Photo Credit: Laxmi McCulloch
Wandering through a French cathedral on your way to get a hot chocolate at an outdoor café with your best friends is the solution to all of life’s problems. I’m not religious, but I’ll admit there’s something special about Cathedrale St. Gatien in Tours, France. There’s something special about the whole city, actually, and the month I spent there was nothing short of spectacular.
While in Tours, I attended French language and culture classes at the Institut de Touraine from 9:00 A.M. to 12:20 P.M., Monday through Friday. Most of the other students at l’Institut are college or graduate students from places all over the world, including Turkey, Washington state, Alaska, Japan, Virginia Beach, Belgium, and South Korea. At fifteen years old, my friends and I were by far the youngest in our class, but it didn’t seem to really matter to our welcoming peers. They were all eager to give us advice about being a foreigner in France or share stories from their lives.
As soon as I got out of class, I would head to lunch with some friends. Most of the time this meant walking to a boulangerie for a sandwich and a tart, although I did enjoy the occasional crêpe. After about a week in Tours, I had developed a list of my favorite restaurants and cafés. While I frequently drew inspiration from this list to choose a lunch spot, I did my best to try new things as often as I could.
90% of my afternoons were spent in one of the following eight ways:
- Shopping (both on the main shopping street with all the big chain stores and in small boutiques I found down tiny cobblestone alleys)
- Visiting the Jardin Botanique de Tours (possibly my favorite place in the world)
- Playing Uno for hours in my favorite café
- Taking walks along the Loire river
- Doing homework in the sun on the steps of L’Hotel de Ville (city hall)
- Wandering around local chateaux and art museums
- Taking French cooking classes
- Drinking hot chocolate and people watching in the Place Plumereau (a quintessentially Tourangeau spot)
Sometime around 5:00 or 6:00 (depending on if I had the key to the apartment or not — there was only one key for me and my roommate to share, so we had to alternate days), I would go back home, finish my homework, talk to someone from home on the phone, or hang out with my host family. Then it was dinner and time for bed.
There was the occasional night out, but as fifteen year olds, there weren’t many legal activities for me and my friends to partake in late at night in a college town. If we were out late, we were mostly likely wandering around the crowded streets lamenting the fact that one day soon we would have to go back home to our parents and strict curfews.
I couldn’t be more serious in saying that my time in Tours changed my life. I learned to be more self-reliant, improved my time management skills, significantly reduced my stress levels, and had an experience that I’ll remember forever. In fact, I have an open invitation from my host family to stop by for dinner if I’m ever back in town. You better believe I’m going to take them up on that as soon as I get the chance.