My semester abroad in Nantes was incredible and I can't wait for the day I can go back and visit again. The IES program described itself as a full French immersion program, and that is definitely the kind of experience I received. All of my classes were in French, which forced me to become more and more familiar with the French language, culture, and history. The "French only" rule at the center helped push us out of our comfort zone and forced us to express ourselves in French, even if it meant using simplified terms or looking up words in an English-French dictionary from time to time. This program highly recommends staying with a home stay, which I also recommend. My home stay family was just a grandmother, but the time spent with her was incredibly valuable to me. We would chat about politics or cultural differences after dinner, and she would often ask me questions about English translations since she taught English lessons. My conversations with her improved my French comprehension and vocabulary immensely. The staff at the IES center were amazing. They were clearly passionate about the subjects they taught, and it was obvious that they were patient enough to try and understand our not-so-perfect French, which gave us much needed confidence. IES offers a wide range of classes, but if you're looking for something they don't offer, it is still easy to take classes at the university instead of at the center. The curriculum offered was very thorough and was probably the source of most of my improvements in the French language, in terms of increasing my vocabulary and understanding of grammatical rules. The amount of students at IRS during my semester was fairly smaller than usual, but the social life did not make it seem that way. During orientation, the staff gave us more than enough opportunities to make friends that will last beyond our stay in France. The field trips included with the program also helped create these friendships and by the end of the semester, it saddened me to see all of my classmates leave.
During the last two months, huge protests would break out across France, many occurring in Nantes. Even though many of these protests- usually peaceful, but sometimes violent- would occur not even a block from my home or and IES center, the staff made sure we knew what to do in case anything happened. Anytime we travelled outside the city, we had to follow a strict protocol so they knew exactly where we were just in case something happened. No matter the circumstances, the staff made sure we always were safe and knew what do to and who to go to in case of emergency, which I greatly appreciated. In fact, one of my biggest worries about going abroad were my many dietary restrictions (vegetarian and severe food allergies). However, IES made sure that they were not a problem. For example, if we were all at a restaurant, the staff made sure I was able to eat a meal there or asked the chef to make a special plate just for me, and I was very thankful they took the time to do those things for me.
Overall, the IES Nantes program was fantastic and I could not think of one thing that could be improved. If you're looking for a true French immersion program, this is the only one you will need.