Name: Leslie Omeeboh
Location of Study: Vichy, France
Program of Study: An intensive program at the Cavilam School in Vichy
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Nanovic Institute for European Studies
A brief personal bio:
Although Nigerian by birth, I have become American by citizenship. I have experienced two different, yet similar, cultures that have indubitably shaped my life and intellectual pursuits. The single event that spearheaded the dedication of my life to service and aid occurred at the age of seven on my way to a hospital that barely met the needs of its many patients. My prospective career path is not just a choice for me, it is an embodiment of a dream that needs, desperately to be realized; a constant reminder of the necessity of change, for the sake of the children in Nigeria and around the world. Recently this dream has grown to include the West African region and is the motivating factor and the inspiration that drives my decisions. Now as a freshman in college, I am working towards my dreams by choosing a Neuroscience major with supplemental majors in French and Pre-health.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
The opportunity provided to me by the SLA grant is the linguistic bridge between the French language and health advocacy in West Africa. I have chosen French as a supplemental major as it will come to be beneficial for my future career. French will also be advantageous in the development of my prospective thesis. I am currently seeking funding for a research proposal that will not only determine my thesis but will also significantly affect my future. Various nations are going to be studied, of which France is a part of. Having a grasp of the language and culture will catalyze the entire process. It will make the people and healthcare personnel receptive and will ensure a reciprocated respect of cultures and individuals. After my education, ending in a medical doctorate degree, I plan to dabble heavily in service and missionary work involving healthcare in West Africa. West Africa is predominantly francophone so it will be beneficial to be able to talk with and understand the people I am aiming to help. This grant will serve as a monumental step in increasing my fluency of French which will aid in emphasizing an inclusive, rather than a savior, mentality for the people whom I will be serving in order to legitimize my purpose and credentials. Additionally, it will promote my building of a network from which the eclectic model of healthcare will be established. The SLA grant is primordial for my prospective thesis, my major and my future.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
Until now, the only experience I have had with the French language has been in a classroom setting. The SLA grant will allow me to experience the French language in tangem with the culture. I hope to develop a cultural platform by which my understanding of French can be bolstered. I am hoping to lay the lingual foundations for my future. I hope to gain a better understanding of the French culture through communication, food,and interactions. In summary I will be learning the culture by living it which is perhaps one of the best ways to experience culture. I also want to grow as a person by learning to handle myself and become acclimated in a foreign culture and location. Aside from gaining an understanding for cultures other than my own, I will also learn intangible skills, on a different scale than I have already learned them, such as Independence, time management, organization, social skills and self-confidence. I am looking forward to the lingual and personal growth!
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of the summer I expect, to be able to read, write, listen and speak French at a level at least 2 semesters from the level I am currently in.
- At the end of the summer I hope to have a working knowledge of norms and cultures of France; a cultural platform and understanding of French.
- At the end of the summer I hope to develop an Intercultural awareness and competence and a tolerance for ambiguity and flexibility.
- At the end of the summer I expect to exhibit increased autonomy and self-direction coupled with increased confidence in my language ability.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
I am attending the summer program at the Cavilam School in Vichy France. It will be a six week intensive program that is meant to be challenging in all aspects of the acquisition of French. While there, I will be living with a host family to better facilitate my learning process by fully immersing me into the French culture and language. Not only do I like the location of Vichy, which prevent, partly, interaction with English speakers, the program boasts of a variety of international students, which is appealing as it strongly encourages one to use French for communication and equalizes everyone at similar levels of understanding. The school also offers the host family option, stated above, which will be of utmost importance when it comes to natural acquisition and understanding of French and full immersion into the French culture and language. I also will try to contextually learn the langage by putting myself in various situations in which I am required to interact with different vocabulary and different people.By being immersed into the culture, I believe, it will cement the language to a context and therefore improve understanding, and comprehension of the language.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
After my first cultural discovery, I was excited to learn more. I have always wanted to visit France and maybe live here. But there is a stigma attached to the French people as being very xenophobic and racist. This triggered my next curiosity. I wanted to know how the racial minorities in France were treated and how they truly felt about it.
I live close by a neighborhood in which the majority of the inhabitants are black, with most having African origins. There is also a Maroccan restaurant, which I decided to visit to make my inquiries. I walked in, ordered some food and sat down. While I was waiting on the food to be prepared, I struck up a conversation with a young man, who was 22 years of age. His name was Nadir. As we talked, I kept thinking of a way to bring up the topic or even if he will be willing to discuss such a delicate matter with me. I think after about 15minutes of conversing, I found the courage to ask him.
