Aug. 20, 2010
Cadets are presented with numerous unique opportunities throughout their four years at the Academy and for Air Force senior gymnast Derek Kvedar, the summer of 2010 was no exception. Kvedar spent several weeks in Nice, France, as a part of the Cadet Summer Language Program (CSLIP). Kvedar shared a portion of his class project with GoAirForceFalcons.com.
Interview with Native Speaker
I conducted my interview with my French "mom", i.e. my host mother. She turned out to be the sweetest old lady, who had delicious cooking and otherwise left me to do whatever I wanted, all the while offering help and advice whenever she could. She has lived in Nice her whole life. She was brought up in the outskirts, married, moved to an apartment in the middle of Nice (where she still lives), had a daughter that is now 30, and now works two nights a week, and otherwise just meets up with friends and runs errands all day. She also has a house up in the mountains. Anyways, she explained to me her perceptions of American culture, as well as her view of European culture, both of which, having been there, I agreed with. She discussed how Americans don't stop to enjoy life at all. Yes, they go on vacations, but they don't enjoy day to day life. In Europe, however, she explained how people savor the little pleasures in life every day, even if it means not having a huge retirement fund when you're 70. At one point, she mentioned how enjoying the journey throughout life is much more important than just waiting to enjoy the end of your life. This was a huge influence on me. The French (and European) culture allowed me to relax and enjoy things like I never had before. It really was incredible to learn from people of different cultures who have figured out how to enjoy life more thoroughly.
So Europe has a HUGE leg up on the States as far as public transportation goes. In the heart of Nice, everything I needed was within walking distance, so I generally walked around. However, many other people used the tram to get around because their host families lived slightly further away. The tram was 1 Euro per ride, or 15 Euro for a week pass. Easy transportation was all around the city. The bus system was even better, however. We very often went to beaches in St. Jean, Villefrance, and other towns surrounding Nice. The bus also rode for 1 Euro per ride, so we were able to get around to places for swimming, cliff jumping, and visiting beaches, all for 2 Euros (round trip). But here's the real kicker. The train system in Europe is so well put together that we bought our Eurail passes the first weekend, and had 6 days of travel in 3 different countries over 2 months, all for about 260 Euros. The cost for equidistant plane tickets, bus rides, or rental car plus gas in the States easily exceeds this.
That first weekend we went to Barcelona and toured the city, but the train ride was just as much an adventure as the city. Because of a public transportation strike one day in Nice and the next day in Barcelona, we couldn't do an overnight train, and thus had to stop in Marseilles, Montpellier, Perpignan, Port Bou (Spain), before finally ending up in Barcelona. The second weekend we took the train through the Italian countryside to Rome (and the Vatican), stopping in Menton, Ventimiglia (Italy), and finally Genova, before taking an overnight train from there to Rome. For our final weekend, we stayed in Nice and explored the city. We also took day/night trips to Monaco and the French AFA near Aix-en-Provence, all using the train. It was really and incredible trip, made so much more eventful by easy public transportation.
The luck that we had in Nice was incredible. We didn't have cell phones, so our method of communication was all face to face. We had to set up a meeting place and time before we split up for any reason. Anyways, the reason I brought up luck was that during our stay in Nice, it just happened to be Nice's 150th anniversary of being part of France. Therefore, our last week there, there was an airshow during the day, where the French version of the Thunderbirds performed over the bay in Nice, and everyone on the beach and on the street was able to watch. That night, they had a fireworks show on the water that the city was once again able to view from the beach and streets. The whole show constituted a Holiday in my opinion, but just for the city that we were in, while we happened to be in it. The atmosphere around the city was magnificent as well.
To choose one memorable event on this trip is a tall order. Every night, every adventure, every expedition was memorable. Most nights, most of our group would meet up an hour or two after dinner to experience part of the night life of Nice, and walk around and explore different parts. It was one of these nights that we were walking around aimlessly, enjoying Nice, when we stumbled upon a Reggae concert being held in a garden next to the fountain we always met at. It was an incredible experience. Not only is Reggae music wonderfully relaxing to listen to, but the people that attended the show were great to people watch. Many were like our hippies of the 70's. They were easy going, had a certain free spirit about them that was phenomenal to be around, to watch. I chose this event because of the attitude displayed in it, and how I felt it conveyed a certain free culture that Europe has, that us Americans can learn from.
There is not one "most" memorable event from our trip. The biggest thing I learned from the trip, other than to speak French much more fluently, is just the different lifestyle of people who have lived in the same culture for thousands of years (as opposed to our 234 years), and have really learned to enjoy life's journey.
I think I've already discussed my impressions of the country in previous answers. Their lifestyle and culture was something to be admired. As far as my "A-Ha" moment for speaking French, I had quite an initiation into the country. I hadn't taken French all second semester, so I had been away from the language for about five months. We were sitting on the plane from JFK to Nice, and I started looking through one of my textbooks from an earlier French course, before I decided that I would just pick it up as I went along. After all, I'd taken the language fulltime from eighth grade throughout high school, and then three semesters here at USAFA. How hard could it be? I learned quickly when I met my host mom outside the airport, and she didn't speak any English, that I had to know my stuff real quick. I somehow found the words that I hadn't taken French for a few months, and that it would be a couple days before I was able to speak comprehensible sentences again. That phase of getting back to my previous knowledge of the language took just about that - two days. Once I got there, I was able to carry out a conversation fairly easily with her at meals about what I planned to do that day, or what I had actually done over the course of the day. Over the course of the next week, I got much more comfortable getting around the city, initiating conversations with French people for directions or whatever else was needed. During our second week there, I had a dream in French. That was when I realized I had been speaking French everywhere except with my group of CSLIP immersionists, and just how comfortable I was getting around everywhere, carrying on conversations, and speaking the language.
USAFA teaches French just like my high school did - vocabulary, verb tenses, quizzes and tests, movies and books. But there is no comparison between learning in a classroom once every other day, and being forced to speak it because people don't speak English and you need something from them. Suddenly, your willingness to learn and expand your vocabulary grows. The experience teaches us much more than any classroom environment can.