When I started in elementary school there was only one language choice: French. I didn’t go to any bilingual school or anything, but that’s the only choice there was. I continued with it up through middle school, where the promise of a 3 week exchange trip over spring break in 6th grade was the most exciting thing ever…it never happened. It got cancelled two years in a row, first because no one wanted to coordinate it, and then in 7th grade it got cancelled after the 9/11 attacks.
When I got to high school, I took French all four years. I always felt that I was okay at French. I always made grammar mistakes; I would always accidentally speak English when it was meant to be an immersion class.
Freshman year I switched from regular to honors French. My teacher was an RPCV who served in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He ended up writing one of my recommendations for my Peace Corps application 5 years later…
Junior year I was able to finally take that French trip which was 5 days in Paris and the 6 in Pau with a host family. I was able to communicate fine, but I wanted more. The next year I applied for a Rotary International Short Term Exchange Program hoping for an match in a Francophone country in Europe.
Senior year I was in a really small AP French class. I felt a lot of pressure from my teacher and the other students to get a 5. I ended up doing alright and got a 4. Grammar was my Achilles heel, but I remember that on the oral part of the exam I somehow pulled a phrase using the subjunctive out of my hind quarters. I was disappointed that I didn’t get a 5, but I still ended up testing out of basic French at Illinois.
In June 2007, right after graduation I left for my exchange in Yvetot, Normandy, France. I spent 4 weeks with a fantastic host family and then brought my host sister Anne back to Detroit to stay with me for the other half of the exchange. After I got back to the US, I figured that my French would not be in high demand. I already fulfilled the language requirements at Illinois for my degree program (4 years of high school French). I originally thought that I would not be using my French after high school except for the occasional trip to Quebec or France. I mean, that’s what happened to my dad. He took French all through high school, and he still speaks it very well and he doesn’t speak French for a living.
When I applied to Peace Corps they asked me on the application if I had a preference for my location. I said that I would like to be placed in a Francophone country because I feel like I would be more useful there. However, I would be comfortable being placed anywhere.
When I found out I was going to Burkina, I looked over my high school French books, and I was honestly a little worried. Would I remember everything? Were my writing skills strong enough…I am going to be an Education volunteer…
My first Language Proficiency Interview was nerve-racking. I was really nervous. Did I have enough French? The other trainees in the car seemed to be more comfortable talking with the driver in French than me…what am I going to do?!?! The day before I met with our cross-cultural coordinator and I spoke French with him. Sure I made some mistakes, but I was sitting at a table with PCBF office staff, and later one of the Americans in the office commented on how impressed he was with my language abilities.
Honestly I am so happy that I do get to speak French every day. I personally thought that after high school that I really wouldn’t use it. When I went to Paris to visit my parents, I met up with a friend from Interlochen Arts Camp and I left her a voicemail in French. She was completely shocked at my French level. When we went to camp I could speak a little, but I constantly made mistakes. I realized that after speaking it every single day at work for 14 months my fluency and ease with the language increased tremendously. I never though I was truly bad at French, I just never thought I was outstanding. I didn’t get a 5 on my AP, and I wasn’t the best in my class.
So Sara, what’s your point?
That perhaps when you think something is redundant or unnecessary or you’re not going to use it anymore…you might want to think again. I didn’t think each French class that I was going to join the Peace Corps…and speak French every single day.