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Active Learning, Parisian Style

  One of my favorite aspects of studying abroad so far has been the ‘active learning’ component.  To me, active learning means getting outside of the classroom and interacting with the environment around you in order to gain a deeper understanding of it.  Since I’m in two classes here in Paris, French at the Sorbonne and Globalization at the CEA Global Campus, this week I’ll discuss the ways that active learning has played a role in each of my courses and enhanced my abroad experience.
            Learning a foreign language truly is like learning to look at the world in a different way.  The vocabulary, grammar, and phonetics of a language are all traits that influence and in turn are influenced by culture.  Thus, studying the French language is in many ways exposing me to the French worldview.  There are two ways that this applies to active learning.  The first, and more obvious, is that everywhere I go I must read and speak French.  Although it can sometimes be difficult to find conversation partners, the continuous immersion in a French environment has done wonders for my vocabulary, accent, and oral comprehension abilities.  The second application to active learning is trying to see the bigger picture.  Language is just one part of the Parisian world I’m living in, yet it provides cultural clues that allow one to read into French society.  The distinction between ‘madame’ and ‘mademoiselle’ and the prolific vocabularies that exist to describe the wealth of cheese and wine products are both examples of how language can be in many ways a cultural map. 



     In my course on globalization at the CEA Global Campus, I’ve had active learning experiences both with and without my professor.  As a class we visited the Albert Kahn museum, which exhibits the role of photography in cross cultural communication and also has several large gardens, each constructed in different styles (Chinese, Japanese, British, etc.).  The museum was fascinating and very relevant to our course material, and it was tremendous to actually visit, rather than read about, a location that brought together people from all corners of the world.  When not with my class it is still incredibly easy to have active learning experiences about globalization and the movement of people, products, and ideas.  Every time the Algerian student in my course speaks, or I have dinner at a Chinese restaurant, or I hear somebody speak German on the metro I am experiencing the effects of globalization.  Even the fact that I, as an American, am able to live in Paris is a testament to the integration of cultures brought about by advancements in technology.  I expected Paris to be a ‘global city,’ but even so I still find myself amazed with the variety of ethnicities, languages, and influences that I experience every day.


Adam Joseph is the CEA MOJO for Paris this spring.  He is currently a third year at the University of Virginia studying Global Development and French. 


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