French House resident Kristin Ehlert is majoring in Human Development & Family Studies and working towards a certificate in French. This semester, she’s discovering life in France as a foreign exchange student in Aix-en-Provence, a city known for its fashion, fountains, food, and warm weather. Here, Kristin shares her first impressions, favorite spots, and goals for her time à l’étranger. Bonne lecture!

What were your first impressions of Aix?

The moment I arrived in Aix, I loved the environment. People here dress very well! That was the first thing I noticed. They usually wear simple, put together clothes so I knew that I needed to reinvent my wardrobe a bit. I also noticed that there are a million fountains and the streets are close together and quaint. It’s easy to get lost wandering the streets of Aix, and I really enjoy that. Also, Aix feels about the size of Madison. I feel like it’s big enough for me to discover something new every day, but small enough for me to feel safe and really immerse myself in French culture. I didn’t hear English here until after two or three days!

Fountain in Aix

One of the many fountains in Aix-en-Provence Photo: Kristin Ehlert

Which school are you attending and what classes are you taking?

I am attending the FAC ALLSH (L’Unité de Formation et de Recherche Arts, Lettres, Langues et Sciences Humaines). Signing up for classes and figuring out which ones work and don’t work has been the most stressful part of my time here so far. Classes outside of the APA (Academic Program in Aix) classes are slightly disorganized and a little hard to navigate. I am taking two APA classes, l’Acualité et l‘international, Prise de Parole (an improv acting class), Anthrophologie de L’Afrique, Méthodologie (required 2 credit course) and Langage, Culture et Société (linguistics class).

How has the French House prepared you for this experience?

The French House was honestly one of the best choices I have made while at UW-Madison. To be honest, I chose to live there because I didn’t want to sign a year lease at another apartment in Madison. But the French House really helped me get comfortable hearing French in everyday conversation and with talking to peers. I was able to meet French students who had already been studying in Aix and I was able to make connections that will last a lifetime. When I arrived in Aix the first weekend, I met up with Thibault and Ben (French House Resident Assistants) who lived in Aix and whom I met through the French House last semester. It was awesome to see them and have them show me around.

Do you have a favorite spot already?

My absolute favorite spot right now is the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville. It’s a little area that has a marché everyday, and spots where you can order a drink and chat with friends for hours if you want. There are always people chatting and sitting and enjoying Aix in the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville.

Flowers at the market

Flowers at the “marché” in the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville Photo: Kristin Ehlert

What are you hoping to accomplish this semester?

This semester I am hoping to develop confidence in listening and speaking in French. I have met a few French friends here already and that helps a lot. I also hope to become more confident and resourceful through traveling.

How do you plan to do it?

Having a few French friends already helps a lot. To become more resourceful and confident, I have taken a solo trip to Rome which was very last minute to visit a friend who is studying abroad there. I had to determine which hostel I would feel safe in as well as the trains to and from the center of Rome. It was very fun but challenging (my flight was canceled on the way there and so I had to speak in French to figure out alternatives for my arrival in Rome!). I hope to take more solo trips or at least plan more trips for me and my friends.

Kristin at a Cafe

A la recherche du meilleur café

Where would you like to travel and why?

I plan to go to a lot of places (hopefully!) until my money runs out! I’m thinking London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Florence, Munich, Paris, Bordeaux and Lyon. I hope to make it to Morocco but we will see. I am planning on staying in Europe for an extra month after school is finished to travel with friends and with my mom.

You’re studying to be a Physician’s Assistant. Do you think studying a language supports your other studies? 

I absolutely think it helps my other studies. I think that it really differentiates me from other candidates when I am applying to PA school, and it makes me more confident when talking. My patience has also improved having to listen and learn in another language. Understanding that not everyone has grown up like you or had the same experiences as you really is eye opening and makes me a better version of myself.


Photo: Kristin Ehlert

Any words for current French House residents, or advice for students thinking about living at the French House?

Physically and mentally put yourself out there, even if it is difficult. I feel like I never regret striking up conversations with French people, or asking about the best spot in town for coffee. When I was back in Madison, I was so hesitant about living at the French House and I had a lot of people ask me, “Why are you living in a house where you can’t speak English? That must make life so much more difficult!” In all honestly, yes, it is a lot easier to just go home, hang out with friends that I knew before and speak English, but you won’t remember that in five or even ten years. What you will remember is that you lived with people from India, France and from all over the United States, and that you were all able to share your passion for the French language together.