it even strengthened my faith life. I left the trip with a new sense of confidence, a belief that the world was mine. I could travel to new places, all by myself. I learned skills that will be valuable for the rest of my life, and I am forever grateful for that opportunity.
As for my next steps? I am spending this Fall Break traveling to Kentucky, where I will spend a week volunteering at a Catholic school through Notre Dame's Appalachia Service Program. Next month, I will be traveling to New York City to go to a conference on creativity in education at The Blue School. And in January, I’ll travel to Paris where I will spend my spring semester studying abroad at the University of Paris Diderot. I’m excited to see what comes next and what new adventures await me!