July 27, 2013
Author’s note: I wrote most of this on the plane ride home on July 27, then proceeded to completely forget about finishing it until the end of August. Oops!
In just under an hour from the time of writing this post, my plane from Paris will hit the ground in Detroit, completing my eight-week study abroad program with MSU. While I have a few final reflections yet to share, that will be done in a later post from my comfort of my own home, since I have yet to detail my final week in Tours. As is evident by the lack of a post during the week, I’ve been busy finishing up my studies, soaking up as much of the city as I could, and spending time with a group of what I hope will be long-lasting friends from MSU and beyond.
The biggest personal event of the past week came in the form of the DELF B2 exam, which I have previously discussed and took last Friday, July 19. Due to the scores on our placement tests for July courses, I and three other students among our group were eligible to take the DELF B2, which signifies proficiency in the French language. While I did not spend a lot of time studying (contrary to the norm, as those of you who know me well are surely aware!), I went into the four-part exam with average expectations and a positive attitude, hoping our continued work at the Institut in improving our use of French would help me succeed.
The first portion of the test was written comprehension, in which I had to read two passages and answer questions about them. With previous in-class variants of such tests producing fairly positive results, the section was not one of my primary worries going into the test. As it turned out, it was easier than the tests we had taken in class, and I ended up passing with 24/25 points on the section. Following that was written production, which asked candidates to read a short paragraph, then respond to the prompt in letter form. I had a few small comprehension issues within the paragraph which I later realized caused me to mess up the introduction of my letter, but the points I made within were apparently enough to score me another ten and a half points.
Following the two written sections came the oral half of the exam, beginning with an oral comprehension test to finish the morning session. This was where I had the biggest worry going into the exam: I am usually fairly able to understand Francophone people when they are talking to me with the help of normal conversational nuances like gestures and lip-watching, but listening to fast, muffled speakers without such aids makes it more difficult. While I did better than I had feared overall, I did leave a few questions blank on the second listening portion (the first excerpt was played twice, but the shorter second section gets only one play), yet I still managed a solid 13.50/25 points. Those playing along at home will notice that I only needed another five points (two to reach fifty and five since the DELF requires a minimum of five points per test to pass, even if you get over fifty points overall) in the last test, but of course, I didn’t find that out until afterward, which meant I had to sweat it out from the end of the third session at noon until my individual listening session at 16h00 (4:00pm). For the final oral production section, I spoke one-on-one with an Institut professor about whether or not sugary products should be taxed like alcohol and tobacco. Thrilling, huh? Nevertheless, I scored 20/25 points and successfully received a diploma in French studies, which I found out under two hours after finishing the oral production test. Take that, ACT.
Saturday was spent detoxing with English while visiting Mont Saint-Michel and St. Malo as part of another Institut-sponsored excursion. Mont Saint-Michel is an island town with a large, well-known abbey that receives over 20,000 visitors during the summer, but has very few permanent inhabitants. We spent the early afternoon touring the abbey and shopping a bit before returning to the bus and driving to the port city of St. Malo. There, we had a couple hours to get a quick peek of the city, including its sandy beach, and enjoy crêpes for dinner.
The Mont Saint-Michel and St. Malo excursion was somewhat bittersweet, marking the last weekend in France for most of us (several students chose to travel on their own or with family afterward). My final week of classes began with our last two quizzes, leaving the rest of the week for more lessons. We also got to learn about all of our home countries, which was neat due to the diverse population of my class. When we weren’t in class, we spent our last free afternoons crossing items off our final to-do lists, including shopping for food and souvenirs to take home and eating our last lunch at the Institut as a group. The final week also included an Institut-hosted talent show, which was fun to watch especially as most of the participants were MSU students. However, with every new experience racked up during those days, our date of departure grew closer and closer. Soon enough, I was spending my final night at the Guinguette talking with friends from MSU and beyond, then catching a few hours of sleep before being awoken at 4:15 to heavy rain and my alarm clock, signaling the end of an eight-week trip that I will certainly remember for the rest of my life.
A brief word of advice to other MSU students reading this blog: whether you’re interested in following my footsteps to Tours, another country, or just experiencing a different part of the United States, this university has so many opportunities for studying abroad that I hope everyone strongly considers the experience. Not only will you expand your horizons in our increasingly globalized world, but you will be able to make countless memories with new, lifelong friends from around the world. It sounds cliché, but I truly think every student would benefit from participating in a study abroad trip while studying at Michigan State. Feel free to contact me on Twitter, Facebook, or email if you have questions I can answer!
July 17, 2013
Ten days ago, I spent a quiet Sunday in with my host family. Looking back, that doesn’t seem too long ago. Realizing that I will be on a plane back to the United States in another ten days makes me very aware of how quickly our time in Tours is running out. However, I am (unsurprisingly) filling the next ten days with enough work and activity to keep me busy through then, so maybe I can keep my mind off of it for just a little longer!
