For my STEP Signature Project, I did the IES Summer Language Immersion Program in Paris, France. I lived in a homestay for 7 weeks in Paris while taking classes in film studies and French grammar at the IES Center. Outside of classes, I was able to travel to many places within Paris as well as Giverny and Reims outside of Paris and then Brussels and Amsterdam outside of France.
While I had travelled to France before as a senior trip for high school, I had only spent a week there which did not provide the immersion in French language as my program did. When I arrived in France, I realized I was not as confident in my French speaking as I thought I was, because I had not taken a French class in a little over a year. As the program went on, I was able to become more and more confident in my French speaking abilities through taking classes and interacting with my host family. I also became more comfortable in doing things by myself because I did not have a roommate to go to everything with. I had to navigate the Paris metro alone to get home, which was intimidating at first, but allowed me to become more familiar with the city of Paris. Finally, I realized how big the city of Paris was. I hadn’t realized how big it was when I visited the first time because I was in a bus the whole time, but living there I had to use the metro or walk, and everything seemed to be at least a 30 minute metro ride away, even though I was pretty close to the center of Paris. Finally, I was able to experience other cultures in Europe and more deeply experience world cultures which helped me understand other points of view in the world.
I think that these transformations were made possible by my host family. I lived with an older French woman, whom I called my French grandma, and she probably was the one that made my experience so enjoyable. At dinners, I was able to practice my French with her, where we discussed French culture, politics, history and the differences between France and America. We would have traditional French cuisine for every dinner. She would bring over her grandchildren and children for some dinners so I could practice my French with other French people, and I could see the cultural differences between France and America for people closer to my age.My favorite part about living with her was watching French television shows with her. We watched a lot of shows about the D-Day invasion because it was the 75th anniversary while I was there and a couple movies. This helped me practice my comprehension of other French speakers while learning more about the history of France and their perspectives on other historical events, while seeing the cultural differences in their media and news reporting.
I feel that my classes and my program also had a significant impact on my transformation throughout the experience. Both my professors were very focused on teaching the subject material, but they also made sure that we learned more about French culture and new useful words in French. My film professor would teach us new words in French including a lot of slang that was used in the films. He would also make an effort to discuss French cultural topics before class, including French music and events happening like the World Cup in France. In my grammar class, my professor would have us present an article from a French newspaper and we would discuss it as a class. This activity taught me about a lot of French current events and how French people viewed them. My program also had us develop goals at the beginning to help our French. My goals were to write a paragraph about four photos that I had taken every week which was more like a journal, and to listen to a French song four times a week and make flashcards of the words that I didn’t know. The journal helped me practice my French and apply the grammar I had learned in class. This journal also recounted the days that I had taken the photos and was useful in documenting my transformation and reflecting on my experience. Listening to French songs gave me a deeper understanding of French culture and helped build my vocabulary, as I learned a lot of new slang words by listening to the music.
My excursions outside of classes gave me a broader view of the world as well. I saw all the major monuments in Paris that I wanted to see, but I was also able to travel outside of the city and the country of France on some of the weekends while I was there. Included in my program was a trip to Giverny, where we saw a museum on Monet and then visited Monet’s home and gardens where I saw the waterlilies that he had painted so many times. Also included in my program was a trip to Reims, a bigger city in the Champagne region of France. We visited the church and museum where French kings used to be coronated, explored the city and went on a champagne tasting. I had never been to either of these cities before my trip and it was interesting to compare these two French cities to Paris, where Giverny is a very small town and Reims is a larger city in France. I was also able to travel to Brussels and Amsterdam on weekends. Brussels had both French and German influence, and I was able to use my French there. Amsterdam was very different from anything I had ever seen before and I had never been to a country where I didn’t speak the language before. I found it interesting to see the differences between the different countries and big cities in Europe.
This experience brought a significant change and transformation in my life because I went on this trip wanting to improve my French and become more fluent. I feel that I have achieved that, and with the classes that I took abroad I was able to finish my French minor. My French skills can now give me a competitive advantage as I search for jobs, and I could eventually find work or live in France after graduation. I was also able to have experiences that I have been dreaming about since I started taking French when I was 11. This experience has given me a broader perspective on life and given me more independence in my own life. I realized how much I liked living in a big city and how much I enjoyed travelling. I can’t imagine doing anything different, and if I have the chance I would do it all over again. I made amazing friendships with people in my program and my host family, and I know I will be in Paris again someday.