Three Minnehaha alumnae are currently studying abroad in France. They learned French together at MA and parted ways at graduation, yet all ended up in France just a few years later
It all started in room 240.
“[Mr. Norlander] would pass around a sheet every year with names of former students that were studying abroad or majoring in French and showing us like ‘Hey, this is what you can do with the language that you’re studying,’” Katherine Lubar (‘13) remembered.
Now, Lubar’s name also appears on that list as an inspiration for other French students.
From the graduating class of 2013, three students from French teacher Mark Norlander’s class decided to take a leap and study abroad in France. Now all juniors in college, Madison Ryan, Katherine Lubar and Tatianna Thurik wanted to experience a deeper understanding of the language they once fell in love with.
“Each of them were so different in their personalities, but the class chemistry was really good that year,” Norlander said, “In fact, it was a good thing that they were all different, because they each brought something new to the environment, so that they could all learn from each other.”
The value of studying abroad is not only getting a deeper understanding of a language, but it is also obtaining a bigger radius of cultural diversity. Junior Elizabeth Cripe has already discovered this idea, as she has recently come back from an extended trip to Italy.
“If there was any time in your life where it would be good to go out and experience a different culture and people, it would be right now,” Cripe said. “Any time earlier, you would’ve been too young to experience it on your own, and any time later, you’ve kind of made up your
mind about how things work and how things should be.
“I think if you’re older, it would be a lot easier to experience something different and say, ‘oh! Well, they’re wrong! It’s interesting, but they’re wrong, and I’m right,’ If you go now, and even if it’s a frightening thing to do, you can still learn a lot from it.”
While these three students came from the same classroom, the directions they followed were very different. For Lubar, her journey started with a hands-on approach. As a student at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, the opportunity to pick your own place of study is very easy to do. Lubar is majoring in french and psychology, and is focusing solely on the French aspect while studying abroad.
“At Creighton, the students are pretty much in charge with their whole study abroad experience. We have an office that helps with the process, but I did all the research. My French professor connected me with a student who studied abroad through the same program in Grenoble, and I talked to her and I really felt like it was what I was looking for. All the other programs I researched would’ve had me be in a classroom with only French speaking students, and I didn’t think I was ready for that considering where my language skills were.
I am doing a French language and culture program, so all my classes relate to learning French and French culture and history. I’m surrounded with international students who are also studying abroad.”
Norlander subtly inspired his student to dig a little bit deeper into the background of the French language.
“I [also] traveled to France right after I graduated from Minnehaha, and spent about three weeks in France with my family. My family also hosted the French amity for a couple months in my junior year, and we also visited her and her family.”
Thurik’s experience is one similar to Lubar’s, as she also is majoring in French and psychology. However, she attends Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter, Minnesota, and is studying in Nantes, France this semester.
“I am taking classes through the Institute for the International Education of Students Abroad (IES). I’ll be taking classes at the IES center with other American students learning French. All classes are taught in French and all students must speak French when they are at the center, and all the students live with host families. I also am taking two classes at the local university with other native French students.”
Thurik also experienced a trip to France before her semester in study through the trip to Paris for cultural field experience, which will run again this spring, as well as getting in touch with a previous French amity and staying with her for three weeks in France.
“It was a complete cultural immersion that I wasn’t entirely prepared for. I was surrounded by French all of the time and found it hard to follow conversations and communicate what I wanted to say. But it was then that I knew I wanted to study abroad in college.”
For Ryan, her journey didn’t come equipped with a major in French, but rather the appreciation of the country’s art, as she is a visual art and art history major at San Diego University. She is studying in Aix-en-Provence this semester.
“I started learning French at Minnehaha in kindergarten, and so I fell in love with it,” Ryan said, “I remember being a fourth grader and being really excited to go to French class. Before my senior year of high school, Mr. Norlander had connected me with a former French amity and I was able to go to be an au pair for her family. That was a huge experience for me in developing my French and realizing it was possible to go abroad. He really encouraged me to explore the language and the culture more. I looked forward to going to that class, and as a result I learned more.
I’ll be taking some general courses like religion and philosophy and a French class to get those requirements out. I’ll also be taking some art history courses and a painting course. I think a lot of the art history will relate to art that was made in that region, and different art movements that were occurring there.”
Traveling to a different country to experience the art and history firsthand brings a whole new array of perspectives to every person’s specific personal viewpoint.
All three alums are studying with different programs in different places in France, but they all aim for the same goal and they all face the same primary uncomfortable feeling with the fact that they must live with a French-speaking host family for a whole semester. However, the main overwhelming statement from all three is simple: that’s the point.
“I have been mentally preparing for the fact that it’s going to be an adjustment and a challenging experience,” Ryan said. “I am not going to know anyone, so I’ve definitely had to set my expectations for the fact that it’s going to be a challenge, and it won’t always be easy.
“When I’m feeling like maybe I can’t do it, then I think about the things that have motivated me to apply for this. To know that it will be a challenge, that’s kind of the point. The point is that you will grow.”
While considering the technicalities about the details of suddenly living in another country, Thurik reminds considering students to remember the little things.
“There’s not one big thing I’m looking forward to, it’s just the little moments in each day that make the trip memorable. Small interactions with strangers on the street, laughing with new friends from my program, walking around, going to parks. You get a chance to live there like it’s your home. You can experience what it’s like to do regular things, but in a different context and environment.
The first weekend was an orientation weekend that we spent in Tours, a city in the Loire valley, visiting castles and I had a really great conversation with one of the staff members. We were walking sharing similar life experiences. It was a great and long conversation, and it was all in French.
“I understood everything and felt that I expressed myself well. It was one of the first times I had a real conversation like I would have with one of my friends. I was proud and excited after [our conversation] because I didn’t know that I was capable of it.”