Landing in Brussels after an exhausting flight (and a 10 hour layover!!), I saw a huge sign in the airport that said “Bienvenue à Bruxelles!” Thankfully, I understood this elementary level French, but I knew that a bigger challenge awaits.
I chose this program particularly because of the incredible opportunity provided by the Université Libre de Bruxelles to perfect my French. I was told beforehand that most of my courses would be taught in French, and that I needed to have at least some degree of fluency before participating. I have been passively learning French my whole life; my mother is fluent in French and taught me at a young age. I turned to Spanish in high school, but turned my focus back on French through some serious Duolingo usage. But Duolingo and casual conversations in French with my mother is not enough-I want to be immersed in the French language.
While here in Brussels, I will be taking courses within my psychology major in French, so I will certainly face some academic challenges! I expect to be overwhelmed at first, trying to translate from French to English and then back to French in order to completely understand complex psychological concepts. However, I am confident that with time, I will not have to translate at all; I hope I can actually learn in French! At Pitt, I focused most of my psychology degree around cognitive psychology, and my favorite class of all time was Language and the Mind. I will be using some of the key linguistic processes I learned about in that class during my studies in Brussels! I will train my mind to piece together linguistic disfluencies that happen in everyday French (but never in the slowed down, perfectly pronounced Duolingo French). It will be interesting and eye-opening to see how these psycholinguistic processes play out in my own life; this experience will certainly enhance my understanding of cognitive psychology and language.
My classes won’t be the only part of my life taken over by the French language. In everyday interactions here, I challenge myself to speak French. I ordered a croissant and cappuccino in French on my first day here, and on my second day, I asked a store employee in French where the shampoo and conditioner were. Many people speak English here as well, but I don’t want to take this easy route. How else will I master the language if I don’t try it out in everyday exchanges? A major personal goal of mine is to be confident enough in my French abilities to have casual conversations with friends or to have thorough discussions with peers in French, beyond just the basic interactions. If I consistently attend my classes, find French-speaking friends (and there are a lot of them!), and challenge myself to communicate only in French with people in Brussels, then I am sure by the end of my stay, my French will have improved. For now, I have accepted the minor mistakes I am bound to make, and the constant “répétez, s’il vous plait?”, because I know that perfecting a language takes time.
Along with the language immersion, I will continue my Duolingo streak, and who knows, maybe I will come back with a French accent! “À bientôt” for now!