Time Abroad: Fall 2007
Major: International Business
I was only one week into my semester in the south of France, day dreaming about my café au lait that was going to wake me up during the first break of our four-hour intensive language course, when my mind was yanked back to the present. Another of the international students was about to do a presentation on the topic of her choice. She was Iranian—this one would be different. The article of her discussion was from Le Monde. A French journalist was critiquing a novel on the nuclear arms program of her home country.
The confident, soft-spoken girl began in grammatically perfect French and a lingering accent I'd yet to hear with other students in our program. Her discourse started with a general description of the article and took off on a tangent towards her own ideology about her fellow citizens, their peaceful ways, and the fact that Bush only needs to create another enemy. The professor's attempts to nudge her back into focus on the article quickly subsided as the entire class listened intently as if she was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, addressing the UN Council.
When she had finished, everyone in the class—Italian, German, Swedish, Burundian, Colombian, Brazilian, Romanian, Swiss—all sat quietly, stunned. Then I, the sole American, started asking questions. I was intrigued, absolutely absorbed by her whole-hearted convictions I had initially dismissed as fallacy-ridden lies regurgitated by a manipulated citizen. But at some point during her speech I quit translating everything into English and just listened in French. And I didn't care about arguing, about right or wrong, about being American. We had a buffer zone. The language allowed a clear space for two human beings to communicate, to hear each other, to learn free of our own stories, media, history, prejudices.
So when she sat down with an enormous smile I wondered, 'Where else would I be able to hear an Iranian—Iranian woman—freely voice her opinions and address her peers as equals? What other forum or media could ever catalyze such raw interaction? And how much more is there to learn from France, from the world, from the people around me?'
For the rest of the semester I committed myself to listening, to open exchange, to leaping outside my comfort zone and into the hearts and minds of other people.
For someone looking at study abroad now, I would tell you the experience is a chance to really venture outside your DU bubble, to step back from your busy, regular routine and take a good look at what you want in life. You may see the world doesn't necessarily revolve around America. Or maybe you'll appreciate your opportunities at home a lot more. And you might just realize you never want to leave the States again. Whatever the discoveries, enjoy your journey because immersion in other cultural norms will force a lot of great self-reflection. Growth is guaranteed.