This story was originally published in The Crown, Redeemer’s student newspaper, and has been republished with permission.
During the fall 2017 semester, four of us third-year French students — Cassy Dyck, Amelia Keesman, Nicole Katerberg and Kirsten Klompmaker — studied abroad in the beautiful south of France. We were very excited and nervous when we arrived. On August 26, after a long day travelling, we landed in the town of Montpellier and were greeted by our host families with three kisses — “trois bises.” Nope, not a handshake or a hug — three kisses! This was just the beginning of leaving our old comfortable culture behind and stepping into the life of the French. Each day we experienced what it is like to be immersed in a new culture, to speak a different language and to eat very different food.
As much as France is known for its wine, bread and cheese, we would like to add lentils and vegetables to that list. Dinners in France start around 7 or 8 p.m., and it is not rare to still be eating at 10:30 p.m. A typical French meal begins with an alcoholic beverage and salty snacks. Then, you move on to fruit (normally melon, in our experience), followed by a salad, and then your main course — usually consisting of a lot of unrecognizable vegetables and lentils. After you have completely cleared your plate, out comes a course solely dedicated to rich cheese and baguettes. But wait, there’s more! After you think you cannot eat anymore, they bring out the most delicious desserts. Even though you are completely stuffed by the end and the dinners are longer than what you’re used to, meals were where the best conversations and language improvements happened.
“We were reminded that we were not there only to improve our French and to have fun — but that God had us there for a reason.”
In order to graduate from Redeemer with a French degree, studying at a B2 level during a semester abroad is required. During our first week, we completed an obligatory placement test. Thanks to the fabulous teaching of Dr. Curnew, we all obtained this level with ease. Four days each week we took the tram to the local university, where all of our French language courses took place. Along with our language courses, we volunteered one afternoon a week in a local Christian café called Chez Théo as part of our service learning option.
Coming to France from a tight-knit Christian community like Redeemer made it challenging to be immersed in such a secular country. Thankfully, during our first week we attended a Protestant church recommended to us by Dr. Curnew, where we by chance sat beside the women who run Agape, a ministry of Power to Change, right in Montpellier. From there, we were invited to their first meeting of the semester that just so happened to take place at Chez Théo! During this meeting, we were reminded that we were not there only to improve our French and to have fun studying abroad — but that God had sent us there for a reason. We were challenged to consciously bring God into conversations with our fellow students who came from all around the world.
Sometimes, we question why we even bother learning such a complicated language. It’s exhausting and it took us away from the comforts of home. But the Lord worked — and is working — in our lives and has brought us to places (like Chez Théo) where we experienced peace and encouragement during our semester in Montpellier. Even though the homesickness was intense at times, we were very grateful for the incredible opportunity to study in such a beautiful part of the world and experience a unique culture.
Kirsten Klompmaker ‘19 is currently in her third year at Redeemer studying French and Business. She loves getting to know different cultures and interacting with many different people. She hopes one day to use her French to serve in the business field in Canada.
Nicole Katerberg ‘19 is currently continuing her studies in Music and French at Redeemer. She enjoys being pulled out of her comfort zone, especially by learning about and experiencing different cultures and ways of living.