Sarah Wojda always knew she wanted to study abroad. When she came to EIU and decided to become a French major with teacher licensure, she knew she would study in France. In fall 2013 she spent a semester at the CUEFA language center at the Université d’Avignon during the fall of 2013.
Sarah chose Avignon because of its location in southern France where she hoped she would be less likely to run into people who spoke English:
“I basically learned French in college, so going to France was a necessity for me to grasp the language in a short amount of time.”
Her strategy worked and her overall French proficiency improved significantly. She also developed a strong understanding of the French people and the culture they live in every day.
Because her career goals include becoming a French teacher or perhaps even teaching English in Europe, Sarah wanted to get real experiences in France and gain first-hand knowledge of contemporary French culture -- experiences and knowledge she could bring back to her own classroom one day to share with her students.
One important lesson she learned was how to move past cultural differences and build meaningful relationships with the people she met and lived with every day. In some instances she even had to learn to change some typical American ways of behaving. For example, she found that even something as simple as smiling at strangers had a different meaning in France:“They don’t smile like we do,” Sara said. “If I smiled at a French person and the French person didn’t know me, it could be really offensive because they might think I’m hiding something or flirting.”
Sarah's photos from France
During her stay in Avignon, Sarah opted to live with a French family instead of in a university residence hall. Her host family was a woman and her 8-year-old son. Sarah insists she learned wonderful things about French culture by living with them – things she did not learn in the classroom. For example:
“Every Sunday, if you want to be part of the local culture, you go to this certain coffee place and people sit around and talk, but what people are really doing is eavesdropping!”
At the CUEFA Sarah enrolled in a French Immersion program and attended intensive language classes four hours a day. She could then spend the rest of her time immersed in Avignon and her host family, interacting with people and taking advantage of her surroundings to practice her French. Every day was an opportunity to take what she’d learned in class and use it in the real world.
Sarah’s most meaningful trip, however, was to the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer to visit the grave of her great-uncle who died in the invasion of Normandy during World War II. She is only the second member of her family to visit his grave.
Sarah strongly encourages students to consider studying abroad in a place where English isn’t the first language:
“In a short amount of time you get the oral comprehension and your accent gets so much better.” And if you absolutely need it “ . . . you will find people who know English no matter where you go.”