Classes have been going well, though I have fairly quickly realized that I am in the lower end of the class when it comes to proficiency in using and understanding the language. However, that’s a completely welcome experience for me: it means I have a lot of opportunities to build and learn my French skills. After all, it isn’t every day that you get to practice French with skilled students from the United States, England, Spain, Germany, Italy, Kuwait, Japan, Korea, and Russia all in the same room! Phonetics continues to be both my favorite and least difficult class (hmm, maybe the two go hand in hand), though I’ve unfortunately developed a strong least favorite in oral comprehension. As it turns out, while I can usually understand my friends and host family when speaking French, recordings of French speakers (sometimes with regional accents thrown in, no less) are much more difficult for me to comprehend in two fast listens without the nuances of regular conversation.
In addition to my classes and additional reading for my MSU classes, I am preparing to take the DELF exam on Friday, as previously mentioned. The exam consists of multiple sections much like the ACT or other standardized tests in the United States: written comprehension, written production, oral comprehension, and oral production. The first three sections of the test are taken on Friday morning on paper, while the oral production section is an individual test in the afternoon during which I will prepare an argument based upon a written passage, then present and defend this argument to one of the exam proctors. The exam realistically provides nothing to me but a line on a resume unless I were to pursue the chance to enter a French university, but the opportunity is worthwhile, so I hope I do well enough to pass and receive a diploma.
Though it might not sound like it from the preceding paragraphs, I have had my fair share of fun events during the past week as well. The Tour de France came through Tours late last week, arriving at the end of their stage on Thursday and departing on Friday. While I was unable to make it to Thursday’s arrival due to logistical issues concerning my class schedule, I was excited to see the cyclists leave town on Friday, especially since my family and I have watched the Tour on TV for several years and my father and grandparents are avid cyclists as well. After classes let out early Friday afternoon, we made our way to the departure point of the course, which was right near the Institut de Touraine where we study. Since we were seeing the very beginning of the stage, the cyclists pedaled their way out of town all together, following behind the official vehicle escort that keeps the riders behind them until they’re out of the well-populated town. Because no one could break away from the pack (or as they call it, the peloton) at that point, the actual event of seeing the cyclists start didn’t last very long, but it was still very cool to see up close something that I had previously been used to seeing only on a television screen (and I got a nice picture of the four jersey-wearing riders leading the pack).
Following the Tour on Friday, I spent Saturday alone for what I believe was the first time this trip, doing a little bit of shopping during the soldes and checking out the local IKEA (no, it wasn’t very different from those in America) for lunch.
Les soldes — The sales (annually from late June through July in France)
Sunday, however, was much different: July 14 is the fête nationale, or independence day, in France, also referred to as Bastille Day. After sleeping in, I went to eat breakfast and was stopped by my host parents, who informed me that the parade in Paris was being broadcast on TV, so I watched the military groups and music ensembles march down the Champs-Élysées with them before a barbecue lunch in the garden. Later that evening, everyone in Tours (and I am likely exaggerating only slightly when I say that) made their way to le pont Wilson or la guinguette to watch a patriotic fireworks show. Being accustomed to annual July fireworks during our own country’s celebration of independence, it was a neat experience to substitute that with a celebration of the country where I have lived and studied this summer. And of course, their fireworks were spectacular as well.
Le pont — The bridge
Today brought a return to Amboise, the city nearby that a group of seven visited on our own during our first weekend in France. However, we still were lucky to experience new sights: while we had decided during our first excursion to skip le Château du Clos Lucé (Leonardo da Vinci’s house) due to excessive cost, the Institut-sponsored trip meant that the cost had already been included in our tuition payments. While the house itself was only mildly interesting to my eyes, it was very cool to see a large number of da Vinci’s many inventions modeled or diagrammed throughout the property, including the first automobile and an attempted flying device that eventually became the helicopter. After finishing there, we returned to the Château d’Amboise, where da Vinci had reportedly been buried and where François Ier (Francis I) once lived. Despite having already seen the château, the sights were certainly interesting enough to see a second time, and having a professor from the Institut as our guide gave me a little more information about the castle that we missed when visiting it alone.
While it is now approaching dinner time on the east coast of the United States, midnight is around the corner here, which means that we will officially be in the single digits for days remaining in France. It’s very hard to believe that six and a half weeks have already passed here, but I suppose that’s what happens when you’re having fun, learning French, and, as my mom put it, eating your way through Europe. Speaking of food, I plan to post more about the French delicacies I’ve enjoyed while here, as well as a summer playlist (because how could I write blog entries without including a musical element, right?), a recap of the DELF exam, and our upcoming excursion to Mont Saint-Michel and Saint-Malo on Saturday. A+ (that’s not a grade, but rather modern shorthand for à plus tard, or “see you later”)!
July 8, 2013
July has brought a lot more work with this new month of classes. Unlike in June, where we had one class each day for at most three hours per morning, our schedules during this month change daily and can last as late as 17h30 (5:30pm). While this means a lot more work is on our plates, it also means we have the opportunity to learn more and improve our French. Classes began on Tuesday following a brief orientation among our MSU group on Monday morning, followed by a free afternoon during which I and a few friends saw Man of Steel at the local theater (while it was in English, we could read the French subtitles to pick up a few words and note how they were translated from English to French).
