Being over halfway finished with my time in France, I know that I have grown an enormous amount. Not size-wise (thank God), but as a person and student. What I did not realize was that I was a horrible student before I left. I guess the biggest thing I learned about being a student is that one must work, and work HARD. College is not like high school where you can succeed by being a nice person. One must work far enough in advance to be able to retain the information for future use, not cram it all in the head the night before the exam – but this is easier said than done. I will give you an example: My second semester here in Lille I wanted to really test my ability to speak French. I wanted to challenge myself by taking some super difficult classes (physics, stats, and chemistry). I quickly learned that there was something I lacked, something that all of the other Frenchies could do: Simple math. Things like the rules for parentheses and exponents. Above all, I learned that if I want to succeed, it takes work and that I must apply myself for the long run. Professors are not up in front of a class just to hear their own voices, but they are presenting to us information that we really will use in the future. I don’t know if I am just a late-bloomer or not, but France surely helped me learn that. It’s better late than never right? It makes me wonder if I am the only student to figure out the meaning of college so late in my college career.
I recently attended a conference held by Juniata’s PACS department in Aix-en-Provence, France, where I listened to speakers talk about the environmental conflicts in the world. I learned that to speak intelligently about current issues, it is very important to have a background in almost all areas of study. Sounds difficult, right? I met some amazing people and saw some familiar Juniata faces, Dr. Skelly and Dr. Henderson. One day I aspire to be able to think with enough depth and have confidence in my public speaking skills to convey my thoughts in an intelligent manner like those mentioned above. On the way there, I was thinking about what I wanted to get out of the conference. I wanted to figure out how to gain the best job while making the most money and being the happiest. I was creating a “mid-college crises” for myself, trying to make plans for life much too far in advance. It made me feel vulnerable about the present stage in my life. I learned two things above all: The first being that I need to relax and let things happen because I still have a year of college after this, and the second, the importance of choosing the right pathways and taking advantage of every learning opportunity while using them to grow. Now as scheduling week is coming I can’t wait to take the course “The Art of Public Speaking”.
Okay, so I’ve told you about some of my learning epiphanies, but how about the fun times?! While I was in Aix-en-Provence I took a side trip to Marseille, a city right next to the Mediterranean Sea. It was a good change for me to see the sun, because Lille is a city that is always covered by clouds and scattered showers. In Marseille I stayed with my friend Cedric who lives in my residence in Lille. He is one of my favorite friends here because he doesn’t speak a word of English and he’s very shy, so I’m his number one friend at Lille, aside from his girlfriend. One of the happiest feelings while in Lille was when I realized that my dream was coming true, to speak fluently in another language. I realized this when Cedric was having his usual girl problems and needed some condolence. A small-town Wellsboro-boy like me was talking about girl problems in another language! It’s strange how a language sets into a person. For me, it came in defined levels. One day I couldn’t put together a sentence and the next, sentences were coming out of my mouth like a waterfall (still with an ugly American accent, but I’m working on it).
When you’re a student athlete at Juniata, your best friend is Coach Smith. Now while everyone has their love/hate relationship with Coach, myself included, we all have to admit the rockin body he gives us is awesome. Between the speed squats with chains and the Friday stair work out with our sand bags, the athletes at Juniata spend a lot of time in the gym with Coach. The best part about Coach Smith workouts is it only takes one off-season for him to turn you into the smoking hottie you were meant to be.
Oh, by the way, Coach Smith is casually one of the top strength and conditioning coaches in the country and pretty much any big state institution would give anything to get him, but he chooses to stay at JC, which is awesome. He’s in such high demand because he can turn literally anything into a torturous workout. He uses random things from towels to scuba divers’ weights for arm work outs, ship chains and sliding boards for a leg work out, and stairs anywhere on campus for a cardio session. Coach also invents all these work outs you can do by yourself without any equipment or machines that are just as, if not more, tiring than anything you would find at a gym.
Coach Smith not only focuses on the physical side of training, but incorporates the mental side as well. He pushes each individual athlete to get out of their physical comfort zone to overcome mental barriers. He trains the mind and body to work as one to improve an athlete’s performance both on and off the court, field, or any other place you could play a sport. I personally have learned so much about how my body moves and how to lift or condition properly to get the most out of my body for volleyball while staying healthy. Coach Smith’s work outs not only make you stronger and a more efficient athlete, but also train you how you can mentally and physically overcome any obstacle using your mind and body.
If you really want to get an amazing work out, Coach has a noon work out every day that anyone can go to. The cool part is that it’s his own work out too, so you get to sweat with the elite. I highly recommend it, especially if you would like to feel like you got hit by a bus the next morning. Kidding (sort of), they’re not that bad.