His response was icy, chilling and surprising. He said, ” we are treated like you guys in the states, the only difference is that ours is hidden in a smile to mask it from the rest of world.” I had nothing else to say. I was dumbfounded and utterly surprised.
When my food was served, I ate it in silence. I wanted so desperately to say something comforting, but I could not. The words were lost to me. I felt lost to me.That conversation will always stay with me.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Lyon. I visited the touristic cliché places such as the Notre Dame cathedral and the Rhones river and the fouviere. As beautiful as those places were, I was still cognizant of the events that happened months earlier in the same Lyon, that brought national and even international attention to the outcries of the poor and marginalized in the French society. I absolutely had to discuss the issue to see the various perspectives I could gather.
I had to try very hard to be absolutely objective, or as close to it as possible. I did this by merely bringing up the topic and asking “what are your thoughts on this?” This seemingly directionless questions opened the door to the most animated, interesting and emotional conversation I had had during this trip. Although I did not have the means to visit the vaux-en-velin, I was living with someone,for three days, who was from there. One cool Saturday night, during a gathering of friends over fries, icecream, nutella dips, movies and baguettes I decided to bring up the topic.
A conversation that started with “can someone please explain to me who ‘Charlie Hebdo’ is?” Although I knew exactly, from an international perspective, an outsiders perspective, what had transpired, I wanted their explanation. A room of seven people went silent. Ilyes, my friend, a mixed race 24 years old Moroccan, was the first to speak. He narrated, still surrounded by silence, the story the world had come to know. At the end however, he added, that “things were never going to be good in the ghetto, referring to vaux-en-velin, but now it is going to be far worse.” I asked him what he meant but before he could say something Eloise interjected and said, “now they are going to feel like retaliation is necessary. They will probably target our mosques or us!” I desperately wanted to know who “they” were but I could not interrupt her. She spoke with such conviction and subtle but strong fear that interruption was not an option. I waited. She seemed to calm down a bit. Her brother said to me, “there really is no solution. Charlie Hebdo was one incident. But no one is asking why young people are being attracted to extremism.” So i took the bait. I asked him why, while also asking him to speak a bit slower as he spoke much faster than Eloise and Ilyes. Although I do not remember his name, his response was unforgettable. He said, but not verbatim, that ” Hebdo incident was a rock. It was thrown in the sea and for an instant, while the sun was hitting it, the whole world saw it and heard it splash the surface of the sea. Then the rock drowned, noiselessly and almost invisible, save for the person that threw it.”
After he said that, Eloise fondly lobbed a pillow at his head, joking at him always being such a philosopher. As I smiled, ate and continued laughing with them, I could not help but wonder what the other people in the room thought. But due to the controversial and emotional charge of the issue, I chose to let go.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had the opportunity to speak to Sandrine and we spoke quite extensively. We discussed various topics ranging from cuisine to culture to music to her two adorable sons and the education system in France. We also had a conversation about my life, my future and what it is like living in America. I used that opportunity to ask her about her opinion on the United States. She immediately answered that America is a place where EVERYTHING is bigger; the people, the roads, and the houses.
Sandrine is a woman in her mid-late thirties and has lived in France her entire life, safe a few trips to Asia and one trip to Kenya. I felt it necessary to put her age and relative worldly experience in context to show a better understanding of her perspective and opinions about America. After listening to her initial, humorous, general description of America, I asked her what she liked about the country, making sure that she understood that it could stem from any source: from culture to politics to food. She told me that her only actual experience in America was a 2-week company sponsored trip to New York in 2009. While in NY, she experienced it solely as a tourist, only visiting the glamoured, famous places and dinning in fancy restaurants. To her, she did not really visit NY, she visited a place that her company wanted her to visit. However, she did enjoy the food, not the occasional fast food that she ate, that she detested, bu the fine dinning experiences she had at amazing restaurants. She liked the diversity and international feel of the menus.
Sandrine commented on the similarities between NY and Paris in that it was always busy, noisy and dirty, but one cannot help to love it. She admitted that the trip contributed largely and in various ways reinforced her stereotypes about America and Americans.
