Coming to Geneseo, I knew I wanted to study abroad for at least a year. I knew I wanted to go beyond my past linguistic and travel experience in Europe. This semester, I am returning from three semesters of studying abroad in Vietnam, Canada and Haiti. Study abroad has been an incredibly formative part of my undergraduate career—and my future plans—in both expected and unexpected ways.
The Global Service Learning Program in Borgne, Haiti proved to be a turning point for me. Through this program, I applied my interests in foreign language, intercultural competence and international education to connecting communities in Borgne and Geneseo. My experience in spring 2013 not only focused my academic interests, study abroad plans and career goals, but also had a lasting impact beyond that one semester. My service learning project became the design and organization of a Haitian Creole language preparation component for the course.
Immediately after the Global Service Learning Program, I knew I wanted to learn Haitian Creole and return to Borgne to help develop our program and relationship with the community. I traveled to Boston to attend the Haitian Creole Language and Culture Summer Institute, working with leading Haitian Creole scholars and collecting resources and teaching methods in order to help improve our Haitian Creole crash-course at Geneseo. As a result, I was selected to the Clinton Global Initiative University in 2015 to help support the first public library in Borgne.
In the fall of my junior year, I spent my first semester abroad in Vietnam. I went into the semester expecting a wildly new experience; one where I would learn an exotic new language. What I got was a semester where I was not only independent, but also the only native English speaker in my class. After learning Vietnamese, I could communicate with the locals and also speak to the internationals that spoke English. I met an extraordinary variety of people, both in Ho Chi Minh City and on my travels in Southeast Asia.
Perhaps the most surprising group I met in Vietnam was the Saigon Swing Cats. I had fallen in love with swing dance my freshman year, but I did not expect to find a club in Vietnam. It was a fascinating mix of locals and expatriates—mostly young professionals—gathering together to dance a vintage American dance. This is where I saw the overlap between my international interests and my dance interests.
My previous experience in Borgne had reignited my interest and study of the French language, which would eventually lead me to apply for the 2014 Gerard Gouvernet Ambassador in French Language and Culture and to pursue a French language study abroad program in Canada. I returned home for two weeks for Christmas from Vietnam and then left for Canada to study at Nova Scotia’s Francophone University. I slowly realized the complexity of Canada’s bilingualism, especially from the Acadian perspective. The distinction between French and English language was blurred, as the French—from the many Acadians regions—contained a variety of Anglicism. There was not only tension between Anglophone and Francophone interests in Canada, but also between Acadians and Quebecers.
Conclusively, I went to Haiti for a four-month internship at H.O.P.E., a nonprofit started in Rochester that focuses on grassroots community development. My main goal was to get visitors and community members to collaborate through creating orientation materials and building relationships. In the end, traveling to Haiti was my most immersive experience of all. I very rarely saw other foreigners and I spoke Haitian Creole almost always. As in Vietnam, I had to organize the greater part of my schedule and—as in Canada—I found another interesting culture of bilingualism. The challenge of this trip, however, was to be an ambassador between Geneseo and Borgne and to try to work and communicate my experience across cultural lines.
Although I do not expect the transition back to Geneseo to be easy, I am excited to see Geneseo students that I met during my time abroad and to see how the groups I was a part of have evolved. I encourage Geneseo students to engage in experiential learning opportunities like study abroad as early as possible in their college careers.