After studying Mandarin Chinese for four years of high school, I arrived at Oberlin unsure of whether or not I wanted to continue. My schedule was already hectic, and many students were telling me that language classes in college are much more intense and fast-paced. I did not register for Chinese, even though I enjoyed the language. After this...the last thing I expected to be doing was registering for a new language in my last year at Oberlin: French 101!
Taking French 101 and 102 was one of my best decisions this year! It’s true that language classes move quickly; we went through a new chapter every week and met daily. However, it didn’t feel like an overload of work at all, because whenever you enjoy doing something, it makes whatever that is feel like so much less work.
Of course, I was anxious about having a class in my schedule that met daily, when there were so many things that needed to be done. However, waking up for that 10am class [almost] every morning this semester provided me with a constant structure for my day. If I didn’t have this 10am every day, who knows how wacky my sleep schedule would be?
Taking a foreign language is also a break from sitting in a lecture hall, because all of the learning is done through application. Once you learn a new grammar skill, you have to practice it. Because of this, class became not only just a place to learn the language but a place to get to know other people. This semester my amazing teacher, Camille Le Nen, used so many creative activities to engage us in learning the language. The language departments at Oberlin are unique for many reasons:
- There are language tables in the dining halls denoted to particular languages. French table exists every single day! It is an amazing resource for students to go practice their French with other students. I was extremely anxious my first time I visited French table, because I was a beginner and knew very little! However, everyone is so welcoming and understanding, and there’s nothing to worry about.
- There are also language-based program houses! Students can apply to live in houses such as French House, German House, or Spanish House, where students can further engage in the culture and practice the language, regardless of their level of proficiency.
- We have some great teachers and the BEST TAs.
Our teaching assistants are behind it all! Every Friday, they teach our class and review information with us that we covered quickly throughout the week. Meet Esther and Kevin: the two beautiful faces behind this department! They live in French House, come to French table every day, organize all the department activities (movie nights, Blue Rooster Bakery hangouts, Mardi Gras celebration, etc.), and even taught a French cooking and baking class this semester!
I am so happy that I got to know them as both my teachers and my friends. I asked if they would answer a few questions, so that you can get to know a little bit more about what they do at Oberlin and what the French department is like!
How did you become a TA?
Esther: Last year, I was an intern at CUPA (Center of University Program Abroad) in Paris. It’s an organization which welcomes American students in France for a semester or a year, providing them with housing and French tutoring. Those students come from different universities, like Oberlin. Knowing that Oberlin was looking for the next TAs, the director of CUPA advised me to apply, which was a very tempting proposition. And since the university I am attending (La Sorbonne, Paris) has a partnership with Oberlin, I would have been able to get credits there and get my master’s degree.
Kevin: My home university in Paris has partnerships with universities around the world. Each year, French students have the opportunity to go abroad for a year to teach French. It really appealed to me and I decided to apply! I got accepted and went to Tufts University as a TA for a year, last year. And because I enjoyed my life in the USA so much, I decided to stay in the USA for another year. I applied for another TA position in many American universities and Oberlin accepted me!
What was your schedule like as a TA?
Esther: So as a TA, each semester, we have several teaching hours. We are at the Table française every lunch at Stevie. And we are also in charge to organize all the French cultural events on the campus, so at the end of each month we have to create a calendar and post them all around the campus. But besides, we are also students and young people, so we like to hang out a lot, to go to the Feve for Long Island nights, to Lupita's for marg night, to the Sco and party houses. All along the year, we’ve always tried to live to the fullest our experience here by going to all the various events on the campus.
Kevin: As a TA, I had to take courses like regular students. So, I have to be in class, write essays, do assignments, etc. There are three additional parts. As a TA, I have to give classes several times a week. Consequently, I have to prepare my classes, take students’ attendance, grade students… This is close to what a faculty member could do.
I am also in charge of activities on campus in order to promote French, with Esther, the other TA. TAs have to set up a calendar every month with various activities. It is very wide: From the French table to French cafés through movie nights.
And last but not least, there is another important part that we do not necessarily think about at first glance: the administrative part. As a foreign TA in the USA, we have to open a new bank account, get an SSN, deal with health insurance, answering emails, etc. This is much more time-consuming than I thought it would be!! But TAs’ life is not only made from work and studies: I always find a slot in my time table to have drinks in local bars and go out with my friends! :-D
What are your plans for next year?
Esther: Next year, I am gonna be a TA in a high school for boys in the north of London.
Kevin: Oh, well… Looking for a job!
What are your favorite and least favorite things about Oberlin?
Esther: My favorite thing about Oberlin is the feeling of safety. It’s a bubble where you can wander at night without having the fear that something bad can happen. Moreover, because everything is so close and that you always meet people wherever you go, it gives you the feeling of a big family. However, my least favorite thing about Oberlin is that there is not so much to do because it’s a small city and that if you want to get out of Oberlin, you need a car and we didn’t so at times we felt oppressed.
Kevin: My favorite “thing” about Oberlin is definitively people that I have met! Oberlin is so small that it is easy to make friends and create a community. I have met people from all around the world, passionate about many things, open-minded and funny. I will definitely miss all of these people. Also, I really enjoyed studying/working around a conservatory. I am not a musician, but it has been very pleasant to attend concerts, recitals, and performances!
And my least favorite thing about Oberlin… As I do not have a car, it was hard for me to travel out of Oberlin. I miss being in a larger city! Sometimes I felt that I was stuck on campus whereas I wanted to discover other areas in Ohio.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience in the French department?
Esther: I want to say that at first, when I arrived at Oberlin College, I complained a lot (and still do but less haha) about everything that was so different from what I was used to. But now that this year comes to an end, I realized that I learned a lot about myself and my expectations. And above all, I would have never thought that I would be sad to leave Oberlin and that I would miss it incredibly. I will miss our daily routine, the closeness and the feeling of safety, the crazy parties and the beautiful recitals, but most of all: all the wonderful people I’ve met here and with who I became friends.
Kevin: Living abroad has been one of the most exciting experiences in my life. I wish I could repeat this year again and again. I highly recommend all students go abroad for a semester or a year! While being abroad, you learn so much about yourself, people, and the culture you are immersed in.
The French and Italian department is a small but active department! Thanks to the “Maison francophone” and activities that TAs put in place on campus, I think that Oberlin College has managed to create a vibrant community in which students can practice their French. In addition, faculty members in the department are always available to answer students’ questions.
The French department has also always integrated TAs in meetings so that we can be part of the decisions. This is something that I really appreciated.
The environment at Oberlin College is ideal to learn French. How about starting next semester? C’est parti !
On our last day of class, Esther, Kevin, and Camille cooked breakfast for our entire class and presented a their own video surprise for us. Camille set up a facebook group for our class to keep connected and a DuoLingo group to check up on our progress over the summer. We had a hard time saying goodbye to Camille, who has already arrived back in France. I admire Esther, Kevin, and Camille's constant dedication to making the process of learning French a positive experience for our class. Not to mention, they are three of the most hilarious people on this campus. Although their positions end after this year, I know they will go on to do amazing things, just as they have here in Oberlin.
Au revoir Kevin et Esther! Vous allez nous manquer!