Ivy Opoku Mintah, a Sociology and French student at the University of Ghana, is currently undertaking an exchange program in France for the 2020/2021 academic year.
She is based at Bordeaux Montaigne University (Université Bordeaux Montaigne), a public university located in Pessac, a suburb of Bordeaux.
Language students at the University of Ghana, every academic year, are offered the opportunity to travel to the country of the native speakers of the language they are studying to enable them to improve their understanding and speaking of the language.
Ivy took advantage of this opportunity to travel to France, not only to learn, interact and became a better speaker of French, but also to have fun, explore and tour the country and other European countries.
“I meannnnnn, it’s Franceeeeee, who wouldn’t want to go to Franceeee?” she happily questioned. “In addition, the student visa is a Schengen visa; so I can tour Europe. That alone was enough motivation for me to want to go to France, well aside from it being the city of love and having the best cuisine in the world, you can debate with anyone else but me. And the language integration is excellent because you’d really have no choice but to speak French if you want to communicate.”
The first two months after arriving in Bordeaux was challenging for Ivy with regards to communicating with the natives. She indicated that it was quite difficult to really understand the people when they talk.
“They talk fast and also have shortened form of words just like we have in English. Also in Ghana, we’re not really taught to speak but to write the language so it always felt like an arduous task speaking out loud what you’ve formulated in your mind; it kind of felt like an invasion of privacy.”
Ivy, however, revealed that the people of Bordeaux made life easy as they were patient and even tried to help her communicate better in French.
“They were very welcoming and patiently wait while you try to formulate sentences. It can be pretty exasperating waiting on someone but most of them really don’t mind; and are excited to help you. After all, you’re making the effort to speak another man’s language.”
Ivy also indicated that finding a student job was quite easy and that also helped her learn the language faster and adapt culturally.
After overcoming her challenges with the language and started getting better at it, Ivy said she became very comfortable and easily expressed herself in conversations.
“I felt on top of the world when I spoke without breaking. I realized that you can always say du coup erh…. or just add erh (like the sounds horses make) to any word if you’re stuck, and that would even make you sound French while maintaining your accent… trust me, they’re attractive. It’s funny but it’s true.”
Becoming better at communicating in French enabled Ivy to easily make new friends. “Just smile and say bonjour and voila! you just made an acquaintance,” she said with excitement.
She also joined a contemporary dance group in the university but was unable to engage in activities due to COVID-19 restrictions. “I was also in a neighbourhood group; Compostelle; you’d meet people, make friends, go for aperitif, petite soirée où des autres choses comme ça,” she added.
While she is an English speaker learning to become fluent in French, the French are also fascinated about the English language and try to have conversations with her when they realize she speaks English.
“Most people were always excited to meet an English speaker; they would almost immediately try to say something in English when they realize that you’re English or from an Anglophone country. It was funny and exciting at the same time because you cannot but share in their excitement too,” Ivy said.
Ivy further indicated that she found the people’s way of life very interesting. She made reference to how smoking or kissing publicly is a very normal thing to see. “I liked the kissing part of course they really don’t care about anything and do what they want; it’s truly a free country,” she said.
“Some people I met also told me point blank that they’d want or have sex or have sex with me eventually,” she revealed. “I was shocked because I wasn’t used to such bold statements or truths but at least you know what they want without wasting your time.”
With what she has experienced in France so far, Ivy indicated that there are a lot of people that exist in the world with different cultures and lifestyles, and “we can learn from them through their gestures and mannerisms.”
“I was enlightened because you realize everything is not as it seems to be and I became less judgemental,” she said. “I really saw and understood people for who they were not what I’ve been told. Back in UG, you’d barely meet foreigners, talk about learning new experiences. The assimilation my exchange institution offered is something I’m sure I won’t forget. It was very very refreshing.”
Her experiences so far have convinced her that she made a very good decision to embark on an exchange programme in France. Ivy, therefore, encouraged other students to also apply for exchange programmes to France when such opportunities are available.
“I’d encourage anyone who wants to go to France to do so if you really want to learn the French culture. It’s French all around you and you’d unconsciously pick up some common words without even realizing it. It would bring you out of your comfort zone and you’d learn to do things you never thought you could do. You learn to rely on yourself and not depend too much on others. Du coup, you’d learn everything there is to know about the French culture if you put in the effort when you get there.”
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