Even though I already wrote about the reason as to why I’m back here in Paris for another year, despite my previous grumblings, I noticed opportunity to earn up to $2000 in scholarships (via the Sir Harold Acton Award) several months ago, provided that I could talk about a cross-cultural exchange or string of events that influenced my wanting to study abroad again. And for that, I had to dig deep. I actually started the essay a long while before the deadline approached and wound up scrapping many of my ideas. Adamant on keeping to the idea that I had wanted to truly have a “study abroad experience,” I found it difficult to connect the two components of the prompt. And the evening before the essay was due, a new found reason for wanting to be here donned upon me.
And in case you, dear reader, are wondering if I “won” (it always feels so odd to put polarities on these types merits), I’m afraid to say I didn’t. Though, the rejection letter did spring out a glimmer of laughter when I noticed that NYU Study Abroad spelled my name wrong twice. It wasn’t as though it were one error copied and pasted since my name is written in full then just my first. But just in case, I did double check my application to make sure it wasn’t my doing!
Name: Barabara Leung
Program: NYU in Paris
The selection committee for the Sir Harold Acton Undergraduate Fellowship has completed its review of applications for spring 2011. There were many well qualified applicants, which made the selection process extremely difficult. Although your application was strong I regret to inform you that you were not chosen as a recipient.
We hope that this decision does not affect your enthusiasm for what will surely be a life-changing semester abroad. As always, we encourage you to contact us with any questions you have as you prepare to depart. It is our pleasure to assist you in any way we can.
So my reaction? Well, I immediately thought to double check with the coordinator in case there was a “Barabara Leung” studying abroad in Paris that was denied a scholarship. Too bad, no response on that end. Guess it was just a typo – so much for hoping!
So if “Barabara” wasn’t selected, is there still hope for “Barbara?”
Anyway, I’ve digressed plenty, so read on below to better understand why I’ve opted for two semesters here.
edit (12/12/10): So I ended up receiving a reply the day after this post went up:
I apologize for the typographical error. I hope you are enjoying your fall semester at NYU in Paris and looking forward to your second semester there!
An Understanding of Languages
Studying abroad in France for my freshman year signified two large developments in my life. The first being the adjustment to college and living away from home; and the second being the understanding of blending into a new social and cultural dynamic. To put the experience simply – I hated it. The few triumphs of where I was able to blend in, such as the one time when I was approached for directions or when my awkward French was bearable enough to carry on a short conversation, were marred by the facts that I couldn’t express myself as articulately in French as I could in English and that I did look different in my outward appearance than the homegrown Parisians.
Fast forward through to sophomore year where I found myself somewhere so much more familiar in terms of culture and pace – New York. Granted, I had to familiarize myself again with trains, streets, and hangouts, but the whole idea of being foreign in America didn’t rear its head as menacingly as it did in France, except for when it came to work permits (but that’s another story on its own). After all, I only had to speak English to get through this new life.
And perhaps it was this ease in transition that led to a moment of realization. Hearing others flounder with their heavy accents or struggle to find the correct idiom was nothing new to me; I grew up in Toronto, which has an immigration population higher than most other metropolises (including New York, Los Angeles and Vancouver). But what was new was the misconception that people had of me – I was either from the city or at least some from some nearby state. It never really occurred to them to consider that I could be from the north side of the 49th parallel. And so, I had seemingly blended in so well that my cultural identity could be easily lost had I not made myself vocally clear each time someone asked me where I was from.
So it’s interesting to consider that the immediate hint of foreignness and distaste in experiences can both easily stem from a problem with language. I hadn’t been able to connect these ideas until I was found on the other side – seemingly fully integrated and a part of “that society.” Being unrecognizable and thought of as a member completely deconstructed the notion of individuality that I held in being a Canadian living abroad in America; whereas in France, I could maintain a certain degree of that cultural identity with my awkward syntaxes. In either case, it never really occurred to me that part of the reason of why I thrived in New York was because of the absences of any lingual frustrations; Paris, though, echoed insecurities of self-presentation that I had never been aware of before, because I never had to confront them until freshman year.
Albeit plunging myself back into France may not have been brightest choice considering that I’m revisiting a place that I once defined, “the bane of my existence.” But there seems to be a better understanding now. The push and pull that language has in identifying who is a visitor and who is a native carries an element that intrigues me. I never entertained the idea before, but what if by improving my language skills and being more attuned to cultural behaviors, I could wind up finding myself liking the country that I had never really given a chance.
Image courtesy of Tristan Western University