back to the alma mater

I am from a small town, one of those places where you walk down the street and everyone says, “hi brenna, you don’t know me, but my little Johnny plays baseball with your cousin, your aunt told me you were moving to France and your mom confirmed it when I saw her at the grocery store yesterday, I heard your sister has the flu…” This typical hometown gab results in me dressing in disguise when going out in public. Running to WaWa for an early morning coffee? Grab a hat and big sunglasses. ANYONE could be there: your elementary school gym teacher, your ex-boyfriend, even kids you used to babysit! You know what I’m talking about…

My dramatic tendencies aside, being from a small town has also been extremely beneficial to me as I adjust to being an adult in the “real world”. I have always had the help of my former teachers, employers, as well as friends and family when I needed it. For some reason, tomorrow night I have been trusted as being the guest speaker at the French and Spanish National Honor Society Induction at my High School. I mean, this is no Nobel Prize, but it’s exciting all the same. So, i’m going back to the home of the DRAKES tomorrow night! The following is my speech – please just imagine me looking fabulous and reading it aloud on Tuesday night!

Bonsoir, Buenos Tardes, Boa Noite, and Buona Sera, Thank you Mme G and S D for having me back to the place where I first fell in love with language. I will never forget my first day of French class, when Madame Guay was running around the classroom, juggling balls in the air and throwing them at her frightened students, shouting, “ce ballon est rouge!” “eh la, c’est un ballon vert!” “deux ballons bleus!” I was mesmerized by French. The language seemed so exotic and beautiful. It sounded like she was singing, and I longed to be able to imitate her voice. I knew I wanted to become fluent in French, and I made that one of my goals.

Nine years later, I am still not fluent, but I can surely communicate. I can read the works of Marguerite Duras in her native language, sing along to the pop music of First Lady Carla Bruni, and write letters to my friends in France. It has been a long journey, but one that has made my life more vibrant and fulfilling. The experience of learning a second language is one that I believe every person should take ownership of as a global citizen.

I took French all throughout high school, and my dreams came true when I participated in the exchange program with Madame G my senior year. I ate escargot with my French family, visited the home of Van Gogh, climbed the Eiffel Tower, and went salsa dancing by the Bastille. My first glimpse into Paris the most exciting and inspiring experiences of my life. I wanted to learn more about art, music, religion, philosophy, and literature. I went to the Catholic University of America in DC, a hub of international culture and politics. I ended up studying International Relations and French in college, and writing two senior theses: one in French African women’s literature, and another on the cultural immersion of minorities into the European Union. Throughout my studies I have been constantly engaged by comparing and contrasting different forms of thought. By no means am I an expert in any one subject, but everything I’ve learned has only encouraged me to learn more. Now I want to learn Spanish and Portuguese! This can be attributed to my initial study of French.

In addition to formal education, I have gained life skills unique to cultural immersion. After studying abroad in the South of France during college, my daily norms were turned upside-down. Everyday in France was like a huge puzzle. Could I use the right words when I was talking to a teacher? Do I speak in the formal sense? Are my tenses right? How can I get this person to stop bothering me? Excuse myself for being late? Make a friend feel better? Gaining a command of the French language was very challenging, and also very rewarding. There were days when I wanted to give up, when I had been on the phone with the airline company and they were yelling at me that they “couldn’t understand my strong accent”.  My host sister would make me repeat phrases over and over again, rolling on the floor laughing at my inability to pronouce the “u” in the word “bus”. Language and communication is the key to connecting with another person, whether you are communicating in your native tongue or not. Although learning a new language is a lifelong challenge, it is one in which you can always come back to.

But more than a language, I have gained another dimension to my world view. I learned about a new system of government, social policy, food customs, and other cultural habits that reflect their individual and group personalities. By adapting to a new culture, I was exposing myself to a different world view. Problem solving, communication skills, and patience are only a few of the invaluable life skills I learned while studying abroad. It is also proven that people who immerse themselves in other cultures are more creative than those who don’t. Creativity is an essential tool to have when solving problems.

Being “open” to the French way of thinking makes one more adaptable to other cultures as well. Not only did I become friends with French people, but I now have friends from all over  the world. Because I can see outside of the American “bubble,” it is much easier to relate to others from different cultures. One of my most memorable experiences abroad happened when I was in Venice. I shared a room in a hostel with a girl my age from Iraq. After a few icy exchanges, we ended up talking for hours, and left with a better understanding of each other’s points of view. I might not have been so open with her if I had not had the experience of studying abroad. Today, I have friends all over the world, and I know I can always call on them when I need a place to stay.

Already in my short twenty-two years of life, many opportunities have come my way because of my study of French. Last semester I interned at the FE, and helped to edit a quarterly luxury magazine that was published by the French government. One of my favorite parts about this job was the expresso and pain au chocolate in the mornings. I also got to attend parties and cultural events at the E for free. This summer, I worked for the FP, and helped immigrants gain better access to Health care by bridging the language gap. On Friday, I will be traveling first to Paris, then to V to become an elementary school English teacher. I hope to inspire French students to fall in love with English the same way Mme G showed me her passion for French, and I’m sure S D does in Spanish. I know that even if I do not want to work in France forever, getting a job will be much easier because knowledge of a foreign culture is a desired skill in today’s global market.

I congratulate all of you on your dedication to the study of language. I encourage you to continue your challenge, to find take what you have learned and find any way  possible to immerse yourself in another culture. Merci and Gracias!

If this sucks, is boring, or you think I am an idiot, leave a comment or email me at

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