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   Date: 9/14/12 Bookmark and Share

Five Countries, Five Languages—Global STRIDE Fellows' Summer Abroad

By Janie Vanpée, professor of French studies and faculty mentor for Global STRIDE Fellows, 2011-13

Colorful scarves represent various regions around Siena, Italy (photo by Sara Ottomano).

First- and second-year Global STRIDE Fellows recently met to discuss their summer experiences.

The Global STRIDE (Student Research in Departments) program encourages student fellows to apply their STRIDE stipends toward the cost of a summer study-abroad program between their first and sophomore years. The goal of this small program within the larger STRIDE program is to support students’ interests and efforts in learning a language well and to help them advance quickly.

This summer six Global STRIDE scholars, now sophomores, set off to five different countries—Argentina, France, Italy, Germany and Taiwan—to study and practice a language in an immersion environment.

After studying Italian for one year at Smith, Sara Ottomano traveled to the small medieval town of Viterbo, Italy, where she joined the summer program run by USAC (University Studies Abroad Consortium). For six intensive weeks Sara took classes in intermediate Italian and architectural history, focusing on the Italian hill towns surrounding Viterbo. She comes back this fall having advanced in her linguistic competence and better prepared for a future JYA in Florence, where she hopes to continue her studies in Art History.

Gloria Lee and Hannah Becker both ventured to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and enrolled independently in the language program at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Hannah for eight weeks and Gloria for 12. Both made noticeable progress in their linguistic abilities, adapting to the porteño accent, until, as Gloria explained, “the pronunciation seemed like the norm and whenever people from different areas start speaking Spanish without the accent, it sounds so foreign to me!”

Hannah appreciated her home stay, where she had “tons of opportunities to practice Spanish on a day-to-day basis,” and in a megalopolis of 13 million people.

During her three-month stay, Gloria undertook some preliminary research on electoral quotas for women, research she hopes to develop this coming year with Professor Susie Bourque. Doing research in another country was a learning experience. “I went to different departments around Buenos Aires (Facultad de Derecho, Ciencias Humanos, etc.) and talked to different offices and professors, but no one could help me,” she explains. “They didn't have the specific data or just refused to talk to me because I didn't have any authorization. I ended up frantically running around the city asking for help from statisticians and anyone. However, I did find some material that was related to the topic.”

One of the most significant lessons she learned was the importance of community and relationships. “When I first arrived in Argentina, I was inspired to learn Spanish and absorb as much as I could about the culture," she said. "However, as I began to study and interact with Argentines as well as other extranjeros, I realized that the foundation of culture rested on relationships and genuine care for one another. This sense of unity and dependence truly inspired me to re-examine and renew my perception and ideas of independence and human relationships.”

Kaitlin Burns ventured to southern France and enrolled in a five-week program of language study at the Université d’Aix-en-Provence, where she lived in university residences with other foreign students. The lingua franca among the students was Spanish, as many of the summer students came from Spain, which gave Kaitlin opportunities to practice her Spanish as well as French. Living in the student residences immersed her in the culture and language and helped her form a number of lasting friendships. One of the highlights of her stay was when she accompanied a friend who is studying law to a trial being conducted at court in Aix, thereby observing up close the French legal system.

Annecca Smith enrolled in advanced German language courses at the Goethe Institute in Freiburg, Germany. For Annecca, the five weeks in Germany was a return “home” of sorts, as she spent a gap year before enrolling at Smith living with a family and studying in a German gymnasium. Her goal for the summer was to perfect her German grammar. She comes back with a certificate that places her practice of German at the B2/C1 level, a commendable achievement.

After studying Chinese III at Smith last year, Jenny Wang opted to do an internship teaching English to third- and fifth-graders in Taiwan. Not only was she able to continue practicing her Chinese, but she discovered that she has a passion for teaching. Though it was difficult and tiring to teach children who had very different levels of English comprehension and abilities, she was energized by the challenge. She will now be exploring the possibilities of adding an education major to her economics major.

As the group met recently, along with this year’s incoming Global STRIDE Fellows and two former Global STRIDE fellows back from studying abroad in Hamburg, Germany, and Geneva, they shared their experiences.

Sara Ottomano offered her informed hints of ways to take advantage of opportunities abroad. “Take every opportunity and be as flexible as possible,” she advises. “Sometimes events will throw you a curveball and you just need to adapt and figure out how to enjoy your time. And if possible, stay in a home stay. It’s a great way to practice a language and learn how someone is a part of a larger culture. Also, volunteer, talk with shop owners, read a newspaper, or whatever you can do to feel more connected to the place and pick up new vocabulary and understanding.”

Importantly, Ottomano advises, now armed with hindsight, “Write a journal. Now that I’m back I am glad that I kept a journal. Looking back, I get to see my development and it was a good way to express any problems or frustrations.”

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