Dominique Nelson is a Program Advisor for USAC France and Ireland programs. She also studied abroad in Pau, and recently had the chance to return to her study abroad destination after 12 years.
Preparing for Pau
I had the opportunity to visit France 12 years after my USAC study abroad program. I studied in Pau and going back felt a little like seeing it for the first time because I was seeing it through new eyes as an Advisor. I found myself experiencing very similar feelings as I did this time 12 years ago. I was nervous about packing and the weather, sprinkled with touches of anxiety about being far from family, my French language ability, and if I’ll be able to accomplish all my goals.
My packing habits, unfortunately, haven’t changed much in 12 years. I still wait until the last minute and pack way more than I really need. I try to remember my own advice: “practice packing”, “pack, and take out half”, “use a packing list”, etc., but bad habits die hard. At least this time I won’t be packing at midnight the night before!
In my years advising with USAC, I’ve heard about the changes to the city, but knew I wouldn’t really be able to fully understand until I was there. Here were my main concerns, versus my expectation, and the reality.
|Temperature||Cold (duh, it’s winter)||Not bad, low 50*s which was much warmer than the snow I left in Reno.|
|Weather||Rainy (winter)||I was lucky and it only rained one day during my visit. Regardless, I now appreciate the rain contributing to how green it is there.|
|Time||Busy: 3.5 days will zoom by in a blip compared to the 4 months I spent there during my study abroad (which also seemed to fly by!)||True. Can’t wait to go back!|
|Energy||Mentally & physically exhausting due to the language difference and amount of walking||I forgot how much I missed walking and using public transportation, and my French came right back. Some days my language was better than others, but I really learned so much during my study abroad that stuck with me.|
|Food||Eat all the cheese||I tried my best, but there was more cheese than time to eat it. Another reason to go back!|
Arriving in Pau
I arrived in the afternoon, in a daze of being in Pau again for the first time. It was surreal. The airport looked exactly the same, and when I got to the baggage claim I saw Robina, the Resident Director all in smiles waiting for me, just as she was 12 years ago when I arrived on the group flight. This time though, we took a city bus from the airport; a much more affordable option than a taxi, and it stops right next to the university and dorms making it easy and affordable for students to get to their program site.
As the bus approached campus, I recognized it immediately. Some of the shops and buildings around campus had changed, but campus itself hadn’t changed much. On campus there are a few new buildings, even one with a really cool mural that students helped paint! The spots where our students tend to spend the most time, like the cafeterias, dorms, and the building where the USAC office is are still as I remember. Being on campus again was like meeting up with an old friend, which was followed by a rush of excitement to meet, many for the first time in person, the group of students I helped get here.
That night I met up with one of my fellow USAC Pau alumni. She and I lived in the same dorm. She went back to Pau after graduating college to Teach English, and has lived there ever since. We laughingly remarked how much studying abroad changed our lives.
Over the next few days I had the opportunity to tour campus and the dorms, meet a host family and visit their home, catch up with staff, visit new spots in the city, sit in on a French class, and hang out with students.
Over the last 12 years, Pau has had a bit of a face lift such as:
- City bus connecting the city and the airport
- Rental bike stations around Pau
- Beautiful fountain in Place Clemenceau downtown (this was remodeled just after I left in 2007)
- Renovated pedestrian area downtown with a free, electric, minibus that does a circuit in the downtown area
- The Mediatheque – a multimedia public library downtown, and it’s even open on Sundays!
- Renovated and enlarged mall across the street from campus, which has clothing stores, a movie theater, super grocery store complete with food and home furnishings, book store, cell phone store, restaurants and cafeteria, and more!
- Renovations taking place at Les Halles – the indoor farmers’ market – where they are updating the stalls and adding seating so that you can shop and eat there. They even have live music on the weekend.
- The variety of university sport facilities – both owned by the university and privately owned but used by university students – like the indoor rock climbing facility by campus, the city pool downtown which is heated and open year-round, and the kayak park down on the river to name a few.
Pau is still the charming, traditional French city I remember from my study abroad, but with a few modern improvements. I am so grateful to have studied in Pau and to have had the luck to go back. I love helping other students achieve their dreams of studying in France, and I hope to visit again soon.
If you are thinking about studying abroad in France and are looking for a relaxed, traditional French atmosphere, while studying French intensively, with close access to the outdoors…choose Pau!
Additional resources about Pau: