Caroline Godard, Paris

Miami University

Before my arrival in Paris, I had always thought of French as the language that I studied—the language of Montaigne and Rousseau and Racine, the language that I loved because it was slightly exotic, distanced and abstracted from my American life. I associated French with grammar, with words that I must think about and analyze, and with literature, which I loved and still do. But because I learned French in a classroom, I felt that my French self was consequently defined by my academics: I knew how to talk about books in French, but I couldn’t express the nuances of my personality or explain the ups and downs of my quotidian life. Before my arrival, I didn’t know that the lave-linge was the washing machine, that the vacuum was l’aspirateur, or that a carte bleue was a credit card. French was a language I could read, not yet one in which I could live.

Because of my semester in Paris, however, French is now about more than just words on paper to me. Learning how to speak in French first felt awkward, artificial and confusing, but this challenge—enforced by the Middlebury Language Pledge—is what I most appreciated about my time abroad. My host mother, Claude, helped me correct my pronunciation; I discussed the differences between French and American universities with my language partner, Juliette; and my professors at Middlebury’s Centre Madeleine and the Sorbonne Nouvelle helped deepen my interest in French literature. Thanks to everyone I met, I can say that the Paris I grew to know is a city I discovered entirely in French.

Now I can speak French more confidently, I can read French more fluidly, and I know my way around many art museums, bookstores, boulevards and cafés. However, I intend to return to Paris one day because there is still—and always will be—so much more to learn.