Why did you decide to study abroad and why did you decide to spend your semester in France specifically?
I decided to go to Hamilton's program because I wanted to be in Paris and their program had a great reputation and relationship with Bowdoin. I chose Hamilton because of the care and emphasis placed on students' standard of living. In terms of location, Paris had so much culture and history, so even though it is a large city, I knew the opportunities there were truly unique and the challenges that came with living in the city would be a great experience for me.
Tell us about your study abroad experience in and outside the classroom.
My French classes at Bowdoin never had more than twenty students, so my University classes of fifty or so students required some adjustment on my part. French professors rely heavily on structured lectures. The formulaic writing and lecturing took a while to get used to because I really enjoyed the freedom of class discussions at Bowdoin. At the same time, learning in this type of classroom environment forced me to think about my learning process and why this system was and was not effective.
Outside of the classroom, my day-to-day challenge was simply relying on my French language skills in cafes, buying groceries, shopping in stores, really any time I had to talk or just read. In Paris, I had to be persistent when speaking French because so many people could hear my American accent and would quickly change into English because they thought it was courteous or helpful to me. Anytime a French person didn't switch automatically into English I considered it a personal victory!
I found many "thrills" simply walking around the city, or on "flaneries" At times I had to pause and appreciate all that was around me, though it was also exciting for such a storied place to feel familiar. Although I only spent a semester there, when I had to leave I felt like I could claim some part of it as a second home.
How did you connect your off-campus study with your Bowdoin academics and extracurriculars, both before leaving and upon your return?
For an extracurricular activity, I decided to play volleyball twice a week with a community team. I play on the club team at Bowdoin so I wanted to stay active. The community team had the right atmosphere; after each practice, the players went out for dinner or drinks and they invited me on my second time.
When I was looking at the course catalogue, I saw a class on Francophone Chinese writers and knew that I had to take it. I'm interested in Asian diaspora literature, and up until this class, I never thought that it would intersect with my French major. I took the course and really enjoyed the two novels we read and the topics we covered. I decided to do an honors project on the coursework because I had more questions about the novels and I was really excited to make the material my own. I can always credit my abroad experience with generating the ideas for the project, but taking my research and writing process back to Bowdoin absolutely defined the project.
What do you believe was the value of study abroad for you academically and personally?
My semester in Paris made me feel like a first-year again. I had the same challenges of meeting new people, adjusting to a new space, and trying to adapt to unfamiliar situations. It was exciting to have my Bowdoin experience "shaken up" after two and a half years. I became a more independent student because I had much less academic support, no office hours, only a few peers in my class that I knew, etc., and this sense of independence also manifested itself outside of my academic experiences. I established a new routine and sense of place in a foreign city, all while speaking another language. The confrontations I had with people who had different views from my own social, political, culture, or otherwise, made me reflect on my own beliefs and experiences and were not situations I would have been in had I stayed at Bowdoin for that semester. For example, I am half Chinese and so many people in France would ask me, "What are your origins?" rather than were are you from or something like that. The political correctness many Americans employ is a very different concept for the French, and they have a very different perspective on multiethnic people. It can be very easy to criticize American beliefs or politics, but stepping outside of the country made me more aware of what my American upbringing contributed to my beliefs and ideals. Seeing my country from the exterior made me appreciate things I had not previously been conscious of, such as our progressiveness regarding people of different ethnicities. While neither France nor the United States are perfect, living in both countries afforded me the opportunity to see both countries more objectively.
Tell us about any other abroad experience you undertook while at Bowdoin.
I traveled to Bordeaux during Spring break my sophomore year with an exchange program ogranized by the department and an alumni fund. I lived with a university student and got an idea of what my study abroad experience would look like.
Does international travel figure into any of your future plans?
I definitely see myself returning to France, hopefully Paris again, possibly to teach English or for some type of research.