Jasmine’s Tandem@Leeds Experience

Jasmine MoodieI knew that I wanted to study in France for my year abroad – it’s been part of the big life plan since I started learning French in high school. However, as it got to the point of making a choice between French or Business as my University degree, I took the Business road and never really looked back. It was only at the start of second year that I reconsidered the ‘living in France’ dream as a real possibility! First off, I thought that my French would be way too poor to study in the language abroad, so I assumed I would stumble at this first hurdle of the Study Abroad application process. Turns out, at ESSCA (in Angers, about an hour West of Paris) I could study in France just like I’d once hoped, and actually study in English! So that was it, I was heading to France to study in English…easy!

That’s when I realised, I was heading to France having not spoken the language or studied it since my last A level exam, two years ago! In all my pre-France excitement, I’d forgotten the fact that outside of the University courses, I’d be surrounded by French friends, French professors, French public services, French cashiers. In France, they speak French…somehow, I’d fallen into the safety net of English courses and ignored the fact that my day-to-day life would be in a language I was now unfamiliar with.

The email from Tandem@Leeds came at just the right time. Offering a casual self-managed partnership with someone from another country – an exchange of culture and language! I applied to the programme, granted with a tonne of nervousness, and eagerly awaited the news that they had found a French tandem partner for me.

I sat down and started making a list of icebreaker questions for the first ‘rendez-vous’ with my French tandem partner. We had arranged to meet in the hidden café, mostly so I could show her the joys of English Tea in the cosy setting of old sofas and the open piano. I was so nervous on our first meeting, as we had decided in our first communication to conduct the first meeting in French…I could barely get through “Bonjour, je m’appelle…” without cringing at my rusty French accent.

Marie was an absolute star – we got on so well, it almost felt like the language barrier didn’t exist because we just laughed at how nervous we had been for no reason. Our pairing had been based solely on the fact that she wanted to chat in English more, and I wanted to become more confident with native speakers. But the pairing was much much more than that for us, we had so much in common and every little rendez-vous revealed what a great match we were.

We decided that we were gossiping too much and needed a bit more structure to our meetings so we could get some kind of cultural knowledge out of it the tandem too. We came up with a plan: bring 3 printed articles in the opposite language to each ‘rendez-vous’ ready to discuss with the person from the country in which the news came from! We covered so much: French politics, the impending Brexit decision, changes to the French language (you can now spell oignon as ognon!), French food waste laws, the place of secularism in France, the democratic and justice systems in both countries…it got pretty deep! We met up about twice a week for an hour, we had English Tuesday and French Fridays (alliteration unintentional, but at least made the idea of speaking French to a native for an hour a bit less scary!). I obviously also told her about Yorkshire’s obsession with Yorkshire Puds…that’s cultural, right?

Meeting Date Language Topic Time
1 19/02/16 Eng/Fr First meeting, ourselves and family 1.5hr
2 24/02/16 Eng Cultural differences and ‘get to know you better questions’ 1hr
3 26/02/16 Fr ‘Apprendre a mieux se connaitre questions’ 1hr
4 03/03/16 Eng Brexit article 1hr
5 04/03/16 Fr ‘Les signes religieux a l’ecole’ article 2.5hr
6 09/03/16 Eng ‘University process and English students studying abroad more’ article 1hr
7 18/03/16 Fr ‘Contre le projet de loi travaille’ article 1.5hr
8 28/04/16 Eng The House of Lords 1hr
9 29/04/16 Fr « The Panama Papers » (RECORDED & SUBMITTED) 1hr
10 03/05/16 Eng/Fr/Casual Lunch at Brown’s (Leeds) : English Cuisine and Goodbye Lunch 1hr

After about ten weeks of meeting-up, I had not only improved my French, but I’d made a real life-long friend – someone who would listen to my rusty accent and correct me in the politest way possible! For our last meeting, I took my partner out for a typically British lunch, we probably deserved to splash out a bit more after maxing out our Hidden Café loyalty cards!

It was only 2 weeks before I was heading out to Angers, France, that I got a message from ‘ma puce’ (she taught me all the lovely French names for pals) – She was going to be studying her Masters in Angers! I had thought that I was heading out to France in a fortnight all alone, but now…I had a French-Leeds friend (I like to think she gained dual nationality after the amount of hours we spent in LUU) also studying in my new University city! It was a crazy coincidence and made me feel so much better about heading out alone. I can now see her University from my bedroom window!

What now? I see my tandem partner in the streets of Angers all the time – we stop for a chat, we’ve been for a few drinks (alcoholic…an upgrade from the British Tea) and she gave me some great local advice for visiting her home town Le Mans. Having a ‘rendez-vous’ set up ready for when I arrived in France was so comforting. I can’t explain how great the Tandem@Leeds experience has been for me personally; I probably spoke more French in Leeds than I do here in Angers. I got so so lucky with the fact that my partner now lives in my exchange town, but even without that little bonus, the Tandem programme helped to prepare me for the scariest change in my life so far. The gradual increases in confidence that I gained every week, with my vocab book bursting by the end of ten weeks, all added up to a smoother settling-in when I touched down alone in a foreign town, across the Channel.

Tandem@Leeds is what you make of it – be true to yourself in how much you want to get out of it – if you want vocab, push yourself to find a structure that will help you get it. If you want friendship, find a way to make the meetings informal – I’d recommend the Hidden Café…you can always talk about the cake if conversation dries up.

by Jasmine Moodie – Ecole Supérieure des Sciences Commerciales d’Angers – France

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