“Vous parlez bien le français!” These five words, exchanged casually while checking out at a restaurant are the heralding achievement of my summer in Nice, France. Thanks to the Hunstman Summer Funding, I have spent the last 6 weeks on the French Riviera perfecting my French at a language school and my daily interactions. I am taking classes at the Education
First (EF) campus here in Nice, where students come from all over the world to study French and where the campus philosophy is total immersion. I chose this experience because I was
hoping to have a summer where I could really focus purely on improving my French skills. I love my language classes at Penn, but I was looking for unadulterated time to really be immersed in the culture and to hear the language everywhere I go.
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned this summer is one of confidence. Both personally and academically, this summer has helped me to toss nervousness to the wind and dive head
first into a completely new, slightly scary, but incredibly exciting experience. Beginning with my academic growth, I will be returning to Penn with refined language skills that could only be strengthened in an immersive environment like living abroad. A skill I have always struggled with is comprehension: I know I can form sentences, however simple they need to be, but understanding others was always an unpredictable challenge. Hearing French anywhere from the family sitting next to me on the tram, to the train conductor announcing that the train is malfunctioning, to someone telling me that the ocean is exceptionally clear today, has helped me to feel more comfortable deciphering sounds that are very different from English. One of my professors spent a lot of time on listening activities, asking us follow-up questions in excruciating detail. From this, I learned how to pick up not just the general idea of a conversation, but how to understand its nuances. Though French is still something I have to actively listen to rather than simply hear to understand, I feel so much more equipped to enter a class at Penn where I will be listening to lectures on history or literature and need to have a honed ear for French.
I also feel like this has been an amazing chance to brush up on my grammar. The advanced classes at Penn for the most part assume existing knowledge of grammar and move on to more advanced topics. However, in the last 6 weeks I’ve had a comprehensive review of tenses and now feel more equipped to construct complex sentences with ease. Beyond the academic learnings that I look forward to employing in my advanced French classes at Penn, this summer has left me with two life-changing personal takeaways: confidence and independence. I have found that throughout my studies and personal life, confidence tends to be the biggest obstacle in the way of my goals. Traveling abroad, alone in a foreign country while speaking a foreign language, pushed me to learn to trust myself and my abilities. Entering my sophomore year, I am preparing to meet a lot of milestones, taking on recruitment, leadership positions, and difficult classes. If I have learned anything from this trip, it is the idea that “I can.” However that translates to my academic, professional, and personal life when I return to school, the ability to think for myself and trust the decisions I make is invaluable.
I am thankful for this adventure and for the generosity of the Huntsman Program and its sponsors which have launched me into not only a new level of French ability, but into a new phase of confidence and excitement to face any challenges. Je parle bien le français. Living in Nice, France this summer has taught me to believe it.