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Overcoming the Language Barrier

One major part of the study abroad program is that each student stays with a host family for the entirety of the trip. In an effort to fully emerge us into French culture, the family kind of adopts us into their daily life and most importantly, they only talk to us in French. In theory, this seems like a very good idea as it provides us with the best possible way of improving our French, as we are constantly around the language and are forced to use it to communicate. However, it also has an unintended side effect by the way that it clearly delineates the presence of a language barrier, an obstacle I had never considered until I arrived here. Now, it is true that I do speak some French, but it’s more like what I like to refer to as “baby French”. And trust me, I had no misguided beliefs that I was going to arrive here and just start spurting perfect French. It takes a lot of effort for me to speak French conversationally, especially in the beginning. I had to think about everything I wanted to say very carefully. Then there is the added struggle of comprehending what is being said to me. It’s not too bad in a one-on-one conversation, but I’ve been staying with a family of seven. So every dinner or breakfast is kind of like a marathon for me as I try to keep up with everything that is being said, as both the parents and the children talk at full speed over each other.

I think this was such a big shift for me because I’ve always been able to articulate exactly what I want to say so that it is perceived and understood in the way that I want it to come across (at least to a certain extent). But, in French, I can’t do that. Furthermore, the way I communicate is a direct illustration of my personality. I’m a little sarcastic and silly all at the same time, all of which I communicate through my choice of words and tone. But again, in French, I can’t communicate that with my words. Realizing this made me feel as though my host family would never really get to know me and that inversely, I would never fully understand them. I had never fully understood the concept of a language barrier until that moment. Language can serve as a bridge that connects people or it can serve as a wall that isolates you. However, it wasn’t the source of the isolation, but only the tool used by it to enhance something that was already present. As with most emotions, the sense of isolation I felt came from the inside, created and cultivated by me.

Looking back on the first two weeks that I was in Lyon, when I felt this sense of isolation the most intensely, I can easily see how my host family continually tried to connect with me and include me in their family. They were kind as well as attentive and during group discussions, like the ones that would occur at dinner, they would slow down to make sure that I could understand, ask me questions so that I could join the conversation, and patiently wait as I tried to articulate my idea. My obstacle wasn’t the language or even being intimidated by the rapid French of my host family, it was me. I needed to be patient with myself, allow myself to make mistakes, and most importantly, to keep trying. In the end, when I look back on my trip, my host family was probably one of the best parts. I will be forever happy that they decided to adopt me into their home and that I put out the effort to make a connection with them, instead of allowing the language barrier to form a wall in between us.


Hannah-Kaye Carter is a junior at the University of Missouri- Kansas City double majoring in chemistry and psychology with minors in French and biology. She is spending her summer abroad with the Faculty-Led UMKC French Language Summer in Lyon, France. Hannah-Kaye was born in Kingston, Jamaica, where she lived until she immigrated to the United States at 9 years old. Currently, Hannah-Kaye is a member of the UMKC Pre-Med Society and a member of the Educate Organize and Advocate Committee. Additionally, she volunteers at the W.E.B. Dubois Learning Center as an assistant teacher in their subtraction classroom every Saturday morning. Her hope is to someday go to medical school, become a doctor, and eventually become a member of Doctors without Borders.


Disclaimer:

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

Exploration

As of today, I’ve been in Lyon for exactly three weeks. In spite of this fact, I still haven’t been able to shake the excitement that I feel when I think about the fact that I’ve been living in Europe. It’s kind of silly, I know, but that feeling of excitement still hasn’t worn off. Even though, I’ve been able to explore a lot of the city by now, there is still so much I haven’t seen as there is so much to do and see here. I love everything about Lyon, the people, the food, but especially the architecture. To me it is the most beautiful part of the city and it is so full of history.

For example, there is a section of the city called Vieux Lyon, which literally means old Lyon. That part of the city holds all of the oldest buildings and is one of Europe’s largest Renaissance neighborhoods. Vieux Lyon is divided into three sections, each of which has its own specific style of architecture. There is the Saint Jean quarter, which was constructed in the Middle ages, where all the buildings in that region exemplify gothic architecture. The best example of this is definitely St. Jean’s cathedral, which is pictured on the right. Walking around in that cathedral was completely surreal and it left me wondering how they could have possibly managed to build something like this at a time when flashlights where not even an idea that had been imagined yet. However, it is nothing compared to the Basilique de Fouvrière (on the left), which has ceilings so beautiful that most people who enter the cathedral spend half of their time there, just gawking at the ceiling.

Then there is also the Saint Paul section, where many Italian bankers/merchants had settled in the 15th and 16th century. As a result of this, all the buildings in this region resemble those that you would find in Italy. Finally, and probably the most interesting section, at least according to me, is the Saint Georges quarter, where there are actually secret passageways throughout the buildings known as les traboules. It might have my inner child or just the fact that I love adventure movies, but even though they were created for very practical reasons, to help silk weavers transport their products, walking through les traboules was probably one the most exciting part of exploring the city for me.

