Montpellier, “The City Where the Sun Never Sets”

Kataliya Sorensen on Service Learning in Southern France

Kataliya Sorensen is a fourth year Honours French major and History general major. Last year she completed a Service Learning trip in Montpellier, France, and was recently featured in CELC’s Career + Calling event. 

     “Service Learning provides you with the opportunity to take what you’re learning from your studies as a whole and apply it in a real-life setting to meet a need,” explains Sorensen. 

     Service Learning opportunities can take a variety of forms. Sorensen recalls one SL group that paired with a local library and brought books to the hospital, going room to room offering books for people to read. Other groups have worked with children’s groups, food banks, and even in fashion! 

     Being bilingual and a Christian, Sorensen connected with a not-for-profit café called Chez Théo, formed through “a group of Protestant churches looking to provide an open space”. Kataliya’s work included preparing drinks, helping with advertising for Christmas events, and assisting with an English Conversation workshop. 

     The workshop, a key part of her experience, was for French-speakers that knew little English. The conversations were themed, free, and open to anyone – regardless of whether they bought coffee or not!

     Sorensen says that one week’s theme was “sayings or expressions involving fruits or vegetables”.

     “French people find the expression ‘cool as a cucumber’ to be hilarious,” laughs Sorensen, “They would often greet me with something like ‘Kataliya, are you feeling cool as a cucumber today?’ I would be like, ‘Honestly, we don’t use it that much…’”.

     The workshop also hosted film nights. The diverse group would watch such movies as Narnia or The Lord of the Rings. Conversations were held following the movies. 

     “That’s a huge way to reach out to the French cinema-arts culture – being able to dialogue on film,” says Sorensen.

     Southern France also had a new environment to explore and get used to.

     “The south of France has a huge Spanish and Italian influence, it’s the most laid-back part of France,” she says. “There were palm trees, I lived fifteen minutes from the Mediterranean, I saw pink flamingos roaming – [and that] was normal!”

     She says the city’s motto The City Where the Sun Never Sets held true. Montpellier is a very colourful city. It is common to see more sand than grass in the city due to its climate.

     Sorensen also mentions how the French culture is nearly the reverse of Canadian culture in how they greet strangers. 

     “Here in Canada you can pass someone and you can smile at them and they won’t think you’re trying to rob them – in France, that’s a major no-no”. On the other hand, the French are very welcoming once you enter their buildings, such as a store or their homes, being very intentional about greeting one another – their own form of hospitality.

     Sorensen has had time to reflect on her experience since its conclusion in December 2018.

     “When I first learned about the Service Learning component, it didn’t excite me,” says Sorensen. “In hindsight, I realize that my time there was invaluable”. Not only are references in other countries a cool perk, but “I met people I never would have met otherwise”.

     “I learned through that experience to take advantage of those opportunities when they present themselves, because they’re very unique. [Also], any opportunity to invest in relationships is not a waste. When people welcome you into their culture…that’s a gift,” she concludes.

     The Service Learning trip was completed through Redeemer in the South of France (RISF). To study abroad yourself, consider getting in touch with CELC to see the opportunities available to your discipline!