Before settling into our July courses, I returned to my host family in Tours on Sunday night to find new roommates. There are currently four other guests in my house; three are also taking classes at the Institut, while the other is visiting for the third year after being a student here in the past. I have enjoyed the opportunity to speak French with more people at the dinner table and learn more about the differences in their cultures and backgrounds.
Speaking of different backgrounds, I have been exposed to a lot of other cultures while in my classes. In June, our “introductory” class of sorts only included MSU students, but the Institut mixes all of the students into numerous classes based on the results of their placement exams. The levels range from 1 to 9 and there are multiple sections in each level so that each class includes roughly fourteen students, creating a manageably small group for speaking and working together. One major difference between such exams in the United States and in France is that while you might expect your results to be privately delivered to you or available online, here they are all posted in the courtyard of the Institut on the first day of classes, sorted by last name for everyone to see. Working my way through the crowd that had gathered on Tuesday morning, I eventually found that I had been placed in the eighth level. Placing so highly has been somewhat of a challenge for me so far, since my initial impression has been that most of the other students in my class are more advanced (even though some have been taking French for as little as ten months, much less than my seven years’ experience!), but I know that being exposed to such skilled French speakers will undoubtedly improve my own skills. Because of my placement level, I also have the opportunity to take an exam that, if passed, will grant me a diplôme d’études en langue française as a sign of my French knowledge and would also allow entrance to a French university were I to pursue that option.
DELF: diplôme d’études en langue française — Diploma of French studies
In addition to having longer class periods during the week — while our classes in June totaled 33 hours, we now have 20 hours of class for each of the four weeks in July — we also have more varied coursework. The schedule operates more akin to my fifth-grade schooling in the US than anything else, really — instead of having a different professor for every aspect of the language, we have two professors: one who focuses on written work and the other whose focus is oral studies. Throughout the week, we participate in courses such as oral comprehension, grammar, written production, and phonetics. I finish by the noon lunch break on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but have classes until the late afternoon on Tuesday and Thursday. My favorite course right now is the phonetics class, during which half of our group goes to a computer lab, puts on headphones with microphones, and participates in exercises that test both our grammar and phonetic abilities. Despite having to listen to recordings of myself after doing the exercises, it has been enjoyable and informative so far, much like the rest of my coursework.
My fellow RCAH majors at MSU will surely appreciate the amount of transculturation that is occurring here in our classes and in my host family! Between the five of us staying with my host family, one is Spanish and another has Greek parents, with the rest of us being American. My fifteen-person class has students of many more varied cultures: there are about fifteen students in our class (the number has changed almost daily with people entering and exiting the class to move to different levels) with countries of origin that include the United States, England, Italy, Germany, Spain, Korea, Japan, and Kuwait. It has been interesting, first of all, because French is an easier language for speaking with some students than English, but also because we have been able to learn a bit about each country and their culture while discussing subjects like stereotypes and discrimination. The weekly tests take the RCAH experience away a bit, of course, but the discussion topics have made me feel fairly close to home (not to mention the ever-missed opportunity to dodge road construction walking home from class every day!).
Last week was packed with events beyond class as well. Since Thursday was the Fourth of July, everyone dressed in red, white, and blue and (bien sûr — of course!) used it as a prime opportunity to party. We’ll see how hard everyone goes for Bastille Day, France’s annual celebration of independence, on the fourteenth. On Friday afternoon, our group also took a trip to Vouvray and the Château de Chenonceau. We began our excursion at a wine cave in Vouvray, which included a brief tour of the cave and a tasting of three regional wines. (I also bought some jam to share with my family that I am looking forward to tasting when I get home!) From there, we went on a boat and floated upon the river Cher, getting a view of the Château de Chenonceau from the water before getting a closer look.
Fortunately, we have been gradually improving the amount of time that we have spoken French together as a group as well. Whereas most afternoons in June were spent speaking entirely in English, we are transitioning into using French with each other as much as possible. Our goal this week is to speak nothing but French to each other; we may have already failed that during lunch this afternoon, but hopefully keeping our minds on it will mean we’ll get there before the end of the month. Bonne chance (good luck) to us…!
June 30, 2013
My last blog post was written on the train from Tours to Lyon, signaling the start of our week-long vacation in France. This time, I’m writing from my final train ride back to our home away from home after nine days of travel and twelve rides on trains and buses with three other MSU students in our group. During our week off, we spent three nights in Lyon, three in Nice, and two in Grenoble.
Our first train ride from Tours to Lyon was an interesting experience for all of us, considering we were new to using the French train system (save our day trip to Amboise), but we arrived in Lyon in the late afternoon and checked into our hotel room, which turned out to be more like a loft with a private kitchenette and a skylight with a wide view of the city. In true American fashion, we made two stops at the nearby Starbucks and Domino’s during our stay for a “taste” of our home culture, but we also got our fair share of French food and drink from the market across the street and the nearby supermarché. (As it turns out, a baguette is not only a very filling lunch, but a very inexpensive one as well!)
Le supermarché — The supermarket
Since our first full day in Lyon was a Sunday, when many stores and attractions are closed for the day, we decided to see a French movie at the theater to test our comprehension. In Né Quelque Part, a student living in France travels to Algeria to save his ailing father’s house from being destroyed while learning to love his new cultural surroundings (see the French synopsis on Wikipedia).