College is a time to be exposed to the new and to add experiences that you never thought possible. Joining clubs and getting involved is really some of the best advice to take to heart. Traveling/studying abroad can really be a life-changing event and can be some of the best memories to cherish forever.
One such opportunity here is Juniata College’s Concert Choir. This one-credit course travels on tour to sing and share their love of music with more than just the Huntingdon community. Spring break is usually their biggest tour (a majority of the time being in a different country), with a New York one accompanying a week later.
The concerts are acapella and consist of memorized repertoire. When not singing and traveling to different locations in the country we had a chance to rest, site-see and engage in the culture. This year was a week tour to Guatemala.
Antigua, Guatemala City, Panajachel, Xela and Cantel were a few locations visited during the tour. The Fuentes Georginas hot springs, volunteering at the Asturias Academy and a musical exchange with members of the Coro Municipal were a few of the unforgettable additions to the trip. The singers were allowed to take a break from the focused performing setting and were able to engulf themselves in what Guatemala had to offer them.
About nine concerts were performed and sang all over the country, with different audiences attending each one. Two separate news stations filmed and broadcasted a performance on the local television station, which was really exhilarating for the choir to be a part of. Post interaction between the members and the audience was so rewarding because it really showed how the music touched the natives’ lives, even if half the choir members couldn’t speak the Spanish to fully communicate.
The choir was the first group to perform from the Pennsylvania area in Guatemala, so it was not only a special event for the choir but for the Guatemalan people. When first beginning the tour, the choir had not yet developed the sense of fully communicating the messages each song held. As the week progressed and the family began to form, the music began to wrap and interlace itself throughout the choir to form the quality voice that is the intent of tour.
Breathtaking sites, endless views and a beautiful country was all worth the hard work and countless hours of practice. Juniata Concert Choir is more than just a class, it’s a family. With support of the group, one amazing director, a solid foundation of songs and the common love of singing, spring break as a member of JC Concert Choir is one to rank at the top of incredible life experiences.
One of the few disadvantages that I saw myself potentially facing as a Juniata student was a lack of immersion with the French language and culture that I had come to love. As diverse as the Juniata student body was for its size, I did not expect to have much of a chance to experience the Francophone way of life, or meet French students, simply because of the location.
However, I have been proven 100% wrong.
A somewhat new initiative on campus, Juniata’s Global Village now offers language-specific housing for anyone hoping to kick their fluency level up a few notches and live with international roommates from areas of the world where the language is spoken. The Global Village is made up of two different entities:
1) The Intercultural Floor- Currently located in our dorm Terrace, the Intercultural Floor houses students who wish to experience living in a non-location-specific international community. I lived here during my freshman year and met people from all around the world. My roommate from that year is Jamaican, but I also got to know people from France, Nigeria, Japan, and Bulgaria, for example.
2) Language-Specific Houses- These ‘living and learning’ communities are set in campus-owned houses. We currently have a Spanish House (La Casa Hispánica), French House (Le Village Français), and the German House (Haus Wanderlust). I currently live in Le Village Français as the Event Program Coordinator, and choosing to apply to the house is the best decision I think I have made during my time here.
I could go on for hours and hours about how much I’ve loved living in Le Village Français and what I’ve learned from my housemates, but I will try to be somewhat concise. French student life, social patterns, cooking, and travel are only a few of the subjects that I’ve been able to hear so much of from students who have lived their whole lives in France. I have had the chance to become particularly close friends with 4 French students who all go to school in Lille. If you’ve read my profile, you know that I will be spending my next academic year in Lille, France. This means that when I arrive at the airport to start my whole year abroad, most likely exhausted and scared out of my mind, there will be friendly faces waiting for me as soon as I walk off of the plane. I cannot put into words how much I appreciate knowing that these people will be there to help me get on my feet. I have also gotten to know 3 of my housemates who are going to Lille with me next year, and they are the most wonderful people I could hope to set off on this experience with. To me, the friends that I have made because of living in this French House are invaluable, and I would not have gotten to know them if I had not lived in the Global Village.
If you take one thing from this, let it be that you will not be disappointed if you are willing to open your mind and heart to the international students that reside within the Juniata community. If you love a language, live with students who will speak it with you. I have made lifelong friends from all over the world during these past two years. And no matter what part of the world that they are from, these friends always inspire me to be my best, see the world, and make the most of this Earth we have been given.
(Which literally means “until we meet again.” Those French romantics!)