This past summer, I had the opportunity to spend three weeks in Montpelier, France teaching children English. These children were between eight and eleven years old, some of which who had been exposed to English before. While in France, I stayed with a host family, which was the perfect way to immerse myself directly in French culture. We also went on several excursions throughout France exploring the different medieval cities, important French landmarks and nearby towns.
Throughout my time in France, I noticed that I grew as an individual as my understanding for different cultures and practices was expanded upon. Living with a host family gave me the chance to see what daily life is like for the average French citizen. I loved coming home every night after spending the day at school with the children to my host family and taking the time to discuss our day over dinner. While I do this at home, it always feels rushed like someone has some other place to be. But in France this time was always valued and taken with ease. Being in a forging country challenged myself to be more proactive about my everyday life. From understanding the tram schedule to planning out my meals, I learned a lot about how to adapt to a changing environment while still making the most of my time. I had originally thought that because I knew limited amounts of French, I would struggle in this new place, but I feel that helped me get more out of this experience. I was forced to really listen to how people were trying to communicate with me, while in return practice what I was learning. Even just the effort to try and speak French was greatly appreciated by the people of Montpellier.
Being placed in the school teaching these French children English was by far the most educational part of this experience. Not because I was learning French by listening to the teacher explain assignments to the class, but because I learned how to relate and interact with the kids where communication was a challenge. These children knew limited English and I knew limited French so it was hard to find common ground to explain new topics to them. This forced myself to access skills I didn’t even know I had and to really listen to how the children were trying to communicate with me. I learned how to handle myself in academic situations with people from a multitude of different family backgrounds and lifestyles.
Also, through spending time with my host family I learned more of the smaller, more detailed aspects of what living in France is like. Coming from a fast-paced work and school environment at home, I found myself slowing down the pace of my day-to-day life and managed to be much happier while still completing everything I needed to. Every morning I woke up when my host dad did and we would have a cup of coffee. We would talk about things in the news and what we had planned for that day. I noticed that they were much more curious about our upcoming election than I had thought they would be. I found myself feeling guilty that I had not known as much about the quickly approaching French election as they did about ours. While in France, I also noticed a change in how I viewed meals and eating with others. Everything from holding your utensils differently to having to ask for a sever to come take your order at restaurants showed me that there is no right way to do things. How we prepare food and eat in America is different than in France, but I accepted the differences and valued them for what they were. These are simple differences I probably would have never thought even existed had I not traveled aboard.
Finally, I learned to become more trusting in myself. I have a tendency to doubt myself and second-guess decisions I make, but being in an unfamiliar territory I often had to go with my gut and make quick decisions based on what I thought. Even something as simple as taking the tram everyday, if I wasn’t exactly sure where I needed to get off, I had to trust myself that I had the right skills and abilities to get myself where I needed to go. Instances like this and also completing school work with my peers really helped boost my own personal self-confidence.
Studying abroad in France has benefited me on both a personal and academic level. I have become a more culturally conscious individual who takes pride in being able to relate to people of different backgrounds. I have had the chance to see the country where my grandmother grew up and which is something I never thought would have been possible for me to do before. I also believe that this experience will help make me a better speech language pathologist in the future. Within this career, I will be working with children with communication disabilities making it hard for them to talk to their family and friends. Although I do not have a communication disorder, I was placed in a similar situation while in France. Not being able to speak French really well put me in a situation where I knew what I wanted to say, but I physically couldn’t because I didn’t know how to. My future patients will be facing similar challenges as they try to overcome some sort of verbal language barrier. It is a frustrating situation at times, but helping someone overcome this is an extremely rewarding feeling. Having this experience is something I will always be grateful for and I hope that many other students will have this same opportunity I did.