Né quelque part — Born somewhere
While we had the advantage of occasional subtitles due to the use of other foreign languages like Arabic, we had to rely otherwise on our French listening skills alone but ended up being rather successful. On Monday, we walked up the hill to the western district of Fourvière, then went through town some more before retiring to our room for wine and our almost-daily attempt at a “conversation hour,” during which the four of us did our best to speak solely in French while expanding our vocabulary and grammatical skills in the process.
Tuesday brought the end of our stay in Lyon and five hours of travel to Nice, with a brief layover at the train station in Marseille. A bit of a reverse culture shock occurred when stepping off the train into Nice: I think I heard more English than French spoken by the arriving passengers! While we stayed in another four-bed private room in Nice, the building was set up with more of a hostel-oriented atmosphere than the others (including a few typical dorm-style rooms), which meant a more open relationship with the other guests of the hostel. Luckily for us, this was created through spaghetti dinners hosted every other evening. Three euros for a large plate of spaghetti, popcorn, wine, and conversation seemed like a good deal to us, so we chose that option for dinner on both Tuesday and Thursday. Afterward, and throughout much of our stay in Nice, we went to the beach, a well-inhabited rocky shore on the Mediterranean about fifteen minutes by foot from our hostel. Due to my desire to stay immersed in French language and culture as much as possible during the week before starting more intensive coursework in July, I was a little disappointed at how much of Nice was tourist-oriented and full of English, but the ability to rest and relax a bit was a welcome respite for a few days (though I could have done without the sunburn and the swimmer’s ear!).
By Friday, I was excited for a change in scenery as we headed to our final stop in Grenoble, nestled at the foot of the Alps. Our original plan was to arrive at 18h15 (6:15pm) after leaving Nice at 12h55 with stops between in Marseille and Valence. However, since we only had a fifteen-minute gap before our connecting train in Marseille and the first train from Nice to Marseille ran late, we ended up just missing the train and had to get new tickets, which set us back about two hours. Nevertheless, we made it to Grenoble in the evening and set out to see the city a bit before bed, since we had one fewer night there. During our only full day in the area, we split up: while the other half of our group explored nearby, I went with one of my fellow travelers early in the morning to Annecy, which was two hours away by train/bus but still hosted beautiful views of the Alps through the lens of a smaller town and the Lac d’Annecy, supposedly Europe’s cleanest lake. The rain and wind kept us from staying in Annecy too long, so we returned to Grenoble in the afternoon and regrouped to partake in warm drinks in the afternoon before a quiet final evening of vacation in the hotel with pizza and French versions of Disney music on YouTube.
Le lac — The lake
We passed the halfway point of our study abroad experience yesterday, and now we continue to sadly remind ourselves that we are now less than four weeks from the end of the program and, except for a lucky few with more money and time to spare in Europe afterward, our return trip to the United States. Tomorrow is July 1, which signals the start of our second session of courses: following group orientation on Monday, our new classes begin on Tuesday and will include foreign students from many different groups around the world, not just other MSU students. This means that our common language will most likely be French rather than English! That might seem daunting, but I am hopeful that the last four weeks of work here will have adequately prepared us to hold conversations and continue to improve our French language skills, and I look forward to seeing what the next four weeks will bring.
June 24, 2013
Things have been fairly busy here in Tours since my last post, which means that I have a lot to write about to catch everyone up. I hope to be posting more regularly in the upcoming weeks despite the increasing workload of courses that we will have in July; in addition to classes, we will have additional excursions as a group, including another château visit and an opportunity to see the Tour de France pedal through Tours during its 100th anniversary.
As I type this, a small group of our MSU contingent is on the train, headed to Lyon for the first leg of our one-week vacation following three weeks of class. The four of us will spend three nights in Lyon, then three in Nice and two in Grenoble before returning to Tours late in the evening on June 30. After that, we’ll all have another orientation meeting on Monday morning before beginning the second session of classes on Tuesday. While five weeks still seems like a long time left to be here in France, the first three have flown by so quickly and have included so many fun activities that I know it won’t be long before we’re on the plane back to Detroit.
During the week, much of our time was spent at or near the Institut. MSU’s thirty-two students on the trip were split into two groups for classes; mine met from 9:00 – 11:00am on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and 9:00 – 12:15 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Once class was over, we would usually get a light lunch at Carrefour (the nearby grocery store) or a sandwicherie on Rue Nationale and, because it rained almost daily for a solid week and a half, would then take shelter back at the Institut to hang out or get work done.
My second week here included two excursions: one on Wednesday afternoon to the châteaux at Azay-le-Rideau and Villandry as well as a day trip on Saturday to Paris. Both of these excursions were hosted by the Institut and included students from many different groups (including one from nearby Hillsdale, Michigan, which we were surprised to find out while in Paris!). Herding fifty students through small castle staircases provided its own challenges, but we still managed to marvel at the architecture and landscapes of the castles on Wednesday.
