Conditions of Being a Foreign Language Student Abroad

Jeanne Torp
January 20, 2020

It’s truly amazing to see how quickly you can adapt to something. But it’s surely not a thing that comes easily, which I am learning very quickly as I finish out the month of January in Paris. There are several things that have required a lot of learning and concentration that I have already encountered in my time thus far. Sometimes those learning curves come with a bit of frustration, and other times they come with a feeling of reward and self-assurance. 

Let’s start with the frustration. Today in my conversation group, this was a topic we focused on for quite some time. It is something everyone experiences when they are in a different country, or even a different region of your own country, for almost any amount of time. There will always be some miscommunication or some small detail that our foreign eyes don’t notice at first glance, but that force us to step out of our comfort zone in order to adapt. These inequivalences can be frustrating, of course, but it’s simply a fact of accepting that it’s all due to cultural differences. 

Like I mentioned in my previous post, there has been the obvious frustration with the difficulties the transportation system has caused, making it much harder for everyone to make their way around the city. However, there is also the frustration of being a student studying a foreign language in a country whose native language is that which you are studying. It’s something that people do all the time, with countless foreign students studying at my home university in the States. But now, being in their shoes, I have a newfound respect for those who study abroad as a foreign language student. It’s an exciting challenge, but it is a challenge that is not free of its fair share of stressors and embarrassments. First, you have to learn what the acceptable way to behave is in public spaces as well as more private place like your host home or the classroom, each with its own set of rules, and then you must learn how to properly express yourself in those settings. We may learn basic phrases and conversation skills at our home universities, but that all flies out the window when you are confronted with the real thing, and oftentimes you feel as if what you know is much too formal for what you need to say. The problem is that slang exists in every language, and that is not something one can necessarily learn in a classroom -- you can only acquire these nuances of the language when you’re immersed. 

I have encountered the scenario of being in a public place like a store or restaurant around Paris and attempting to speak with the employees only to have them immediately answer me in English, regardless of if I made an obvious mistake with what I said or not. This can be difficult, as I see these as some of the best places to practice so as to learn how the native speakers respond, so I have simply had to be persistent. If they happen to answer in English, I continue on my side in French, hoping that they will do the same next time. And when the conversation starts flowing, or when they keep speaking to me in French from the start, I know that some progress is being made. This is where the feeling of reward and self-assurance comes in. When I successfully carry out a conversation with a woman waiting for the same bus as me, order plates for my family at a restaurant, or talk about a complex topic over dinner with my host mom, regardless of how long the conversations may be, I can feel my language skills improving. 

This is the first time I have been in a situation where I am completely and totally immersed in a culture and in a foreign language, and I am already seeing the effects just a few days in. Already my comprehension and listening skills are worlds better, and my speaking, writing, and reading are following quickly behind. Before starting my program I worried about coming home having made little progress in my language acquisition, but this fear has been quickly dispelled as I see the progress happening even now.

Jeanne Torp

<p>My name is Jeanne Torp. I'm a junior at the University of Mississippi majoring in International Studies and French and minoring in Environmental Studies! I will be studying abroad in Paris, France for the Spring 2020 semester, working to better my language skills and immerse myself in the French culture. After graduating, I hope to enter into the urban design or architecture fields, which I'm especially excited to be pursuing as new green and sustainable methods are being introduced to the field every day. Some of my hobbies include traveling, writing, photo- and video-taking, music, and reading.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
University of Mississippi
Biloxi, MS
French Language
International Studies
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