By Cody Smith, University of Louisville
Lead with Languages Teacher Scholar Class of 2021, Gilman Scholar 2023
As a student pursuing Middle and Secondary Education and French at the University of Louisville this past year, I have benefited from a wide variety of courses in French language and culture, including conversation, civilization, and literature. However, to make any language come alive, we must take it outside of the classroom and observe how it is used in real life.
Through real-world experience of a language, you become a more proficient user and are able to identify cultural products, practices, and perspectives first-hand. These are only some of the benefits of traveling abroad.
Having recently come back from a month-long intensive study abroad program in Paris, France, and a three-week French teacher training seminar in Liège, Belgium, I am convinced that an international education is a highly valuable endeavor that everyone should have the opportunity to take part in.
As a Gilman Scholar, I had a wide range of linguistically and culturally immersive experiences. I got to take a historical tour of Paris in French and learn about the history of different sites along the Axe historique including Le Louvre, L'Arc de Triomphe, Les Tuileries, and La Grande Arche. Additionally, I had the opportunity to speak with local Francophones in a variety of bookshops who shared similar interests in books on the learning of world languages. But most special of all was seeing the canon of French literature come to life before my eyes as I watched theatrical productions of a variety of works in local theatres including Le Lucernaire and La Comédie Française. Such anecdotal experiences will help me provide a rich learning experience in my own language classroom as an educator later on.
In this post, I will discuss not only the benefits of language skills on your future career, but also how you can make studying abroad a reality—drawing from my own experience, to help you save time and money when planning your next language adventure!
The Benefits of Study Abroad
It Boosts Your Linguistic and Cultural Proficiency
It’s no secret that one of the best ways to continue acquiring the interconnected concepts of language and culture—whether at a novice or superior level of proficiency—is to live it in a country where the target language is being used every day.
This is because you’ll be going through life day-to-day just like in your home country: Making trips to the bank, shopping at the supermarket, taking transportation, and going to work/classes are all routine matters you’ll undertake. But while doing these (somewhat mundane) tasks, you’ll also be learning the language quite subconsciously during interactions with workers of local shops, reading signs on the bus or the train, or listening to the speech of those in your environment.
You’ll learn new expressions in your language. This is how I learned Belgian colloquial expressions like il drache ! (it’s pouring rain!) or un kot (a student apartment).
And you’re not limited to advancing your language skills: You’ll also advance your cultural understanding by observing what you see around you. In France, I often observed la bise, as well as the importance of environmental protection on street signs. I also noticed the importance placed on literacy, attending plays at local theaters. Through these observations, I could learn what the French do and are concerned with.
You Create Opportunities for Your Academic and Professional Future
Beyond your immediate language and culture skills, study abroad will continue to affect you positively for many years to come.
In fact, employers are always pleased to see candidates with strong language and culture skills. For some professions, like language teaching and interpretation, this is required; but research shows that these skills are in urgent and rising demand across sectors. In addition, those who have also traveled internationally or who have experienced immersive interactions bring a broader, global mindset; enhanced interpersonal skills; and reinforced independence.
Many study abroad programs allow you to complete an internship in your field—whether this be healthcare, education, business, or another area. Working abroad allows you to gain experience and language related to your specific domain.
With a higher language level, you’ll also open up opportunities for yourself academically. For instance, if you want to pursue undergraduate or graduate studies in a world language or any area of study, one or more languages is usually required. By studying abroad, you may minimize the time needed to fulfill this requirement by bringing your language to the level needed to take a proficiency examination or taking a class abroad to complete the requirement. Personally, I received 6 credit hours in advanced French literature and civilization coursework.
How to Make Study Abroad a Reality
Are you ready to pack your suitcase yet? Here are some steps to consider:
1. Reflect on What You Want to Achieve
Before booking any plane tickets, first reflect on why you want to travel abroad. This step is important for a variety of reasons and, by doing this alone, you’ll be well on your way to making your plans a reality.
When I was first considering studying abroad, I knew that I wanted to take part in a program that allowed me to:
- study advanced French content courses,
- do cultural excursions in and around Paris,
- study during the summer, and
- gain course credit towards my degree.
Knowing the elements helped me sift through program options until I identified the right one.
2. Connect With Your Study Abroad Office
You’ll want to reach out to the study abroad office of your college/university or high school: They are an excellent resource!
Most institutions will require you to fill out financial, liability, and institutional paperwork before you take part in your program. The Study Abroad Office team will not only guide you through these steps, but can also help you in finding a program and applying for scholarships.
They may also provide support by writing a recommendation for the program, reading your essays, or helping you obtain other official documents—including your passport.
3. Apply for Funding
Although study abroad is a financial investment, many federal and private scholarships are available to you.
I won the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship which is available to students who receive a Federal Pell Grant during the academic year. This was a wonderful help and is something I recommend to others: Gilman Scholars even have access to webinars on how to leverage their experience after their programs.
I was also able to find additional funding within my institution's Classical and Modern Language Department and several other national language organizations that support the study of French language and culture. You'll find several starting places by exploring curated links to outside funding on the LCF website.
Generous funding to support your study abroad experience is all around—you just have to apply!
When applying, remember to explain your background, academic interests, and how study abroad will benefit you and your professional future. After this, and other necessary arrangements (finding housing, purchasing plane tickets, etc.), you’ll be ready to go abroad.
One fundamental thing to remember when traveling abroad is that, despite any difficulties, the experiences you have and the people you meet will last a lifetime. So, keep a journal and be courageous as you discover the country of your target language: Bon voyage !
Check out our Connect with French and Study Abroad pages to explore language scholarships, university programs, testimonials, and more! And, as always, visit @LangConnectsFdn on social media to share your story with us.
You can also follow more of Cody's journey to becoming a language educator here.