« Douce France
Cher pays de mon enfance
Bercée de tendre insouciance
Je t’ai gardé dans mon cœur »
I didn’t actually spend my childhood in France, but in high school I was a Rotary Youth Exchange Student and spent my junior year in a French high school in Brittany, France. It was, in itself, an incredible experience but the most amazing thing about studying abroad was actually what happened in my life after I studied abroad in France. Like a master key that unlocks all doors, learning French revealed for me cultures and peoples all around the globe. French is the official language of 29 countries. Its romantic overtures have been weaved into music and works of art for centuries. As a language of diplomacy, luxury, love, and fashion, knowing French has considerably broadened my horizons and deepened my understanding of the world around me. Here are just a couple examples…
At university, I studied Political Science but was interested in expanding the scope of my studies beyond the political status quo in “the West”. Because I knew French, I was able to spend 6 months in West Africa analyzing international development in the country of Mali. I was particularly fortunate to have spent several weeks with a club of mothers in the town of Segu where I faced the realities of colonialism and global poverty. Working alongside the mothers, I experienced the triumphs and pitfalls of women’s empowerment projects. Today, as I push to accomplish my dreams, I am reminded of their seemingly unending energy which propelled them daily to make lives better for themselves and their children. I am inspired to push forward no matter the road blocks ahead.
Following graduation, my knowledge of French brought me to another part of the world, the Caribbean. I spent a year teaching in an elementary school on the island of Martinique. In addition to soaking up the sun and enjoying the “island life”, I learned a lot about what it means to work in a different country, and to be a foreigner. Strangely, these experiences increased my appreciation for what it means to be an American- to come from a land of peoples who came from everywhere, who are descendants of foreigners themselves. It can be scary in a new place, even if you speak the language. I was saved over and over again by friendly locals and host families that took me under their wing – often times even before I realized I needed help. To pay it forward, I now do my best to be attentive to others when they are new to my community. Whether it’s asking others if they need help when they look lost on the street or making someone a cup of tea while I explain a local custom or bureaucracy, you just never know when a little action is going to make a world of difference in the life of another.
I could go on and on about my endless adventures since studying abroad, but no matter where I go, no matter what I do, my passion for French has always helped me communicate with new peoples, discover exciting places, and overcome new challenges. So perhaps it is for these reasons that I hum this tune, as a sort of tribute to the beautiful history of this everlasting experience.
Dear country of my childhood
Cradled in tender carelessness
I have kept you in my heart”
(This blog was originally published in Vistas for Education, November 2016)