On Saturday, the excursion included stops at the Musée d’Orsay and Notre-Dame. While at the museum, we learned about the building (which was originally a train station whose architecture was kept intact instead of it being destroyed and rebuilt for the museum) and the many works of art inside, including Rodin sculptures, many impressionist paintings, and Van Gogh’s famed Starry Night. After a guided tour in the Musée, I got a crêpe for lunch before heading to Notre-Dame. While we didn’t spend much time inside the cathedral, five of us paid a modest five-euro fare to climb a long series of spiral stairs to the top of the building, which provided a beautiful view of Paris. After spending a hefty (but worthy!) chunk of change for macarons* at the well-known Ladurée, we had a fitting end to our trip to Paris by seeing the Eiffel Tower at a close distance as our bus made its way home.
In addition, the second week of our study abroad included my 21st birthday (which I humorously celebrated before my twin brother, who is three minutes older than me but six timezones away!) on June 13. While the first of several consecutive days of rain kept us from celebrating in the evening, I had an enjoyable day and a large dinner (plus cake!) with my host family. That day also included the first of two placement exams for our July courses: an hour-long written exam that had sections for listening, reading comprehension, and writing responses to prompts. Except for some trouble with the excerpts in the listening section, I exited the exam feeling like I had done fairly well. A few days ago, we finished the placement exams with a ten-minute oral conversation with one of the professors at the Institut. I thought that went better than the written exam; I was able to speak fluidly without too many grammatical errors (or, when I did miss something, I realized and corrected myself before continuing) and the only words I struggled to say were unfamiliar vocabulary words like bec (mouthpiece) and orchestre à cordes (string orchestra). Now, we play the waiting game: we won’t find out the results of our placement nor our grades from the first session until our orientation on July 1.
Speaking of the first session, I should probably explain how classes worked as well… Our sixteen-person class was taught by Olivier Dufresne, a professor with a jovial attitude and exciting facial hair to match. We spent most of our classes in a lecture-style discussion setting, learning historical and cultural details about France in areas such as religion, politics, and even music. In many classes, we would compare French life with ours in the United States, which Olivier seemed to appreciate as an opportunity for two-way learning. In addition to his lectures, each student gave a 15 – 20-minute presentation known as an exposé, focusing on one of the main topics for the day. My exposé, done this past Wednesday, was centered on la presse in France; I discussed the different types of French newspapers and their circulation figures, along with a comparison to similar American papers and the issues that they faced.
La presse — The media
Our only(!) other homework assignment for the first class was a 7 – 10-page paper, or dossier, on a topic of our choosing. Naturally, I wrote about contemporary French music, taking a look at popular genres in France and how English-language songs often cross over to French radio stations.
Fittingly, yesterday was our final day of class for the month, falling on the same day as the first day of summer and Fête de la Musique, a worldwide holiday that originated in France during which musicians of all types fill the streets with sound. I participated in two concerts during my 2008 tour in France with the Blue Lake International Jazz Ensemble, but since I did not bring my trombone with me during this trip, I spent the evening solely enjoying the music. It was really cool to turn one corner and another and continually find musicians playing completely different genres, from a reggae band and a rock guitarist to the accordion player on the sidewalk and a drumline covering Maroon 5′s “Payphone” on vibraphones. Much like the musicians coming together despite their contrasting performances, the Institut — and even our group from MSU — is a mélange of cultures and backgrounds that allows all of us to learn more and more about the great big world** we live in. This will continue next month as more students arrive at the Institut, including a large group from Canada, and I am excited to interact with more students of different cultures and to gain an even greater appreciation of our differences and commonalities.
* Note that there is a difference between macarons, meringue-based confections, and macaroons, more of a biscuit usually with sugar and coconut known as a congolais in France. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)
** I heard this song on the radio right before arriving at the airport in Detroit; I thought it was a pretty fitting song to hear before a transcontinental flight!
June 10, 2013
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a week since I arrived in Tours for the summer and began taking classes at the Institut de Touraine. Before we know it, we’ll have completed our eight weeks here and be on our way back to the United States with fond memories of the classes, friends, and food we have enjoyed here. This first week in Tours has been eventful and enjoyable as we have begun acclimating to French life and culture and gotten to know the thirty-one students (as well as our professor and graduate assistant) traveling in our group.
Our first full day in Tours was last Monday, and with it came our introductory orientation at the Institut. In order to show me the route to class, my host father Serge drove me the first day. Once we arrived, we had a brief orientation with our MSU professors followed by une chasse au trésor around the city.
Une chasse au trésor — A treasure (scavenger) hunt
After getting a quick bite to eat (which was accompanied with our first time having to speak to French people without them knowing beforehand that we were non-native speakers – though they probably figured it out fairly quickly, especially when some people gave up and tried speaking English to no avail!), we began our “treasure hunt,” which was more of a guided tour of the city than anything. We failed to walk down la rue nationale, the main street in the city with many shops, which caused us to miss a few of the landmarks, but otherwise we began to gather our bearings within Tours. Among our destinations were la gare, the garden at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, and la place Plumereau, the square with many restaurants and bars that we have frequently visited since then. Afterward, we met up as a group to buy our pay-as-you-go phones and bus passes.
