This past summer, I spent six weeks studying French language and literature at Middlebury Language Schools, an intensive program at Middlebury College in Vermont. The experience not only improved my French as expected, but also opened my eyes to the educational possibilities availably beyond the Roddick Gates.
Prior to registering for the program, I had decent experience studying French at a university level, but I craved more opportunities to speak outside of the six hours of class time per week that I was afforded at McGill. Middlebury’s program created an immersive learning environment that would force me to speak French, so it immediately seemed like a strong fit.
The part that drew me to Middlebury Language Schools the most was their “Language Pledge.” Each student who participates in one of their programs must sign a pledge to speak only their designated language during their time there. Students who have never spoken the language before sign the pledge after two weeks.
Being accepted was just the first step in my preparation to attend summer courses at another university. The process to transfer credits involved taking a test with the French Language Center at McGill to apply the credits from Middlebury toward my French minor. Since transfer credits do not impact a person’s GPA at McGill, I felt more at ease with taking courses that I might have been too intimidated to take at McGill out of the worry that I would not receive a good mark.
Though I originally intended to join the undergraduate program, I was asked by an admissions representative to apply for the graduate program instead–I was eventually accepted and placed. What initially seemed like a fun challenge quickly became daunting. Upon arrival in July, I learned that I was the youngest person in all my classes by roughly three years, and my classmates varied greatly in experience. Some students had just completed their bachelor’s degrees, a few others were currently working as French teachers, and one man was a retired lawyer in his eighties.
Beyond the challenges that these age gaps presented, the course itself was rigorous and getting used to my daily schedule required a steep learning curve. I had three classes a day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.–during which I was held to my Language Pledge and only permitted to speak French. After classes, I typically had anywhere from one to four hours of homework. The stress of this environment grew to take a toll on me emotionally and physically; I was extremely sleep deprived and neither had the time nor energy to practice adequate self-care.
That’s not to say that I didn’t learn from this. The intensive learning setting and rapid pace of assignments taught me the importance of organizing my time wisely. I did not have time to get intimidated by how much work I had because I was always so busy with assignments. After six weeks at Middlebury, I realized how much I had gained outside of learning the difference between the gerund and present participle and other ups and downs of reciting French.
Though it might be difficult to embark on a new academic adventure after finding one’s footing at McGill, all students should consider taking classes at another university to build new experiences. My time at Middlebury helped me grow as a student; the small, intensive environment facilitated my educational experience, and with my new level of French knowledge I’ll be able to live in Francophone communities.