Since I began the study of the French language at Notre Dame, I never actually enjoyed the idea of learning in a classroom setting. For me, I was never that enthused, and I was actually quite timid about speaking in class. Alongside my other American counterparts, it was quite evident that we had mastery over the written portion of the French language—or at least with regards to the things we had already learned. But it was easy to evade the oratory requirement, and I think our dissatisfaction with it became clear whenever prompted to speak and all we could really do was exchange looks with one another. However, going to France changed that for me—as times of desperation often forced me to use the French I knew. Some days, sitting in class, moving slowly through the textbook was a dreaded experience—one that typically left me longing to leave class so that I could at roam the city and test my skills in French that way. Nonetheless, over the course of 7 weeks, I learned that the language acquisition process is a slow one accompanied by days of success and days of defeat.
I had come up with 5 goals for myself—all having to do with improving my oratory skills. I wanted to be able to navigate my way through a French town without having to rely upon a GPS. I wanted to be able to ask questions, if necessary; I wanted to be able to read all kinds of texts in French—newspapers, magazines, novels, etc. I hoped to even learn a little French slang, but during my time in France, I was not fortunate enough to accomplish all of the goals I had established for myself. I became comfortable with speaking the language, but I was not able to increase my linguistic abilities within a 2 month time span that would allow for comprehension of all French texts at full proficiency. I am confident, however, that with continued practice, I will be able to do so.
After such an experience, I would definitely say that I am more “open-minded” to trying new things and interacting with new people. During the first weeks of my time in Tours, I found it a little difficult to grow accustomed to the unfamiliarity around me. Many of the American students whom I had met were with their own universities, and while being alone was something I had to confront, I realized that I could use it to my benefit. Ridding myself of the comfort of having English speaking friends, I forced myself to befriend students from different countries—which really afforded me the opportunity to truly improve my French. Aside from my academic experiences, I was always pleasantly surprised with what my host family had to offer. I often recall one interaction with them at dinner where I said, “Every evening is a culture shock”. My host mom-laughed, replying that it didn’t matter as long as it was a good culture shock—which it had been. Prior to my time in France, I was never as open to the idea of trying new foods, but I was always so surprised to see and taste the renditions of other cultural dishes made by my host father. Discussions at dinner were always versatile—ranging from more contentious topics like politics and religion to things like soccer, but nonetheless, my host family was always respective of the views held by their residents, and conversations such as these became an eye-opener to what life was like in places like Taiwan, France, and the United Kingdom. With that being said, I have definitely taken a new approach to the things we consider “culturally normative”, and I have developed a desire to learn about parts of the world that are often ignored in the discourse of the “liberal world order”.
For anyone considering applying for an SLA grant or partaking in their own summer language study, I would say do it. I think that when given the opportunity to travel abroad, often people devise this plan to see as many countries as possible within a given time span. While this remains a possibility, I didn’t partake in any trips outside of France, but I had the pleasure of learning so much about other European countries from the French perspective. This trip has afforded me so many opportunities that I would not have had otherwise. With the SLA grant, I was granted the opportunity to travel alone for the first time outside of the United States, and while I was met with some moments of discomfort, it was truly an empowering experience.
Since then, I have taken an interest in learning other languages. Without the presence of an instructor, I have been able to utilize the resources given to me during my time in Tours, and I have grown mindful of the processes taken to learn a language. After experiencing this and reaching a level of limited proficiency, I am eager to practice with those around me. Although unaware of what I may do post-graduation, I have intentions of visiting other Francophone countries and one day merging my interest of Public Health and Public Policy with language acquisition and language learning.