I like sitting on a beach as much as the next gal…but after a few hours I need to do something else, normally it’s just seeing what is around the next corner, visiting a museum, exploring the street culture, taking a walking tour, but in August 2017 I took the big step and decided to combine four weeks on Cote D’Azur with an intensive French language course at the celebrated L’Institut de Francais at Villefranche-sur-Mer, just outside Nice in the South of France. This internationally acclaimed teaching academy was established almost fifty years ago and offers month long courses in the French language from 9.00am until 5.00pm five days a week. Classes take place in a delightful chateau with an idyllic stepped garden. I had learned (and forgotten) rudimentary French thirty years ago and harboured romantic ideas of rekindling this passion for the language and the French culture. Therefore what could be better than a month in France?
Reviews on Trip Advisor fore warned of the intensive nature of the program and it was very hard work. For anyone like me who has not been in the classroom for decades just sitting and learning for hours a day is a challenge – and when that learning involves thinking and speaking in another language (speaking English is forbidden) exhaustion sets in. After four weeks I was ready to leave…but it was a nice type of exhaustion. Walking and cycling holidays serve a physical need for the tourist who seeks more than the beach. L’Institut de Francais fulfils the intellectual need.
And there was another unintended benefit from this experience, unadvertised by L’Institut but for this student just as important as the language instruction: my fellow students. The youngest person I met was 20, the oldest 69. There were a total of 60 students from 15 different countries and while probably 50% were from the USA, many of these American passport holders lived and worked in other countries. I spent time with an eclectic group of fascinating people – a woman who worked in Senegal for the Peace Corps, employees of the World Bank, a retired lawyer with ambitions to do pro bono work for gay African men persecuted by their countries, diplomats from Japan, New Zealand and Iceland as well as a number of individuals, like me, who were seeking to ‘do something different’ in stunning surroundings.
I read recently alarming statistics over the increase in tourism and a back lash it is creating from residents in the affected areas (for example, Venice and Barcelona). In less than two decades apparently travel has doubled from 536 million trips (1995) to 1 billion (2012). I believe there are alternatives to being the cliche tourist and other ways to appreciate different countries and cultures. These alternative “holidays” may not be advertised or promoted as such, may not be located in a well known city and may require a search beyond the traditional brochure or web site, but can offer all, if not more of the benefits a traditional holiday provides. My month studying French in Villefranche-sur-Mer certainly did.