La gare — The train station
Tuesday brought our first “real” day of class, which also meant my first day walking alone to the Institut. Despite having multiple maps and a general sense of direction, I managed to turn in the wrong direction after crossing the bridge into the city and made a wide circle around the Institut that unnecessarily added a good twenty minutes of travel time. Luckily, I eventually found my way and got to class with a few minutes to spare. After class, the majority of our MSU constituent went to place Plume for lunch, where I had my first real crème brûlée (while its equivalent from the MSU cafeteria is good, it doesn’t quite compare!).
After my first day of difficulty walking to class, I followed a more direct route to class on Wednesday and have had no issues since, thankfully. It takes about 25 minutes to walk from my house north of the river to the Institut in the middle of the city, but with my headphones on and the French scenery all around, it’s a fairly painless endeavor (not to mention that both the length and road construction make it seem like I haven’t left MSU!). The class schedule here is interesting: while I’m used to starting in the late morning or early afternoon and having classes until dinner at MSU, this month I have class only from 9h to 11h (or 12h15 on Tuesdays and Thursdays). We’ve been informed that that will change in July, when our courses will become more intensive, but for now I’m content to have classes in the mornings and afternoons free to eat, explore, and enjoy the company of my fellow student travelers. The only assignments we have during the first three week session are a 20-minute exposé in-class presentation and a 7-10-page dossier, which means we don’t have regular homework assignments like at MSU, but that I will need to start soon and work gradually each day to ensure I have enough information before I present next week.
Speaking of travel, we will be doing a fair amount of it throughout the trip, particularly on the weekends. After spending the afternoons during the week checking out Tours (except for one day during which I participated in a cooking class, a group of us decided to spend Saturday in Amboise, which takes twenty minutes via train and has a château where Leonardo da Vinci is buried. Upon arriving in the early afternoon, we toured the château and walked around the city for a while; we also briefly visited le Clos Lucé, where da Vinci once lived. We then finished out the day with gelato, a brass band festival (an exciting accidental discovery for me, of course, being an avid trombonist and music enthusiast!) and conversation under a gazebo. Sunday was spent at home, resting both my body and my wallet. This week, our excursions include a group visit to the Château de Villandry on Wednesday and a group of twelve heading to Paris on Saturday to view the Musée d’Orsay and Notre Dame. After our first three weeks here, our first session ends with the Fête de la Musique on June 21, followed by a week off to travel, during which I and a small group plan to travel by train to a few French cities.
While I am fortunate to be able to spend this summer traveling abroad and creating many memories (a big shout-out to my family for helping make it possible!!), I am also happy that I am able to share it with you. I suppose it’s fitting (and maybe just a little corny) that, upon visiting the local FNAC (a European entertainment chain; think Best Buy meets Barnes & Noble) in town to see what kind of musical discoveries I could make, I found a two-disc Francophone compilation from Céline Dion called Avec toi. Though there’s no way I could bring all of my friends and family with me to Tours, I am thankful that I can use this blog and social media to share my adventures here avec toi: with you.
June 1, 2013
Tonight, I will depart from Detroit to Paris, France before arriving in Tours, my home for the next eight weeks. While in Tours, I will be staying with a host family and taking courses along with other MSU and international students at the Institut de Touraine. Experiencing French language and culture firsthand is bound to be a very fun and educational experience for me. In addition to my studies, we will also be embarking on several excursions, including day trips to Paris and Mont Saint-Michel and watching the Tour de France cycle through Tours during its 100th anniversary. While I can’t bring everyone along with me physically, I can do my best to document my travels online, so I’ll be using social media to share updates during the summer semester.
On y va! — let’s go!
If you are an Instagram user, follow KurtTrowbridge for a steady feed of pictures while on the go. Once I receive my local phone in Tours, I should be able to share directly to Instagram when taking pictures on the phone; I will also be uploading pictures from my digital camera to Instagram using Dropbox as an intermediary program. Even if you aren’t on Instagram, you can easily see all of my photos from the trip: each of my uploaded pictures with the hashtag #msutours13 will appear in an auto-updating feed at the top of my France category page, thanks to a WordPress plugin called Instapress. More pictures will be uploaded to my Facebook page; feel free to follow or befriend me there as well.
While most people have moved on from Foursquare at this point, I still check in fairly regularly. Follow me to see where I’m going throughout France and maybe get a tip or two if you’re ever in the area. I’m also looking into displaying a map on the site that will show checkins that I can reference in posts – feel free to send me recommendations if you have a WordPress plugin or program that would accomplish such a map.
For the most quick (and likely least interesting) updates, I will be posting on Facebook and Twitter. More in-depth posts will be posted here, including photos and links when relevant. While these posts will be automatically shared to Facebook and Twitter, you can also get notifications for updates through this RSS feed or by selecting the “Notify me of new posts by email” option when commenting on a post.
