Living Abroad: Strasbourg

By Kaiya Gordon /// Staff Writer

 

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Every student living in the comfort of a single, primary language should go abroad and learn another language immersively. I’ve been in France for two weeks, and though I’m not sure how much French I’ve learned during that time, I’ve changed.

As I got ready to study in Strasbourg, I was already nervous about my French skills. Though I took French classes at Lewis & Clark, I have no skill for mimicking accents or memorizing vocabulary, and I struggled with speaking. Ultimately, though, I’m here to struggle. Being in Strasbourg has already productively disrupted the way that I think about communication, interpersonal relations, and myself.

At LC, in the English Department that I love so much and amongst friends who challenge and collaborate with me, I have grown sure in the articulation of my ideas. In English, each sentence I construct moves forward. Even if I slur, or use unintelligible slang, I am confident in my ability to make myself understood. My language is balanced. With such surety, I can find newness in English: new ways to interpret or use words, new ways to describe, and new sentence structures. In my native tongue, I have the fantastic ability to take words for granted, to abuse them, and to ask others to understand me no matter how inarticulate I am. Not so here.

In Strasbourg, my language is practical. I have found that, for the most part, creation is tied to articulation. Without a foundation in French, I am unable to come up with new ideas, to be critical, or to make art. But speaking in French is not a loss — instead, my newly forced lack of speaking confidence has destabilized my ideas, giving me time to re-think and re-learn.

Before leaving, my letters, poems, and essays in English had become cluttered. But ineptitude removes extra sentences, punctuation, and words. Now, with less known, I have room for new fertilization of ideas, friendships, and connections. My life, disrupted, has forced me to find the strength to balance myself.

French words still float in the air for me. I am working towards a comprehension level that grounds them. In the in-between, I watch French students, listen to French songs, stumble over my café order, and know that my linguistic landscape is changing all the time.

KeyCard-2-2 Kaiya Gordon (‘15) visits Place Stanislas in Nancy, France. The visit was one of several group trips that the Strasbourg program will take over the course of the semester.

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