A woman stands in front of a building, smiling.
Marian “Ify” Okpali at the Betty Ashbury Jones MA ‘86 School of French on the Middlebury College campus. 

Participating in the Betty Ashbury Jones MA ‘86 School of French 7-week program provided me with an immersive experience that helped me overcome my fears of speaking French with others. I left the program feeling empowered that my goal of achieving fluency in the language to communicate effectively with French speakers abroad, and to produce scholarship in French, was achievable. 

How will learning French assist in your professional/scholarly work in Conflict Transformation?

Learning French will help in my professional and scholarly work as my scholarship primarily concerns West and North African countries, many of which belong to the Francophone world. Currently my research is focused on the youth demographic bulge in Africa, and better understanding African youth political communication and political engagement. 

Specifically, my work wishes to address scholarly narratives and policies that view the youth bulge as a driver of conflict, and to establish effective means by which African states can politically engage African youth and mitigate future conflict. As part of my work, I am looking to conduct interviews, focus groups, ethnographic participant observations, and surveys. Each of these research methods will require me to use my French skills so that I can adequately engage my target populations. 

Ify with her classmates in the School of French in front of a picture.

What were you doing before Language Schools and now currently?

Before attending the Middlebury Language Schools, I had just finished the first year of my PhD program at the University of Pennsylvania. I am currently in my second year of the program where I am pursuing a joint PhD in Political Science and Communication. Prior to my PhD studies, I had worked with the U.S. Department of Defense providing academic and programmatic support for the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. In this role, I came to appreciate how integral a command of French is for individuals who want pursue work engaging the continent. 

What are your future plans?

In the future, I am looking to pursue long-term fieldwork in the form of case studies in the following countries: Senegal, Nigeria, and Morocco. After completing my PhD studies, I hope to gain an academic position as a political scientist focused on African politics. 

How much did your French improve at Middlebury?

I was able to return to my university and skip a whole year of courses, and audit advanced-level courses, because of the immersion I experienced at MLS. I also felt well-equipped to join and participate in French Language Chats hosted on my campus. 

I cannot stress enough how MLS gave me the foundation of skills and confidence that I needed in order to take charge of my language learning journey. 

Be sure to check out our 7-week immersion program as well as our graduate programs at the Betty Ashbury Jones MA ‘86 School of French. 

Instructions on how to apply can be found here