Conquering French – Alumni Q&A

Jenna Zamaites studied abroad in Lyon, France during the 2017-2018 academic year. A pre-med student, Jenna talks about conquering the French language and how she made studying abroad a year a possibility. 

Why did you choose to study abroad a year?

Anytime I thought about studying abroad, I always knew it would be for a year. I’ll admit, one of the reasons I wanted to study abroad was to experience all the seasons in Lyon. I wanted to be there when the leaves started to change, to see the snow (or lack of snow), and feel the weather warm up into spring. Another reason is that I wanted to really learn my host countries language. I have been taking french course throughout college and high school and it has always been challenging for me. I felt a year in France would give me the best opportunity to really learn the language and give me the challenge of using it every day.

Why do you believe studying abroad for a year is more beneficial than a single semester?

I believe it is more beneficial because it enforces everything you have learned. By the end of the first semester, I was just getting comfortable with my french level and speaking. The next semester helped me to use the skills I have learned and apply them to further my proficiency. It really helped me to understand the language and it put me in situations where my French was tested. Before I knew it, I was able to do 20-30 minute presentations, have conversations with uber drivers, live day to day life with little language interference. If you are looking to learn a language abroad, ten months compared to five months is a big difference. Languages take a lot of work to learn and remember, and the more time the better.

What were some of your fears about studying abroad for a year? How did you overcome them while abroad?

I had the fear that my French wouldn’t be good enough to live in France for a year, that the French wouldn’t like the American who came to live in their country. This fear followed me through my time abroad until I realized that it was never true to begin with. Every time someone asks me if I speak French, I always say ‘a little’ which turned out not to be true. I could hold a conversation and give directions, if necessary. I realized to always try and use my French whenever and wherever. Granted it may not be the most grammatically correct, but the French are very enthusiastic when you try. If you asked a question wrong or used a word wrong, the French will always stop and try to help you and correct you. Soon my fear was in the past, I was able to make it a year in a country with a different language.

What was your favorite class and why?

It would have to be a tie between a USAC cooking class and Gastronomie. The cooking class was a great way to learn different french phrases that you normally wouldn’t learn in a classroom. Also, you got to make a lot of cool food and eat it at the end! It is where I learned how to filet a fish, poach eggs and learn how to make a classic lyonnaise praline tart. While Gastronomie is basically the study of food, the part I loved most about this class was the excursions. We went to the local food markets, a chocolatier and a fromagerie (cheese store). On these trips, we were able to talk to the local merchant and learn more about each specialty. It was a great way to see more into the Lyonnais culture and to try all the local foods!

Did you live with a host family or in an apartment during your time abroad? How do you think that impacted your experience?

I lived in a university residence during my time abroad. This turned out to be the best decision for me and my personality. I knew a lot of people who lived in host families and had great experiences which made me think I didn’t choose the right option, that I wasn’t practicing conversational French with a French native, or experiencing French culture to the fullest. I soon realized that I was experiencing that, just in a different way. Instead of talking to a host mom, dad or sibling, I was talking to people I got to know at the grocery stores or at the markets.

What advice do you have for students debating whether to study abroad for a year?

I have been trying to live by this motto of saying yes to more things, if you are debating, just say yes. It is a wonderful experience, and a decision you can’t regret. Take it from someone who shouldn’t have studied abroad for a year but did anyway. I am a pre-med student with a minor in International French and I chose a year because I wanted to. Many people told me I shouldn’t because I wouldn’t have the time and I wouldn’t graduate in four years. But I am making it work, by studying abroad for a year, I was able to complete my minor and fulfill some of my general education credits. I did have to take two classes for my major over the summer, but what are two classes compared to a year abroad?


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