What Europe is Teaching Me about Oregon

By Olivia Clarke
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It’s Fall Break for universities in France, and we American students have dispersed to every corner of Europe. I’m spending the week in Frankfurt, and friends of mine are traveling in England, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Poland, Italy, and Spain. We’re all trying to soak up as much of Europe as possible during the vacation. Our weekends have been filling up, too – we’re taking trips to places like Bordeaux, Toulouse, and northern Spain whenever we get the chance. We’re in Europe, after all, and we don’t know when we’ll make it back here; therefore, it’s important to take advantage of our time on the continent by traveling as much as possible.

I’ve been enjoying these European adventures, but all of this suitcase-packing and hostel-booking has also brought a question to mind: why do we only have this attitude when we’re abroad? At home in Portland, I tend to trudge through each week with my eyes to the ground, focusing on schoolwork and spending my free time on the internet. I rarely leave the city to go on hikes or explore other parts of Oregon, let alone travel out of state. In Europe, on the other hand, I’m becoming a regular jet-setter. But it’s not as if my home country is a boring one; being away from the U.S. is making me appreciate how vast and interesting the country really is. Even in the Northwest, where travel would be easy and relatively inexpensive, there are plenty of places I haven’t explored. I could easily take a day trip to the mountains or the coast with a few friends, and after I return from Europe, I think I’ll make more time for these small adventures. My time abroad is teaching me that travel is very possible and very rewarding; by embracing Europe, I’m also learning the value of what my own region has to offer.

Communication Frustration

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By Olivia Clarke

At a little over a month into my study abroad program in France, I’ve learned a number of things. For instance: French pastries are, in fact, delicious; discussing sensitive political issues is a favorite local pastime; and picking up after one’s dog is definitely not a priority here. But by far the most jarring discovery I’ve made is that learning a new language is really, really hard. Really.

I came to France after studying the language for four years. When I arrived at the University of Pau, I tested into one of the highest levels in the language program. However, this does not mean I’m anywhere near fluent. Between prepositions, conjugations, listening comprehension, and just plain vocabulary, the ever-present language barrier can make my interactions with French people exhausting. And then, of course, there are the inevitable embarrassing mistakes, like the time when I used the wrong auxiliary verb and accidentally informed my host mother that I was dead. It seems like every time I open my mouth, I get corrected, and every day I learn that I’ve been misusing a word or expression this whole time. Sometimes the frustration of being wrong so often just makes me want to hide in my room.

It all comes down to two basic truths: language is really complicated, and expressing oneself is really important. When we’re stripped of our ability to communicate ideas, it can be pretty traumatic; yet a new language can’t be learned overnight. So the budding bilingual finds herself in an uncomfortable no man’s land between blissful ignorance and fluency, where communication is a constant struggle. That’s tough, but I have to keep two things in mind: I chose this experience for myself, and you can bet I wouldn’t learn any of this from a textbook.

Studying abroad — in Portland

“Where are you from?”
It is a question that can start conversations easily. I am from South Korea and have studied science courses at PSU for about three years. I have heard this question a lot as well. When I answer, I recognize again myself that I am a foreigner in America.
International students must learn to speak English effectively because they face environments that force them to use English. It is more natural than learning language in a classroom. You confront a cultural shock and do not have friends or family who you can rely on. Sometimes, you would like to hang out with a person from your country because you feel more comfortable and homey. That tempts me to socialize with Koreans.
On the other hand, the point of studying in this country is to speak English and experience American culture. I would not learn much about America if I did not socialize and learn from Americans. I know many Korean students who did not experience enough of America and its people when they studied here.

Have you ever had this kind of experience? Do you make an effort to meet international students at PSU?