STEP Reporting Back – Jacob Mountain

Jacob Mountain

Education Abroad


For my STEP signature project, I studied abroad in Dijon, France. My time in Dijon was spent at the Université de Bourgogne in the Centre International d’Études Françaises. This program was focused on acquisition of the French language through intensive language building study which included: oral expression, oral comprehension, written expression, written comprehension, and grammar.

The most transformative aspect of my STEP experience was being fully immersed in French culture. I have studied the French language for seven years now and it has been one of the most important parts of my life throughout that entire period. I first fell in love with the language and the process of language acquisition as a freshmen in high school and it is something that I carry with me today as I am currently a Romance Studies major with focuses in French, Spanish and Italian. It was a dream come true to finally have the chance to live and integrate myself among the French in Dijon and finally see how accurate all the culture I have learned in class was; and it all was completely accurate. In particular, I would say my conception of the world is the thing that changed the most while I was there.

In the United States, we are rather isolated from the world at large. Sure, we have two neighbors to the north and south, but how often are Americans going to Canada and Mexico if they are from the midwest? Not that often. However, while I was in France, I was only a train away from a plethora of countries and I think that is something that gives one an incredible sense of perception. It showed me how interconnected everything truly is and the ways in which we need to preserve that unity. It showed me that there is nothing to fear when you meet someone in Dijon from Germany, England, Russia, or even South Korea. It showed me that there is more that unites everyone in the world than there are things that divide us and it is our job to enable those uniting features within our daily lives. More importantly I would say even more transformative was finding the career path I want to follow. Living outside of your home country and reading the news and getting perspectives from people outside your country helps you to greatly critique and find the flaws o your country and you are able to see how other countries avoid these things and the way you can help enact them in your country. A universal problem, I found, was the influx of migrants and refugees, more pronounced in Europe than in the United States. Although there are those in Europe who are anti-immigrant, the majority of them accept people without hesitation and that willingness opened my eyes to what I want to do: be a refugee and immigration lawyer. I think that this is something I would be able to do well and it would be my way of unifying people rather than sowing divide.

One of the key events of my experience abroad was getting to travel as much as I did. Specifically the place I traveled to that changed my global perception the most was Istanbul, Turkey. While abroad it is almost assumed that one will travel in some capacity out of their host country. Typically, people like to stay in western Europe, where it is deemed “safe”. Imagine the surprise in my mom’s voice when I told her I had bought a ticket to Istanbul. When I landed in Istanbul, I was actually in Asia. After trying to figure out the bus systems, eventually giving up and calling a cab, I made the hour long drive from the airport to the city center. Immediately I thought that I may have bitten off a bit more than I could chew. After managing through the hustle and bustle of Taksim Square, I made it to my airbnb and called it a night. The next day, fearful after the craziness of the night before, I felt a little uneasy. I sat myself down and told myself that if you don’t put yourself in situations that challenge you then you will never grow as a person, and with that I set off for the day. I was surprised to find that not only did the vast majority of the Turkish people speak English they were all overwhelmingly hospitable and extremely helpful in helping me navigate their enormous city. I met a man in the Grand Bazaar who told me he was a refugee from Syria and has been living in Istanbul for the last five years. He told me about how horrifying it was to be in Syria when the war began and how difficult life has been for him in Istanbul due to legal reasons. It was this conversation, on my very first solo trip, that changed my entire perception of the world. It struck me as frustrating that this man, only wanting to better the lives of his family and children, had to jump through so many hoops just for temporary residence in a country he did not know. I realized that I needed to use the opportunity ad privilege I have been given in my life to help those in situations like his. It was extremely unfair, in my opinion that I was always in the same place my entire life, with no threat of forced migration.

Another extremely transformative event that happened to me while in Dijon were the Yellow Vest protests that occurred throughout France. As an American, protesting isn’t something we tend to do with a lot of vigor and force. That is not the French way at all. Instead, when the French dislike something in their society they set out and actually change that which they don’t like. I found that even if they had different politics, the French were still able to come together and find common ground the better their society in a constructive, mostly peaceful way. It showed me that everyone has the power to change the world around them whether they believe it or not. If someone wants to change something, all they have to do is use their voice; you’re bound to find someone who will agree with what your trying to accomplish.

These two events really helped me to clear up alot of the issues I felt in my life regarding my future plans and my career options. It showed me also that there is a lot more to the world than what we see on TV and that for us to understand the world around us we need to see the world around us.

I would say that is why this was such a transformative experience. I learned that I am capable of whatever I put my mind to and that I can continue to learn new things every day. It showed me the value of the education I am receiving and how I can use that education to positively impact the world around me. It showed me the value of language learning and how knowing multiple languages gives you a lens through which you can understand the struggles of persons or of a country. The time I spent in France and the friendships I made there will remain with me for a lifetime. I am so appreciative that this trip was able to occur with assistance from the STEP program.

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