By Babalwa Nogwanya
Nestled in the heart of southern France, the charming city of Montpellier boasts a rich history, a
vibrant cultural scene, and a warm Mediterranean climate. Here, I embarked on a transformative
journey of language immersion, spending two memorable months with the Alliance Française de
Montpellier from July to August. My goal was clear: to dive headfirst into the French language and
culture, and to return home with more than just a suitcase full of memories.
Arriving in Montpellier
My adventure began with a mix of excitement and nervousness as I touched down at Montpellier-
Méditerranée Airport. The allure of this city, known for its cobblestone streets, bustling
marketplaces, and beautiful historic architecture, instantly captivated me. I couldn’t help but be
mesmerized by Montpellier’s blend of tradition and modernity.
During my first week, I settled into my homestay with a warm and welcoming family who lived in a
tranquil neighbourhood just a 25-minute walk from the city centre. Staying with a local family was
integral to my language immersion experience. It allowed me to practice my newfound language
skills and gain insight into the daily lives, customs, and traditions of the people of Montpellier.
The Language Immersion Experience
My mornings were dedicated to intensive French language classes at Alliance Française de
Montpellier. Going to France, I arrived to Alliance Française like a blank sheet of paper, therefore, I
was placed in the beginner class. I don’t know if it was fate, but I ended up having ‘private’ lessons
for the better of two weeks since I was the only beginner in the whole school. My instructor, Leilah,
was ever so patient and strict, ensuring that each class was engaging, challenging, and tailored to my
Eventually, more students joined me from all corners of the globe, even an ex-Fordham lecturer and
Bronx resident and Botanist who worked at Botanical Gardens right on our doorstep. In our free
time, we bonded over the cultural trips we’d take with Alliance and indulged over a glass and wine
and lengthy conversations like the French do.
Montpellier’s dynamic atmosphere for me was the perfect backdrop for my language immersion
journey. For it being a university town, the locals are not new to foreign students. I found them so
friendly, patient and encouraging when it came to practicing my French, kindly correcting my
pronunciation and grammar. The city’s historical sites, such as the Place de la Comédie and the
stunning Montpellier Cathedral, provided a tangible link to the past while its bustling cafés and
vibrant street life always made it easy as well to find something to do regardless of its small size.
As the weeks flew by, my language skills improved exponentially. I was amazed at how quickly I
could navigate everyday situations in French, from ordering a croissant at a local bakery to engaging
in conversations with my host family. I found myself impressed with my growing understanding,
being able to contribute to slightly more complicated discussion at the dinner table impressing Mimi
every night. By the end of my eight-week language immersion program, I had achieved an A2.1 level
of proficiency in French.
A Summer to Remember
My summer in Montpellier was not just about learning a new language; it was an opportunity to
embrace a different way of life, to make lasting connections, expand my horizons and learn
adaptability. I left Montpellier with improved language skills and a heart full of unforgettable
memories and a deeper appreciation for the beauty of cultural immersion. As I boarded the plane
back home, I knew that my learning journey was far from over. LISA had not only given me the gift of
language; it had given me the gift of a lifelong connection to a city that has become an integral part
of my story.