The next person I talked to about America was my Friend Ilyes, previously mentioned in the post on Lyon. His attitude was completely different. He brought to my intention the integration and influence of American culture into the French youth culture. The American style, music, news and culture has managed to infiltrate the French culture and has managed to change linguistically and otherwise the cultures of the previous generations. I am merely paraphrasing the content of his words and ideas. He also mentioned, like Sandrine, the culture of excess and “bigger is better” in the United States and contrasted that to, what he sees as, the moderate culture of the French. Ilyes did not fail to mention his love for American girls and American movies. He added that many movies shown in France are American made but dubbed in French. What did he dislike about America? nothing he says! He would love to move to the states and live permanently. Ilyes is a 24 years old student living in Lyon.
Next I had the opportunity to discuss America to my dear friend, who is also Parisien. He is 23 and an engineering student. as part of an apprenticeship program, he has visited several parts of the Unites States, namely New Orleans, Texas and New Mexico. Steven shares a love for the United States like Ilyes but to a lesser degree. He finds the influx and mixture of music and culture beneficial, to a certain extent, but also thinks it is bringing unwarranted and untimely death to cefran, verlain for French. I asked him what he liked and disliked about the U.S . He said that he liked the idea of the American Dream and the opportunities for personal progress and success. He does not like the way the government is set up and run, calling it a false democracy and an unfair system. I told him to elaborate and he he refused. His response? “I don’t need to say what you already know.” I do not know what exactly he meant but I did not probe further. Steven the commented on the political/ presidential race currently happening in the United States. He used Donald Trumps candidacy and, what he described as eggregious, arguments as proof of the short comings of the government and its structure and functions.
Overall, he very much liked America and what it has to offer but was very dismayed and even angry about other parts. I talked to other older people( ages 65 and 71) about America and both accounts were very similar and almost expected. They described the typical French stereotype of Americans as loud, pompous, big and selfish. They also mentioned the loose moral values and consequent evolution of style that follows such libertine ideals. One woman even mentioned that America still wants to be the police of the world. She described the U.S as forceful, undercover dictators that whine when they do not get their way. She used an adept metaphor of a capricious child, to which I laughed. It was very interesting learning the different views on America and American life.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
As part of my stay in Vichy, I often do not eat dinner with my host family. I am obligated to leave during the evening to buy my dinner. I usually go to a tiny Tunisian restaurant that is very affordable and serves incredible food. But on my way to said restaurant I realized that my time was running out to fulfill these assignments. I therefore decided to change my route and routine and go to a different restaurant. Once there I peroused the menu for foods of interest. Not finding any, I asked the waiter for advise. He recommended the brioche with pork trimmings or another alternative, the brioche loaf. Before this time. I had never heard of the brioche and was curious to see what it was and how it was made. Having never engaged in a conversation about cooking or food in detail, I was very apprehensive and nervous about my impending lack of understanding and subsequent embarrassment.
I eventually mustered the courage to inquire about the ingredients, preparation, and presentation of the brioche that he seemed to like very much. As he explained to me the complicated preparation with simple ingredients, I kept having him repeat many of the sentences as I was bombarded with many new vocabulary words that I had never needed to use nor had I heard being used. After a lengthy discussion on the above mentioned topics, I asked him of the importance of the food to the region to which he gave me a crooked look and a half smile before responding that he did not know. After laughing at the unusual nature of my question. He told me that the traditional local dishes of Auvergne are Pounti and Truffade. Pounti, he described, is an egg-based dish combining pork with vegetables and prunes, while Truffade is a traditional mashed potato dish with cheese and bacon.
According to the waiter,traditionally, most households would keep a pig since every part can be used for charcuterie and the mountain air is ideal for curing meats. Auvergne is now renowned for the quality of its hams, sausages, pates and pork rillettes. Classic regional dishes often combine pork with cabbage and potatoes. He added, lastly the specialties are often eaten with a glass of wine, and convivially around a table, as the Saint-Pourcain vineyards are the oldest in France and produce delicate wines.
As a side note the brioche was fantastic, both in taste and presentation!
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
My host family has two kids who are grown adults and have consequently moved out and started their own families. One Thursday afternoon upon my return from school I was called down to meet the youngest daughter, Sandrine, and her two boys. As we all talked and introduced one another, they started asking several question about the United States, in regards to culture and holidays. This seemed to me the perfect opportunity to inquire about some holidays or celebrations in Vichy or Auvergne in general. As they bounced different ideas between one another, I heard Sandrine mention the festival of Napoleon III. This immediately caught my attention as I was aware of Vichy’s historical significance. As I let her explain, I was captivated by the notion of a festival or celebration in honor of the lesser known Napoleon. She provide little date save the elaborate costumes and music that give the city the atmosphere of being transported back in time. But that was enough, it was my gateway.