May 24, 2013
In the fast-paced online environment where rumors fly almost daily about new music releases, it is nice to have an official source to back rumors about upcoming album or single releases. Unbeknownst to many, iTunes has a useful fact-checking source in its own Link Maker. The Link Maker is intended for affiliates to create links to products within the iTunes Store; purchases made through these links provide affiliate sales to the creator of the link, providing they are a member of their affiliate program. Since the Link Maker can show links to products within the iTunes database, searching on the Link Maker can be used as a legitimacy check if a new release is in the iTunes database. I previously covered this search ability as a method of fact-checking the name of Justin Timberlake’s single “Suit & Tie,” and now I would like to highlight its usefulness in order to analyze the rumored tracklisting for Kanye West’s upcoming album, Yeezus, slated for release on June 18.
Even if a song or album is not yet available to purchase or pre-order on iTunes itself, if a release is in the iTunes database, the artist will appear in search results for the song or album name. As noted in the aforementioned Justin Timberlake post, once the single was rumored to be titled “Suit & Tie,” I was able to confirm the title and the Jay-Z feature by using a search query like “suit & tie feat jay-z” even before the name had been confirmed.
Similarly, when rumors rose that the upcoming Kanye West album would be named Yeezus, I checked the Link Maker to confirm that the name was legitimate. Recently, as reported by Beats Per Minute, screenshots have appeared online suggesting the leaked tracklisting of Yeezus, with featured artists including Frank Ocean, Tyler the Creator, and John Legend. Since the tracklisting was posted as a screenshot of an iTunes pre-order page, I checked to see if the titles appeared in the Link Maker. While “yeezus” still brought up Kanye’s artist link, the songs did not, simply showing instead that “Your search had no results.” For example, a search for “new slaves frank” reveals two unrelated matches, while “new slaves feat frank ocean” delivers none. The results are the same for other combinations, including “kanye lightning,” “yeezus awake with the dark,” and “kanye lonne chia.” If the tracklisting were correct and currently in the iTunes database, all of these search queries would have shown Kanye West in the artist links. Even the previously-confirmed tracks, “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead,” produce the “Your search had no results.” message.
Notably (and perhaps a piece of evidence that would further debunk the rumor), there are search results that do connect themselves to the Yeezus tracklisting. As iTunes has shown with previous pre-orders, such as One Direction’s Take Me Home and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories – both of which were available to pre-order on iTunes before the tracklisting was revealed – tracks without released names are listed with the word “Track” and a number, such as “Track 1.” Searching such queries as “yeezus track 1″ through “yeezus track 14″ pulls the Kanye West artist listing, but “yeezus track 15″ does not. Not only does this suggest that Yeezus will have fourteen tracks, as is shown in the rumored pre-order, but it shows that the temporary titles of the songs in the iTunes database have not yet been replaced.
One final note: in the two images with the leaked tracklisting that I have seen thus far, the prices for the songs and the album are shown in pounds, not US dollars. In order to confirm that this was not just an absence from the US store, I searched in the Link Maker for UK results as well, with no changes in results.
Even if the Yeezus tracklisting is revealed to match the leaked images, I am not yet convinced of its legitimacy without any additional confirmation from the iTunes Link Maker. Regardless, I have found the iTunes Link Maker to be a useful source not only for creating affiliate links, but to confirm information, and I hope that this post sheds some light as to why.
May 23, 2013
Just over one month ago, Twitter launched its Twitter #Music website and iPhone app following the acquisition of music discovery site We Are Hunted. Now that the initial wave of hype and press coverage has dissolved, timelines have gone as quiet as before, with little adoption from industry figures or the general public and the app tumbling down iTunes app charts. Rather than declaring Twitter’s foray into a music service a flop so soon, however, I think there is still potential for Twitter #Music to become a useful and popular arm of the social network with a few changes and additions. Below are five suggestions that would provide more incentive for users and artists alike to continue using the platform to share and discover music.
1. Chart expansions: more genres, more services
Recently, Twitter #Music added ten genre-based charts to its existing Popular, Emerging, and Unearthed lists (along with new Superstars and Hunted charts). This is a good start for culling music into more specific subcategories, but additional charts could be used for more appropriate and in-depth classification. For example, the iTunes Store has 22 categories, including those like jazz, soul, and reggae that do not fit squarely into one of the ten pre-existing genres in #Music.
In addition to the genre charts, Twitter #Music’s five additional charts sort music of all genres based on popularity and virality, including those focused more on music discovery that helped We Are Hunted receive praise well before its acquisition. The original site also included a chart that displayed the Billboard Hot 100 with their own design and playback specifications. Reproducing such charts within the Twitter #Music experience would allow users to find and follow artists more easily, and since it has already built relationships with iTunes, Rdio, and Spotify, reframing theirs within the app would likely be a simplified process. This relationship could work both ways: charts could be saved or regularly published as Rdio and Spotify playlists (something that Billboard already does with Spotify, Rdio, and MySpace), encouraging users to visit streaming sites in addition to #Music. This would require the service to move past its one-song-per-artist ideology, however, which may explain the lack of a Billboard chart carried over from We Are Hunted to Twitter #Music.
2. Tastemaker discovery and recommendations
Much of the focus of the Twitter #Music experience is on artists. The search function only delivers results for artists; each artist is displayed with only one song, favoring the try-before-you-buy approach of offering one track with the option to dig further on another service at your own leisure; and the only Twitter users that can be followed are the artists themselves. With Twitter being inherently social, however, its music service would benefit from adapting the traits that have encouraged social activity by including a focus on end users as well. Interacting with fellow Twitter users between the social network and the music app is surprisingly a one-way street: tweets with the #nowplaying or #np hashtags get pulled into the #Music app, but #Music does not currently show Twitter users who have shared certain songs, and in order to see what another user is sharing within the app, the only option is to manually replace the username in the URL of a profile.