With that said, I feel like it’s only fair that I share the downsides to living in Lyon, all two of them. Firstly, almost everyone smokes and they smoke everywhere: in the house, in the university, on the metro, and at the bus stop. Just everywhere! You can’t escape it. No matter where you go, you will always be choking on someone’s cigarette smoke. However, I’m pretty sure that this habit isn’t just specific to Lyon. Secondly, the bathroom situation is a source of continual annoyance. Either, the bathroom is incredibly disgusting or you have to pay to go to the bathroom. Yes, you read that correctly, pay to use the bathroom! I’m sure they have a semi-logical reason for doing this, which at this point I don’t know and can’t think of, but I will never understand paying to use the bathroom. If you need to use the bathroom, you just have to use the bathroom. This isn’t something you can control. And I know you must be thinking, “Oh you could probably just sneak in”, but no, you really can’t, as there is a worker who stays in the bathroom at all times, monitoring who comes and goes to the bathroom. A riveting job, I’m sure! In spite of these two things, I wouldn’t trade my summer in Lyon for anything.

 


Hannah-Kaye Carter is a junior at the University of Missouri- Kansas City double majoring in chemistry and psychology with minors in French and biology. She is spending her summer abroad with the Faculty-Led UMKC French Language Summer in Lyon, France. Hannah-Kaye was born in Kingston, Jamaica, where she lived until she immigrated to the United States at 9 years old. Currently, Hannah-Kaye is a member of the UMKC Pre-Med Society and a member of the Educate Organize and Advocate Committee. Additionally, she volunteers at the W.E.B. Dubois Learning Center as an assistant teacher in their subtraction classroom every Saturday morning. Her hope is to someday go to medical school, become a doctor, and eventually become a member of Doctors without Borders. 

Disclaimer:
Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

A Bizarre Pairing of Dreams and Fears

All week I have been anxiously awaiting Saturday, June 1st, the day that marks the beginning of my study abroad adventure in
Lyon with a 14 hour and 50-minute journey into another hemisphere. Although, I have spent the majority of my short life daydreaming about what it would be like to live in France, the food I would eat, the people I would meet, and all the adventures I would have, the majority of my thoughts leading up to my departure have been rooted in a mixture of fear and anxiety with a small sprinkling of excitement that easily disappears within my nervousness. My apprehensive and ever restless mind races through all the possible pitfalls I could encounter during my once excitedly anticipated adventure that my thoughts have now crafted into a somewhat unwelcome nightmare. From losing all my luggage to getting robbed in the subway and being left penniless, without any form of ID in a foreign country, my mind imagines and brings to life with a startling sense of realness all the bad things that could conceivably befall a naïve and doe-eyed girl such as myself.

This persistent state of worry that has entangled my brain is made worse by my mom’s boundless paranoia. If I’m being completely honest, I had not even considered any of the dangers that come with traveling abroad until my mom started sharing news stories of people who were kidnapped and sold into human trafficking rings with me. Extreme? Yes, but that’s my mom and deep down I know that she does it out of concern for me as she knows that I have a tendency to jump into things head first without really considering all the consequences. Like I said before, I can be a bit naïve. In spite of this self-awareness, just like every other time she’s tried to scare me into taking my head out of the clouds and bring me back to reality, I brush it off and tell her not to be so paranoid. Yet, we’re both aware that her words stick. Acting like a light switch, they turn on all my anxiety and put my brain into an anxious overdrive, forcing me to face a pessimistic reality that I had been suppressing while jolting all my nervous energy back to life.

However, as I sit on an old rickety chair in the crappy basement of the expensive, but yet dilapidated apartment building that I call home with tornado sirens blaring all around me, I’m hit with a sense of calm as I realize that this Saturday I get to escape my reality and finally live within my daydream. Despite the fact that no real harm has reached me, the calm demeanor that encompasses my mind and actions during this extremely intense situation assures me that no matter the problems that might await me while abroad, I will be able to take them on with the same calm and sound mind. The sprinkle of excitement for my upcoming trip returns and multiples, growing stronger by the minute, as I come to the realization that fear precedes every exciting and novel adventure that a person takes in life. While our fear serves a purpose of keeping us alert and prepared, it is important to not let it overwhelm us, since in the end, some of our most anticipated fears turn into our most cherished memories or at the very least funny stories that we can use to make ourselves seem more interesting than we really are.

 


Hannah-Kaye Carter is a junior at the University of Missouri- Kansas City double majoring in chemistry and psychology with minors in French and biology. She is spending her summer abroad with the Faculty-Led UMKC French Language Summer in Lyon, France. Hannah-Kaye was born in Kingston, Jamaica, where she lived until she immigrated to the United States at 9 years old. Her hope is to someday go to medical school, become a doctor, and eventually become a member of Doctors without Borders.

Disclaimer:  Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.