Reflecting back on my time in France, I think I can say I met most of my language goals. I already had a pretty good ability to communicate, but by the time I left I had the ability to articulate stories and arguments without someone re-explaining my ideas to make them clearer. I had to hone this skill even with very important and controversial arguments, since the French are more willing to bring them up without getting embarrassed or angry. Refreshing in one way but uncomfortable in another. But I think it helped me open up a little more. Most of what I learned honestly depended on the teacher, since only some of them were willing to do creative exercises and have intellectual discussions with us—the textbook only took us so far. With my immersion experience this summer, I think I might be fluent (if not, close to it).
Since this was my first time out of the country, I think the biggest change is that I’m simply stronger for having been so far away from home by myself for so long. I think I was expecting a more dramatic change in culture than I actually experienced—when you look below the surface of norms like how to deal with strangers and how to eat politely, there are just humans like you and me. To anyone else receiving an SLA grant in the future, I’d warn you that culture shock is in the little things—the ten minutes I spent trying to figure out how to work the plug adapter, the way the toilets look, the public library being closed on Mondays. If you’ve never been abroad by yourself before and have no idea what you’re doing, it’s a tough run, but I’m writing this now, so apparently it’s possible.
When I get back to Notre Dame, my improved fluency in French should definitely help me in finishing up my French major—especially in classes where oral participation is important, since I’ve always had more trouble speaking than writing even in English. I also have friends who enjoy speaking in French with me, so we can help each other improve mutually. When I graduate I want to be either a translator or a language teacher; while I was in France I tried translating some of my creative writing from English to French, and I actually had fun doing it, so that’s a good sign! It’s the little nuances that are hard to translate, but I like that, so hopefully my experience with real French speakers will help me interpret things for other people in the future.
A huge thank you to the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures for this amazing opportunity! This is something I never would have been able to do without your help.