The following Monday, school does not begin until 2:30 on Mondays, I made my way over to the tourism office. There I learned that the two day celebration began on the 24th of April of this year. I had missed it but I still wanted to know more. I got a history and cultural lesson in one. Vichy has been tied to the Bonaparte family since 1799, when the mother of Napoleon I came to the spa town for a treatment. It was under this empire that the Parc des Sources was created. However, it was the nephew of Napoleon I, Napoleon III, that truly transformed the city. He came to Vichy five times for treatments, and ordered the construction of a new park, roads a church and a city hall. Napoleon III also brought the railway to Vichy and inaugurated the Opera-Casino in 1865. These improvements in infrastructure helped him in his goal of making Vichy a world class spa destination.
To commemorate the efforts of Napoleon III, hundreds of participants dress in period costumes and take over the city of Vichy. The opening of the festival is at the Opera-Casino with a lyrical concert highlighting the songs and dances of the time period.The town is honored with dramatized guided tours and horse drawn carriage rides, allowing visitors to discover the unique architecture of the spa town and its Imperial history. Also on the program are presentations of military relics and parlour dancing demonstrations in the Parc Thermal. There’s dinner and dancing at the Opéra-Casino, with a traditional meal prepared by local chefs in traditional costumes!
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
Before my arrival and stay in Vichy, I thought learning French there would be very similar to learning French in America. I did not anticipate many differences or that I would encounter any difficulties. The majority of my previous assertions proved to be true save a few unexpected surprises. The language acquisition process is unique to every individual and mine proved a bit challenging. The challenge came not from the content but internal adjustments. I did not experience culture shock but I experienced, in the first few weeks, homesickness. This in turn affected my concentration and interactions as I was always texting or calling my family. The homesickness dissipated gradually as I got acclimated to Vichy and when I began to travel within France. I was mostly a learner and listener when it came to understanding and engaging cultural differences. Oftentimes foreigners do the talking and fail to appreciate and understand the culture and traditions of a people. I adopted an observational stance which allowed me to better appreciate and understand the culture of Vichy and France in general. I can see some improvements, personally, in my listening and written french. But I fear my observational stance limited the progression of my spoken French. I am not sure if my articulated goals correspond with the reality of my progress. Be that as it may, I know I have grown as a student and as a person.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
The experience I had is incomparable. I was able to visit an amazing country and ameliorate my language skills while experiencing firsthand, the cultures and the people. I learned how stereotypes actually affect interpersonal and international communication and how poisonous it is to all people. I learned how to manage my own preconceived notions of people. I was able to, through introspection, realize what I truly wanted and aimed to do in life. I had to decide for myself why I was really studying French and how it will impact my life and that of the world. I truly developed a worldly perspective and learned to think about myself more in relation to others than of solely myself and I made incredible lifelong friends. If I were to advice someone preparing to apply for the SLA grant I would say to them to truly understand why going to the country of the target language is crucial to academic and post graduate endeavors. What impact would it have, realistically on you, your studies and your futures? The answer here is not the idealized, typical answer. It is the answer you give yourself behind closed doors when no one is there to see or hear you. That, that is the answer you’re looking for. General advice for language study: Make little, attainable goals for yourself and remember that every progression is a milestone. Also language study and frustration is a packaged deal so do not get discouraged easily. Congratulate yourself: look how far you’ve gotten already!
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
I will continue taking language courses to hone my skills and work on specific points of weaknesses. I believe I learned many things about my self and my abilities as a language learner and speaker. I also discovered a culture that was never foreign to me, but was also not too familiar. My eyes were opened to the French culture and the many distinctions and nuances that exist within and between regions, and peoples. I learned how to integrate said nuances into a mosaic model perspective and view them all as the French culture. It has helped manage and reconstruct my worldview on many other places I have been to and plan to visit in the future. I think that by developing this insight, albeit the fact that it is a rearview mirror stance, I am now cognizant of the power of stereotypes, the positive power of staying informed in world news and of active participation and interest in a place or people other than ones place of origin. I have learned invaluable academic skills that will surely transcend the French language such as, critical analyses, attention to detail and grammar and tremendous hard work. I will always look back at this opportunity provided me by the SLA grant with fondness as it has contributed with my personal and linguistic growth. As I stated earlier, I do plan to continue with the French courses as they are pertinent to my major and professional life. I have not abandoned my initial plan of returning to, predominantly francophone, West Africa for professional work and development. I cannot express enough my gratitude for such an opportunity. This has been more than a stepping stone to reaching my aspirations.