Hannah Goelzer, a third year Biochemistry and Biophysics major, spent five weeks of her summer exploring Paris, France. Upon returning to Oregon State, she decided to add on an International Degree in hopes of working abroad in the future. Here, she tells us about her study abroad experience with Academic Programs International.
Adrenaline rushed through me as I boarded my flight for Paris, France. I was so excited to cross the Atlantic Ocean for the first time that I sat at the edge of my seat for the first few hours of the flight. However, as you may know, the daunting and lengthy flight to Europe from the west coast of the United States cannot be simplified as “a flight over the big blue ocean.” After many hours of layovers and airplane food, I was just ready to lie down on any flat horizontal surface and take a nap. When the airline attendant let us know that we were preparing for descent into the Charles de Gaulle Airport, I was over-joyed with excitement until it truly hit me: I was about to live in a country whose language I had never even heard spoken before.
Many people choose to go abroad to immerse themselves into a language or culture that they have studied throughout their educational career; however, I took on the challenge of going to France completely blind. I met the other American students who would be in the program with me, they had all studied French for 3-7 years, and they commended my adventurous nature in taking on this challenge. The first thing we all did after landing in Paris and meeting our program leaders was have a huge Parisian dinner, which typically consists of up to seven courses and lasts a couple of hours. My peers thought it would help give me practice if I tried to order in French. I started to think they just wanted a good laugh, considering we had been traveling for the last 20 hours. The waiter found humor in my terrible accent, and soon just told me what I was trying to say. At this point, I could not wait to start my French intensive language course.
In my beginner French class there were many students from all over the world. This meant that the instructor could not speak any English because it was not assumed that we all have English as a common language. Learning how to speak French in a class where the instructor only speaks French may sound very difficult and, to be honest, it was intimidating on the first day. However, after the first week of class, my learning took off and improved exponentially. By never translating any word into English, I was able to learn the French words not by translation but by context. I had a different understanding of every word I learned that, in a way, my peers did not have. After the intensive language course was over, I had better listening skills than the other American students because I never had the crutch of an instructor with an American accent. It changed my perspective on both language and culture. There are many words that do not have an English translation, and that is what makes it so beautiful.
Speaking French is like singing a song. It is poetic in its nature, and the French love to remind everyone of its beauty. Sometimes in the language there will appear to be a random letter in between two words, and that is because there is. The French have worked very intentionally to create a language that flows with a beautiful rhythm. I will never lose the passion I have gained for the language. Still, to this day, I like to sit with an espresso, croissant, and orange juice for breakfast and email all of my French friends as if I were back in Paris.