Charlotte Brunetaud – who came to UW-Madison through an exchange program with MICEFA, a consortium of the Universities of Paris and its region created to promote cultural and scientific cooperation between France and North America – shares a bit about how she got here, how she’s doing here, and where she’s going from here. 

Tell us a little about yourself, where you’re from, and why you chose to come to Madison:

I come from the west of France, in a region called Les Pays de la Loire. I studied for two years in Caen, Normandy, and then for two years in Paris where I got the chance to discover this exchange program. I was asked if I would rather be a Teaching Assistant (TA) or a student and the idea of being a TA for one year was really appealing to me. Among all the universities that offered TA positions, Madison seemed the best to me. I was told that UW-Madison was a really good university that had a lot of things to offer to live a true American experience. I did a lot of research and found out that the city is beautiful and of a decent size for a first experience in the United States. After having lived in Paris for two years, I was more willing to go to a city where I could walk from home to the university without having to take the bus or the metro. And even though I loved living in Paris, I chose Madison because Wisconsin is a beautiful state where everything is green, or white during the winter. So, I couldn’t wait to visit Wisconsin, where I could go hiking and snowshoeing.

Residents Adriane, Charlotte and Ari at the French House

Residents Adriane, Charlotte and Ari at the French House

Why would a French student come to the U.S. and live in a house where only French is spoken?

When I was told that most students in this exchange program lived at the French House, I was a little disappointed at first because I was afraid that it would prevent me from improving my English. However, living at the French House seemed convenient and a student who had been in the program last year told me how great it was living here. I also realized that helping Americans practice their French could help me teach French. Despite my reservations, I loved my experience teaching and being at the French House. Living here is very fun and I get to speak English often when I’m out of the house and on Sundays (the only day we don’t have to speak French). I’ve been able to travel a little on the weekends, over winter break and early this summer. But there are also so many things to do in Madison! I don’t think I’ll ever want to leave!

So I guess you’re OK with it then!

I’m very happy that I got to live at the French House with all these amazing people. It is very nice living here and convenient because it’s on campus. We can share our cultural differences and our languages. I’m also really happy to help American students with their French papers and with their practice of French in general, and to share the things I love about French culture. For example, we organized movies nights where the French residents chose important French movies, and we had a cheese tasting to compare French and American cheeses. As I expected, living here has required me to adapt my speaking pace and vocabulary to be more understandable for non-native speakers, which has helped me a lot with my teaching. Kelsey Roy, the Resident Advisor (RA) of the French House, and Andrew Irving, the Director, are always here to help us with any problems we might encounter and they often organize activities to discover American culture. We went to a corn maze (that was awesome!), we did pumpkin carving, Secret Santa, and other activities like these. They organized other great events such as the Christmas and Spring Galas and a gathering after the Paris attacks.

Being away from France when we heard about the Paris attacks was really hard because it felt so far from me and so close to me at the same time. It was the only time when I really wanted to go back to France to be with my friends and family. Thankfully, I was surrounded by very supportive people because we have a great community of French people and French lovers here in Madison, and their support meant a lot to me.

Diana, Bucky and Charlotte

Diana, Bucky and Charlotte

How has the French House opened you up to life in Madison?

I got to know a great deal of Madisonians through the French House, and especially during the meals open to the public because I’ve been able to meet so many different people: American students learning French or just willing to practice their French, American adults who love speaking French, other international students who come from different places of the world, as well as French native speakers who study and/or work in Madison. We can share our experience, and they can give me advice to make my staying here a great experience.

What would you tell an American student who is deciding whether or not to make the French House their home?   A French student like yourself?

I would tell them that the French House is a very friendly place where you feel like at home. I found a new family here. Obviously, they will be able to practice French on a daily basis! They will gain more confidence and won’t be scared to make mistakes because no one will judge them. This is a very safe and supportive environment to improve a foreign language and I would have liked to have the same experience during my studies in France.

Likewise, for a French student, I would tell them that this place feels like home. You feel like you’re still in France sometimes, which is great when you are homesick. The activities organized by the French House will give you the opportunity to discover more of Wisconsin culture. The House is also very convenient due to its location on campus, and the different rooms of the house are very cozy…it’s a very nice place to live, share, and study.

Where do you go from here?

After exploring the western states, I plan to return home to France and start school in the fall. I have a degree in theatre (the equivalent of a BA here) and I did the first year of a Master’s in theatre. I was initially planning to apply to a MFA in theatre with a focus on acting in the United States. But after a year of teaching French, I’m now considering programs in French as a Second Language. I learned so much about teaching during my year in Madison, and I really loved my students, but we’ll have to wait and see.