Blake Batchelor immerses in French culture, language in six-week study

MADISON – Blake Batchelor recently returned from his longtime quest – studying and urban exploring in France.

Blake, six fellow students and a professor pursued a travel program with the Office of International Education at the University of South Alabama or USA. They attended the Centre International d’Etudes Francaise six-week summer program at the Universite de Bourgogne (University of Burgundy).

University of Burgundy welcomes beginners to advanced learners to study the French language. Blake met students from South Korea, China, Venezuela, Austria, Ukraine, Japan, Iran and Tunisia.

Studying in France was a top priority for Blake. His mother and grandfather speak French after living there one year in the 1980s. Blake started studying French in high school and continued in college for one of two degrees.

“Having a family connection and having studied the language for years, it was always a dream of mine to travel to France, immerse myself in the culture and gain firsthand experiences. I took college French courses taught 100 percent in French by native speakers,” Blake said.

Blake lived in downtown Dijon in Northeastern/Central Eastern France in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comte region. Dijon, the region’s largest city, has about 150,000 people and approximately 1.5 hours by train from Paris. The landscape of flatlands is near mountainous Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.

He lived with a host who houses international students. “She made us all feel very comfortable. I much enjoyed living in a French house and having a French person to converse with and continue to hone my skills, even outside of the classroom,” Blake said.

Throughout the week, Blake attended classes but on two days had “culture classes” focused on aspects of French lifestyles. He studied French gastronomy, culture in 2022 and the Bourgogne region’s history.

“In our free time, we loved exploring the city. Dijon has a great history and many monuments and buildings still exist (most importantly the Palais des Ducs or Ducal Palace that housed the Dukes of Burgundy). Additionally, as I’m a big foodie, I loved going to restaurants and trying as much French food as possible,” Blake said.

He enjoyed escargots, boeuf bourguignon, souris d’agneau (lamb shank), creme brulee, croque monsieur (grilled cheese and ham) and crepes. At any time, bakeries and pastry shops have fresh baked baguettes, croissants or pain au chocolat. His favorite dessert was macarons.

“France, clearly, is famous for its food, and many famous French dishes come from the Bourgogne region where Dijon is located. With Dijon as namesake for the mustard, I felt obligated to learn more about its origins and took a mustard-making class . . . making Dijon mustard in Dijon!” Blake said.

On weekends, the students traveled to five regions in France, to Paris, Lyon and numerous cities and villages in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Occitanie regions on the Mediterranean coast. In only six weeks, Blake explored much of France with its mountains, large cities and the beach.

The efficiency of France’s public transit system surprised Blake. Accessibility to public transportation was accessible even in cities smaller than Madison and Mobile.

“Multiple bus routes and two large tramways ran right through the middle of the city and could take you to any place you needed to go within a matter of 10 to 15 minutes,” Blake said. He never needed a car, even in Paris.

“Another surprise was the sheer size of all historical monuments. I had seen plenty of pictures of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame and other famous places, but I couldn’t believe the grandeur of these things were built at least 100 years ago,” Blake said.

Blake’s favorite experience was living downtown within walking distance of monuments, restaurants, cafes and bakeries.

Blake’s brother, Brett Batchelor, was a golf team member at the University of Montevallo. After graduating in 2021, Brett works as a digital producer for 104.5 – The Zone in Nashville, Tenn. Their parents are Mike and Heather Batchelor.

A senior at USA, Blake will graduate in December as a dual-degree student in international business and French. Blake and his fiancee will marry in October.

“I plan to pursue a master’s degree in higher education administration with the goal of working full time for a university,” Blake said. “I would love to work in either student success or international education.”

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