Study Abroad in Context: A Reflection

Last semester, I spent six months in France studying history and literature. At first, I had a difficult time adjusting to the cold winter and the constant rain. But once I found a good group of friends, and found my footing in French, I could navigate the city like a natural.

Living in a completely new place, with a different language, made me think about the value of my words, and the myriad different cultures that exist simultaneously in the world. I had always known, of course, that not everyone in the world lives their lives in the same ways that I do. But to really experience it gave me a whole new perspective on the views I hold, the way I hold myself in the world, and the perception of myself, as well.

Before I went to study abroad, I had been struggling with self-esteem issues, and I still do; but studying abroad helped me realize that I could do something truly difficult, and navigate difficult situations on my own. Studying abroad gave me a new confidence that I could not have found anywhere else.

That’s why I want to apply to the Fulbright award for a Deafness-related project in Italy. Living in a different place, with not one but two different languages around me would be an incredible challenge–  not to mention, I would be able to help people as well. 

The study abroad experience prepared me for that, by making me into a–– wait for it –– global citizen (cue the eye roll). That’s right, I couldn’t escape Summit even across an ocean.

I had tons of exposure to different cultures; not just French culture, but also Mexican, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Canadian, Portuguese, Brazilian, German, Russian, Czech, Slovak, Syrian, Gabonian, Ghanaian, Togoian, Chilean, Argentinian, Cuban, and even Vermontian. That’s right, I met not one but two people from Vermont, and they showed me the wonders of the North, where they can’t pronounce the words “milk” or “pillow.”

That kind of global experience gave me the confidence to pursue a career that will require the acquisition of at least one more language. But not only that––the experience also gave me the tenacity to go after that career, to take charge and lead in my field on campus. Granted, my field is Deaf studies and like only one other person is interested in it, so it’s a small field on campus. But a field nonetheless, and one that I’m co-leading, thanks to the experiences I gained abroad.

Now, let’s talk about how this experience fulfilled my history major learning outcomes AND my Summit learning outcomes!

First, we’ll start with the MLOs. I definitely sought, found, and evaluated primary and secondary sources. I found a pamphlet from 1789 advertising one of the first presentations given by two of the biggest figures in Deaf history, Jean Massieu and Laurent Clerc. Those presentations helped fund the Paris Institute, but they were also super exploitative and ended up isolating Deaf children as “freaks” more than anything else. I also found a secondary source (in French!) that broke down the history of the Deaf in France really well, and from a French perspective, which isn’t something I had seen before. I used it a bit in my senior seminar, but because my French comprehension (compre-french-ion) really decreased after I came back, I wasn’t able to employ it as well as I’d liked. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t develop and articulate a persuasive argument based in the historical evidence I found in it! You can read my argument in my history senior seminar rough draft— I don’t have time or space to summarize it here! And you’ve already seen how I plan to apply the results of my research to my career… with the Fulbright stuff that I just talked about!

Alright, we’ve covered the major stuff (cue that joke from How I Met Your Mother). Now let’s talk about the Summit stuff!

I definitely fulfilled SLO 1! I identified, explained and analyzed global themes, processes and systems while abroad; I identified the theme of hearing colonialism, I explained its manifestations, and I analyzed its global connotations (again, the seminar goes into a lot more detail!). Identifying those themes and processes made me assess my own values and interests; that’s how I came to understand that this passion for Deaf rights is truly a passion and not just an academic interest.

I fulfilled SLO 2 as well; I demonstrated knowledge and skills essential for global engagement because I connected two different regions through one issue and offered a solution, which is definitely engaging and global by nature.

And coming in hot for SLO 3, I also critically examined the relationship between dominant (hearing) and marginalized (Deaf) cultures in my research into the manifestations of hearing colonialism in France. Y’know, the usual stuff, the things everybody does when they’re in France.

Overall, I think we can all agree I had a pretty fulfilling experience.

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