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Study abroad offers immersion learning

Cheyenne GrahamLamar University junior Cheyenne Graham, of Cleveland, Texas, is expanding her understanding different cultures through the power of language.

Although Graham is a biochemistry and forensic chemistry major, her interest in French led her to add a French minor.

“Having a minor in French was never really on my mind,” said Graham. “The most important thing to me was learning French and eventually becoming fluent. My professor, Caitlin Duerler, informed me that I could apply the credits from my study abroad trip to a minor and I would only need one more class to complete it, so declaring a minor was just a bonus.”

With the help of her advisor, Graham was able to find the perfect opportunity to expand her knowledge of French language in an immersive environment.

Cheyenne Graham“I have always dreamed of spending a semester abroad, so during the summer of 2017 I started communicating with an advisor in Lamar’s Study Abroad Office to see what options were available,” said Graham.

“Prior to that, during the Spring semester of 2017, I took Beginning French I and after that I was really intrigued by the language. I mentioned that to my advisor and that is when I found out that Lamar had just become partners with a French language school in Québec, Canada. I did some research on the place and I was really intrigued.”

Graham spent 14 weeks in Chicoutimi, a borough of the city of Saguenay, immersed in a culture quite different from her own. For Graham, the most challenging aspect of the experience was adapting to the language barrier.

“French is pretty much the only language they speak in Chicoutimi, and adapting to a new culture and, really, a new way of life was a little difficult,” she said. “Everything from the street signs to the movies were in French. French language and culture was first and foremost. The entire Québec province is based on French culture, all the way up to the border. The people of Québec take a lot of pride in their French roots, just as we do here in Texas with our southern pride.”

Although the town is small, Graham said the area fostered a lot of diversity that allowed her to get insights on different perspectives and cultures.

“People come from all over to learn,” she said. “I have met people from five continents. I encountered people from China, South America, North America, Europe and Africa. This is one of many things that makes Chicoutimi so great. If you come here to learn French, there is no doubt that you will for sure learn French. Chicoutimi is also filled with cultural pride, history, and so many outdoor activities.”

According to Graham, exposure to people of varying backgrounds gave her a deeper understanding of beliefs and cultures that differ from her own.

Cheyenne Graham“Being in a new country and really experiencing life in someone else’s shoes is very eye-opening,” said Graham. “I was able to become a part of a new society and experience, and live outside of the stereotypes we place on others. I have learned that it is okay to have differences and that even if you believe differently that does not make you wrong. It is very interesting to meet other international students.

“Each student really represents another country and culture, so it is really neat to hear people's stories and experiences,” she said. “You learn little things about the cultural backgrounds people have and in conversation you see other’s thoughts and their views. Through this, I learned to just listen and appreciate the difference between people.”

Graham also said she learned the importance of language with the support of those she met on the journey.

“Everyone I was fortunate to encounter impacted my life. They showed me the importance of learning languages and that if something intrigues you then go for it,” said Graham.

“One of my friends is a translator from Spain who can speak four languages. That is amazing to me. She helped teach me French and gave me some pointers to learning new languages. Another of my friends is from Toronto. She helped push me to use my French which built my confidence.”

Graham also said that Chicoutimi culture led her to gain a new perspective on time and the importance of enjoying life.

“Life in Chicoutimi was very simple and relaxing,” said Graham. “Most of the people don’t even own a cell phone and every store in town shuts down at 5 p.m. on the weekends. It was a huge eye opener and extremely refreshing.”

“I have always had this thought that I need to get everything done now and there will be time later to enjoy things, but that is not the truth. My outlook on life, and just about everything, has changed. I learned to appreciate the little things and to appreciate where I come from. I was also able to have an inside look on how others view the world around us.”

After her first time to study abroad, Graham said that Chicoutimi was a great experience and encourages those seeking to learn French to study there.

“I would recommend study abroad in Chicoutimi, especially if you want to learn French,” said Graham. “I highly recommend study abroad in general. It really is an amazing thing to experience. For me, study abroad has really made an impact on my life. I really feel like everyone has something to learn from study abroad even if it is not life-changing, it will be an amazing adventure.”