Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lessons from class in France

Study abroad is much more than going to class, but it is an important component. Here's a little bit about what my school life is like and what I have learned from it.

I attend the CLA (Centre de linguistique appliquée), which is a sector of the Université de Franche-Comté. For those who are familiar with UNI, this is similar to the CIEP program, but for French, of course! Our classrooms are in a building near the city center, not at the actual campus. All of us are international students learning French, which is cool, because you can make friends from all over the world! However, it is also unfortunate, because we do not interact with other French students. I am very lucky that I live with an awesome host family, otherwise I could have easily spent an entire semester in France and not known anyone French very well!

Each week, I have four classes: Ecrit, Orale, Socioculturel, and Phonetique. This is the equivalent to 16.5 credit hours, which is the maximum that I am allowed to take. Three of my four classes are with the same cohort of 11 students (7 Chinese, 2 Malaysians, 1 Indonesian, and me!). With the significant decrease in classes (I have been taking 6-7 a semester) and not having a job, internship, extracurricular activities, or large volumes of homework, it has been a major challenge for me to slow down! There literally has not been a year in my life since I was 3 years old where I have had this little of responsibility. I know that I should not be complaining about this ;), but I am a girl that thrives in conquerable challenges and an active lifestyle!

Overall, I do not believe or feel that my classes in France have been nearly close to as worth my time (or as big of a growing experience) as some of the other experiences that I have had recently have been, but I trust that for everything, there is a reason. One that I have already realized is that taking classes at the CLA has given me the following insights and lessons that I would not have received if I had not studied abroad.

1) In the United States, we complain about our education system ALL OF THE TIME. While France's education is still one of the best in the world, I could not be more thankful to have been raised in an education system that particularly stressed challenges, diversity, and the arts. We have thousands of teachers that bend over backwards to help their students with homework, non-school issues, entrance into college, etc. Shout out of thanks for all DCSD employees for all that you do! As students in the American school system, we also have countless "rights" and opportunities to express our opinions. This is a luxury that many countries unfortunately do not have. My hope is that in 50 years, everyone in the world will have the same access to a quality, just, and affordable education.

2) In addition to learning more French, I am picking up some words in other languages! My favorite phrase is "I do not understand" in Chinese, which is quite useful and fun when 3/4 of your class is Chinese. They all laugh when I say it; and then, they usually teach me another Chinese phrase.

3) Americans abroad are very unique and privileged. Personally, I came to France to experience another culture, to gain more independence, and to improve my French. All in all, I am here for the life experience of spending a semester in France. For most of the other students in my class and at the CLA, they are here for 1, 2, 5 years to perfect their French to enter a French university for their Masters or to complete a French teaching program. The Americans being in France for generally different intentions than many of the other nationalities poses certain challenges for teaching and learning in the same classroom.

4) I would rather live with less than more and work hard toward what I do have. It was so interesting when we had to use the little materials that we had around us in Kenya to accomplish tasks (no electricity or modern technology!). This used a creative side that I do not often have the chance to engage with the large presence of technology. I liked this. In Europe, like in the States, I can just buy anything that I want to solve any problem that I have. It is too easy. Where is the fun when there is no challenge to figure anything out?

This semi-relates back to my classes, because I generally have anywhere between none to 30 minutes maximum of homework each evening. I would feel like I am receiving more out of my classes if more was expected out of us. I had more homework when I was 9! Basically, school is too easy, not because the material is not challenging, but because the volume of work is that of a young elementary student and we are just doing worksheets to do worksheets. This is a distinct contrast from the projects and labs that I am used to doing in college classes. Even though my French has improved significantly, I feel like the level of education I receive here is the equivalent of my early elementary school days when basic worksheets were more standard and necessary, except the problem is that I am an adult now stuck in the same classroom!

In general, I am happiest when I succeed (or fail!) at something after I have had to place real effort into it and that it is being used toward a greater purpose. For the first time, I am ready to move on to the next stage in my life, where I can place the skills that I have been building into practice in the workforce. Wow, I cannot even believe that I just said that I am ready to graduate from the school system! I am finally excited to see what post-graduation life brings! #movingbeyondmeaninglessworksheets

5) Finally, I am a true minority for the first time in my life. As the semester has went on, this has happened less and less, but at the beginning, there were many days when we would focus entire classes on concepts that posed difficulties for certain nationalities. As the only Anglophone in my class, this is incredibly frustrating to be forced to sit through 90 minute class periods on concepts that I mastered years ago. At the same time, since the areas that I have difficulties with are not a general problem for the whole class, they are often skipped over, because we have to focus on what will help the majority. As discouraging as this is, I am very grateful that I have had this experience, because I now know what it feels like to be the minority in a classroom. Not an everyday lesson that a middle-class, Mid-western, white young woman has the opportunity to learn firsthand, but I believe that it is the most important one of my time in France. If my future has me being an educator in one form or another, I will do my best to incorporate everyone in my instruction. Every student is important and deserves to receive an equal chance to learn.

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