I am currently studying in the South of France at Montpellier III: l'Universite de Paul Valery. It's situated in one of the largest cities in France and is very close to the beach. During my first few weeks here, the American students all went through an orientation process. During the week we did intensive language learning in grammar, conversation and civilization, and over the weekends we went on excursions within the South of France, very close to the University.
Our first was to Nimes, where we saw what was billed as "the best preserved coliseum in Europe," the town's forum and gardens which were as stunning as they were beautiful. We also took a trip to see the Pont du Gard, the old Roman aqueduct, on the same day. Our tour guide gave us the background and then left us to swim in the river that runs through it. Some of us got into a bit of trouble, myself included, for cliff-jumping into the water, but it was worth it.
Our next trips were to Carcassone, a beautiful medieval city where we saw a jousting tournament; Avignon, where we saw the Palais des Papes (Pope's Palace) and Baux-en-Provence, a castle/city built into the rock; St. Guilhelm le Desert, a pretty little city which isn't truly a "desert" but arid enough to support the name; and finally the Wine House to teach us the fine art of tasting wines. We all left with at least one bottle.
I went on a few other trips independent of the entire group, among a few of my newly made friends. We took a trip to Sete, a water city which is called "the Venice of France," where we saw a water jousting tournament. Additionally, we went back to Nimes for the last bullfight of the season. We were given some advice by a nice French woman next to us before it started, informing us that all the bulls die: that that's the point of the fight. She cautioned us, as na've Americans, not to scream or gasp when they're spearing the bull: She said we should root only for our own species. She went on to explain the rules and prizes for a kill "well" played. Spearing of the bull's eyes is "pretty well," both is "very well," and "perfect" includes both the eyes and the tail.
Although I've been able to witness and explore amazing stuff, I will admit it was incredibly difficult being here at first. My difficulties manifested in a lack of information about and help with things like setting up a bank account, housing, sudden Internet disconnections and the general attitude once I explained I was a foreign student. There still isn't a great deal of information available, but for the independent students (those without four teachers from their home school to hold their hands through it all) we've decided to just let it happen, travel as much as our wallets will allow, and bring back as much correct information as possible to students who travel here in the future.
To this point, studying abroad in the South of France has been a great experience, which I will fondly remember forever. I would advise any students debating study abroad to move forward with the process. Such an opportunity may not be as available outside of college. For those who stay on campus through their college careers, I would still suggest going abroad at some point in your life. You never know what you'll discover about other countries and about yourself. I went cliff-jumping after only three days in France, and I'm afraid of heights.