One such potential method of focusing on user interaction is in the artist listings throughout the app. Currently, no further data is presented beyond the artist and their chosen song. Why not bring Twitter users into the mix? Much like Twitter search results reveal users who are tweeting about a certain search term, clicking on an artist could display a timeline of the tweets including the artist and the #nowplaying (or #np) hashtag. Not only would this provide data about the fans of an artist, but it would give users more incentive to share music on Twitter, lending to the heard-it-first principle that powers music blogs and sites like TastemakerX.
Additionally, a central method for Twitter users to recommend artists to one another would be beneficial to music fans and musicians alike. Spotify and Rdio both offer this option already, but integrating a recommendation-sharing system within #Music with the potential to auto-tweet to users’ Twitter feeds and use Twitter Cards to link into the app would reach more users and likely provide higher engagement between all parties. As users discover music, direct sharing to friends would give them the appeal of being a tastemaker, while the inclusion of the artist’s Twitter handle in the recommendation would encourage and ease the act of following them.
3. Separate follow lists between Twitter and #Music
When first exploring Twitter #Music after its public release, I was excited to find that I could follow artists on the app without having them inserted into my Twitter timeline as well…or so I thought. Under the current setup, if I want to follow an artist’s music tastes in my Twitter #Music feed, I can only follow them on Twitter, with no ability to filter general tweets from those with music links. For artists that I only want to follow for their music taste, an additional follow option within Twitter #Music would allow such a separation. This would be beneficial in the same way for following users with good music recommendations as outlined in the previous paragraph, with the option to follow all of the tastemaker’s tweets on Twitter at each user’s own discretion.
4. Expand search beyond artists
As previously mentioned, Twitter #Music’s search option only displays results for artists, with no option to search songs, users, or tweets. Should the details of users’ tweets be included in a future update to the app, an expanded search would enable users to find music based on certain search terms and hashtags. Much like Songza offers a “Music Concierge” option for curation based on a given day and mood, searching for “#musicmonday” or “study music” could offer the same results on Twitter, with curation provided by users rather than being programmed by developers. In the same way, music curated around trends based on current events could provide a soundtrack to the day. While #nowplaying and #np are good choices for Twitter #Music to begin sorting tweets, a search expansion would allow users to define their own methods for filter music and discover artists based on more specific criteria.
5. Connect to more artists and audio services
First created in September 2011, the @TwitterMusic department has worked with artists to get them on Twitter and to use the platform for connecting with users and marketing new projects, among other things. However, there are still a few noticeable gaps with artists who have yet to join the social network. For example, while the buzz for Daft Punk has grown to a deafening roar up to this week’s album release, they are completely invisible on Twitter #Music, regardless of how much they are being properly shared by users, merely because they do not have an official presence on the site. While it is extremely implausible to suggest all artists will join Twitter, the Twitter #Music app could compensate for missing artists by providing a basic profile with data sourced from iTunes, which could be filled out if the artist joined Twitter at a later date. This would ensure the accuracy of the app’s charts even despite artists missing from the service, and might even encourage artists to sign up for Twitter to benefit from the additional exposure on the app.
While it would require creating additional partnerships, #Music would also benefit from adding more audio services for users to stream content. In particular, We Are Hunted sourced its audio from SoundCloud before it was acquired by Twitter, so its absence is somewhat peculiar. Unlike Spotify and Rdio, SoundCloud does not require a subscription for users to stream full audio, which would make music easier to hear through the app should it be included as well. The addition of Amazon MP3 as a retailer and streaming services like MOG, VEVO, and YouTube would also improve user accessibility to the music shared within the app. Naturally, deals with record labels would have to be reached beforehand, which is likely causing the current delay in adding such options.
With limited adoption and a lack of updates to the service thus far, many people have already written off Twitter #Music as a failure. However, with only a month of history written since its public release, there is still a long path of progress before #Music, making it unnecessary to throw in the towel so soon. In the same way, it took time for Twitter itself to grow and build its now-massive membership. Updates including additional social integration, search capabilities, and compatibility with new music services would help Twitter’s newest service to become more accessible, user-friendly, and functional for music discovery. Despite the death bells already ringing, Twitter #Music isn’t dead just yet — for now, let the music play.
February 20, 2013
After weeks of subtle hints that new music was on its way, Michael Bublé and his team at Warner Bros. Records released a trio of teaser videos over the past week that previewed the lead single from his upcoming sixth studio album. Though all three videos were short, the audio revealed happy thematic elements and upbeat, bouncy production closely resembling that of his hit released in 2009, “Haven’t Met You Yet.”
Now that all three video previews have been released, with the third being posted early Tuesday afternoon, Bublé is set to premiere his new single, “It’s A Beautiful Day,” which will be revealed on michaelbuble.com sometime later today (Wednesday). Continue…