IFE has several different locations, but I participated in the Strasbourg program. It began with a month of three courses – French history, culture, and foreign relations – taught in French by French professors. This was great practice for listening to and writing French, as well as understanding the typical French university course. During the same month, IFE provided us opportunities to further engage with Strasbourg through various outings, taking us to several museums, events with Strasbourgeois, European institutions, and nearby cities. The final element of the first month was “practical work,” time set aside each day for us to discuss in French with our site director the class material, recent outings, surprises in everyday Strasbourg life, and anything else we wanted to process. Small assignments accompanied practical work (an ethnographic exercise, an intercultural engagement packet), but the focus was discussion, allowing us to speak lots of French and share insights for quicker adjustment to Strasbourg.
After the preparatory month, which greatly increased my French proficiency and began orienting me to life in France, came the core of IFE — the internship and field research thesis. My internship was with the French organization AMSED which encourages cultural exchange through international programs, youth meetings, and support of isolated populations in Strasbourg. As AMSED intern, I became a key contributor to a fast-paced French work environment by creating marketing materials, translating, distributing information to the public, and aiding neighborhood organizations that offered after-school homework help and supervised playtime for local children. My research thesis concerned gender socialization in France, which I observed during the course of my internship duties.
Being in France enriched my education and life in many ways, most of them stemming from the dramatic increase in my French proficiency that IFE helped me to achieve. If I had not been able to so vastly increase my ability to communicate clearly in French, I would not have been able to form meaningful relationships with native French speakers and therefore better understand their culture, have been viewed by Strasbourgeois not as a tourist but as a resident leading to truer everyday interactions, nor become interested in elements of French culture such as music, literature, and television. For research, my French made it possible for me to talk with adults in their native language, leading to more accurate and properly nuanced findings. I became so attached to Strasbourg and its people that I applied for and won a fellowship in 2019 which enabled me to return to the city for the summer of 2019 and continue nurturing relationships that I started during my time with IFE, as well as conduct sociological research on representation of race and gender in tram stops advertisements. I used this data for my senior thesis in Sociology.
Immersion in French and France through IFE had practical applications, but it also fueled my love for language and desire to explore cultures, ultimately inspiring me to pursue an international career; I hope to one day work in diplomacy or for a multi-national company. In an effort to realize this goal, I applied for and won a Fulbright grant. IFE was instrumental in opening these doors by providing me with an immersive, culturally-focused, and rich experience in France. I would recommend this program without any reservation to students looking for an immersive experience in French language and culture.