Friday, October 21, 2011

La Trobe Exchange: AIM Overseas “French Intensive” at CAVILAM

Vichy is small but stunning,
rempli de boulangeries magnifiques et
de crêperies pas chères!
Amongst the many exchange opportunities offered by La Trobe is a “French Intensive” short program operated by AIM Overseas. Held at CAVILAM, a thriving, high calibre language school in Vichy, France, the school attracts legions of international students and teachers of French as a second language.

Anglophones, interestingly, are quite scant; I was the only native English speaker in my classes when I was there in July (my fellow students came chiefly from Brazil, Turkey and Spain).

Free petit déjeuner on the balcony
of CAVILAM tous les vendredis
Following a short test, students are placed into language and culture classes (civilsation, communication orale, DELF preparation and so on) according to their level. The classes are rigorous but incredibly fun.

As for the teachers, mine were simply in a class of their own. One was a wonderfully hilarious grammar Nazi, who taught me more French in three weeks than I had learnt in my life, and who gifted me with a French translation of my favourite novel, La conjuration des imbéciles.

My lovely studio comprising bathroom,
bedroom and cuisinette
Accommodation (host family or residence) is organised by the school. Although I stayed in a residence, I had a wonderful relationship with the building’s caretaker, Laurent, who took a several of us to open-air concerts in Cusset twice a week.

In addition to coursework, CAVILAM runs a varied and abundant cultural program, including visits to the medieval township of Charroux, Lyon, Clermont-Ferrand, volcanos, chateaux by candlelight, theatre, cinema, music concerts, various historical tours and dégustation de vins et fromages.

Une soierie lyonnaise
on a daytrip to Lyon
I somehow managed to do all these things in my paltry three week stay, in addition to seeing a truly exquisite exhibition of the costumes of the Comédie Française in Moulins and a tour of a local dungeon containing some 250 taxidermied animals, all of whom were posed horrifyingly, either killing something or being eaten. I touched a leopard’s paw while the guide wasn’t looking, it was repulsive but memorable.

Vichy is a warm and beautiful town, whose locals are accustomed to the intermittent waves of international students and are keen to talk endlessly.

Frites by the Lac d’Allier
on Bastille Day
I quickly developed relationships with boulangers, commerçants, bibliothécaires, the Tunisian man who ran a local cafe and gave me neverending free mint tea and an in-depth commentary of the Tunisian revolution, some guy who seemed to just be always wandering around wanting to talk about the internet, and a local bum, J-P, who corrected my subjunctive and for whom I bought Gauloises cigarettes.

I could not recommend the program highly enough, and can attest to the excellent services of AIM Overseas, who made the entire application process smooth and painless. Their people are friendly and attentive in every regard.


  1. Hi, I was just wondering if you feel disadvantaged for having stayed in a residence? I'm still trying to decide whether I should stay with a host family or in a studio. If you could go again would you stay in a residence or host family?

  2. Hi there! Not at all. I had the benefit of staying in a small residence full of francophones pursuing their Masters at CAVILAM in Teaching French as a Second Language, so Vichy was very much an fully French experience for me in every regard. However, I also went there completely on my own, and I don't think there were any other Australians studying at CAVILAM at the time, so there was really no anglophone element in my life whatsoever. If I were to go again, I might stay with a family, just for something a bit different. But I also enjoyed having my own little space. Ultimately, I think either choice is good one. Bonne chance!