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My French Academic Commitment

I was sitting in a huge lecture hall with over a hundred other foreign students when it dawned on me that I was really going to have to commit to studying French this semester. You would think that I would have had that realization beforehand, for example, when I decided to study abroad in France where everyone speaks French. But no. It took me sitting on a small oak wooden bench surrounded by students of all nationalities and ages to grasp the commitment I had made to learn this language still so foreign to all of us.

A professor explained to us, in French of course, how our placement exam was going to work. We were handed a set of white papers that were to determine our fate. Perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic, but sitting there with 20 minutes to write an essay in French felt like a climactic, deciding moment to me

 Waiting to take an oral exam in my French
language and culture class

After completing the writing and listening portions of the placement exam we were corralled into two classrooms and given numbered tickets. Even though I was one of the first to receive a ticket, I was given a higher number which meant I had to wait for over an hour before taking my oral exam. Needless to say it just left me with more time for my nerves to ruminate. When it was finally my turn, the professor asked me some basic questions before delving into questions I could barely even discuss in English. What did I want to do after graduating? Why am I studying philosophy? What intrigues me about French philosophers in particular? I tried my best to seamlessly answer in French. In English I probably would have just answered, “I don’t know,” because otherwise I would have had to discuss my answers for hours to explain my complicated opinions and plans. 

The next day I found out that I didn’t get kicked out of the program, so I would count that as a success! My test results were high enough that I qualified to be in an intermediate level. I was feeling a bit more confident in my French, until my first elective. Once again I was in the large, wooden lecture hall packed with students, only this time I didn’t have any nerves. Sounds like a good position to be in, right? Next thing I know I look over at my friends with an expression that is somewhere in between did you understand what she just said and let’s go back to America. It was a contemporary history class that was meant for students of all levels. Luckily we were able to change our electives that first week and I have no shame in saying that I moved into an easier class. 

 Having an expresso in between classes during the week

My friends who have already been on study abroad in France told me that the French classes were really easy. They must have been kidding. I could tell you the difficultly level of French classes here in Grenoble, but the truth is that the French academic experience is different for everyone. For me, I have found that having any expectations is a mistake. I put so much gravity on my placement exam when it turns out we can switch classes if the level we are placed does not suit your comfort level. I made so many assumptions about how my placement exam would go and how my first classes would turn out when I should have just kept an open mind. No matter the level or the classes, the important thing is just to be committed to the language. 

Samantha Steed is the Spring 2016 CEA MOJO Blogger in Grenoble, France. She is currently a junior at Soka University of America. 


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