Gianferrari, Filippo

Name: Filippo Gianferrari
Location of Study: Paris, France
Program of Study: L’Alliance Française
Sponsor(s): Cathy Stock


A brief personal bio:

Filippo Gianferrari is currently a first year PhD student at the Medieval Institute of the University of Notre Dame. He received both his Bachelor and his Master in Italian Studies from the University of Bologna, as well as a Master in Italian Studies from the University of Notre Dame. He is currently following the course work of his first year and, imagining his future dissertation, he likes to speculate on love  in Ovid, the troubadours and Dante.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

The SLA Grant will allow me to learn and become proficient in a Language, French, which I really need, and it will allow me to do that living the language, and as outside my regular class work. My research focuses on Medieval Italian and French literature and it is my goal to be able to teach medieval literature in French, Italian and Latin, in my intended academic career. Improving my modern French speaking skills is a critical step in my professionalization in order to obtain a teaching and research position in a major Romance Languages Department.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

Thanks to this Grant I am sure I will learn French, and I will be able to learn French and to use it for professional purpose. I will also have the possibility to dig into the French culture, in a way that I would have never had otherwise. I am confident that full immersion in the target language in a francophone environment, along with an intensive language course, will bring my active speaking and writing skills to the high level of proficiency needed for my chosen career path. Because my. Ph. D. program does not allow me to take basic language classes during the fall and spring semesters, I plan to seize the opportunity offered by the Alliance Française course during the summer to increase my language knowledge in the most time-efficient manner possible. This will enable me to be well prepared for advanced French language and literary courses next year.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1. By the end of the summer I will be able to communicate in French and hopefully to understand everything a native speaker tells me, at least in the range of daily-life topics.
  2. A the end of the summer I will be able to write French correctly letters, short texts.
  3.  By the end of the summer I will be able to read all sort of texts in French.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

While in Paris, I will actively engage in the learning community and participate in all programs organized by the Alliance Francaise. Even though my focus will be mainly on language-learning while at the Alliance, I will also do my best to immerse myself in everyday and traditional aspects of French culture. The goal is to take in as much as possible in a very busy and short amount of time, and the school itself offers a wide variety of extracurricular cultural activities. The intense schedule of events programmed for May-June includes movies projections, theater plays, and field trips with guided tours in the target language. Finally I will spend some quite time checking some manuscripts at the Biblioteque Nationale which will be the object of my second PhD year project.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

The first arrival in paris has been quite challenging, the subway service is not exactly the best… but besides this, the first gaze at the city, while I am walking towards my parisian home, is already very interesting. My first task for today has been to ask for informations, and it has been challenging mainly because people switch immidiately to English when they recognize from my accent that I am not French. Nevertheless, I have been able to exchange a few words and to get enough informations about how to get the train and the subway from the airport to home. People are quite available and they are willing to help. I have also been engaged already in a short converstion with the agent who is renting me the apartment, I didn’t really succeed in this…too much for the first day! We finished the conversation in English. Now I have a day an a half to go around and see some things, Monday I will start my classes at the Alliance Francais. My task for the next days is to improve my communicative skills to ask and obtain informations, to observe the people around me and to become expert in moving aroun Paris.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

Ready for school, I am pretty excited to start. The weekend has been very interesting on the cultural side and I have been trying to engage in as many communicative situations as I could (asking information, order at the restaurant, reading cultural pamphlet, mass etc etc). Now I feel more comfortable with a few questions and answers that are basic for these kind of communications. Nevertheless, I feel my accent to be a great problem, people just seem to become nervous when they do not understand me and they change to English right after. I’ll try to work on that more one at school. Paris has a great cultural life, and there are so many people around. I have noticed that people are particularly concentrated in the small caffè, which are at every corner, and at night they usually fill the entrance of small pubs, they drink and talk, half on the street and half in the bar. It seems like the social dimension is really important here, it is quite evident that as soon as people get out from job they all get together in different places. I like this. On Saturday afternoon I have also seen a big stroke going on close to the river Senne. The people involved were mainly Palestinian. This has been particularly interesting to see two important components of Paris: it is the center of the national life, and its population is ethnically hilly differentiated, even though it looks like the people from the French ex-colonies are the biggest part. The other great thing I have appreciated going around is the huge amount of bookstores, it is amazing how many of them fill Paris, and the book market seems pretty lively. I think Parisian people are particularly keen on read books, because there are always people buying books, and given the number of stores and the great deals they offer, it is evident that there is a lot of request for them. I like this a lot, ad i have already bought too many books! But it is nice to read in French, and right now I feel more pushed to do it, and I am actually doing much better already. Finally, I feel pretty comfortable going around, people are nice and open to meet me, even though I need to hold the conversation in French. I also went to Notre Dame for mass on Sunday. What a great church, it is such a different experience to go to mass in a place like this. I have been able to follow all the readings and part of the sermon, but the atmosphere was great, and people were actually very welcoming. It is pretty evident that they are used to tourist but their desire to encounter people who are visiting their church seems quite genuine.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

After a week I had to change class cause complete beginner was a lower level than mine. So, now I am doing much better, and the new professor is an amazing teacher and he knows how to keep the class together. His classes are always very engaging and they run very quickly. I am learning really a great deal with him, plus the atmosphere among the people of the class is as such that it’s very easy to interact outside class time, and to organize excursions or cultural activity together. One day after class we all went together with the professor to have lunch at a Vietnamese place. It is really amazing the variety of great food from every side of the world that you can find in Paris. During the lunch we also had a great conversation and we told each other our stories. It is quite something to see that after only a week I can already talk about many aspects of my life and understand others doing the same. Of course our French is not exactly the best example of spoken French, but I think that right now the exercise is worth doing even like this, plus when the professor is present his corrections are very helpful. One afternoon we went together visiting the Louvre and we spent the entire afternoon watching incredible pieces of art and talking about the most different things. I also went to visit a temporary exposition about some archeological excavations they have done at Arles in southern France. I was able to grasp the essential discoveries made by these excavations and presented in the exposition. Therefore with this I have already fulfilled an important task for me: to have a high cultural experience in the target language. I was not absolutely expecting to fulfill it the second week.

Postcard(s) from Abroad:

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

During this time of studying in Paris I came to appreciate that learning a language is a combined effort of immersion in a cultural environment and actual study of grammar, pronunciation etc.. The former effort is centered on the fundamental wish to communicate and to have a cultural exchange that will enrich your human perspective. For this goal the targeting achievement is to get proficiency, to get use to a language, it is experiential. The latter effort is entirely intellectual and it is the foundation on which the first effort rests upon.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

My experience of studying abroad has been essential to get a more nuanced picture of the French cultural and social world. I got to know what people think about life from the insight, and this is fundamental requirement to an actual comprehension. What’s even more interesting though, is that a correct understanding and correct use of the language cannot be isolated from a cultural effort, because words reflect human realities that must be fully grasped. Therefore, the very study of language requires a correct comprehension of of the cultural life they are  used it.

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

Right now I am trying to keep up my grammar and lexicon knowledge with a lot of readings. I am meeting with some students on a weekly base to have a French speaking lunch. My wish is to find another grant to go back next summer. During the year my class schedule does not allow me to get a French class, maybe next semester I’ll be able to audit one, but really key would be to find the way to go back and perfection my knowledge of the language. My perspective research is going to involve the study of a few manuscripts in Paris, and that would be a good chance to restart my language acquisition process.