AJ spent 6 months in Paris during the spring of 2021, and loved every second of it! He focused on studying French for the first several months, followed by an International Relations internship placement with a nonprofit organization. Read about his time in Paris, what it was like to live there during the pandemic lockdowns, and what he learned in La Ville Lumière.
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP YOUR EXPERIENCE?
“Wonderful. You must go abroad! It’s not the same as when you see it on TV or read books. If you go, you grow. There’s always a price to pay, so you’d better pay the money to go. You can go on vacation, but living there is different from visiting – it’s on a deeper level. It’s so much more than the art, castles, or the places to see. The people, the food…all of these things together are so important to experience. Eating the cheese was something else – MAN that stuff was good! But honestly, the best part of any place is not the buildings or anything you can see, it’s the inside…it comes from the spirit, not from the shell.”
DID YOU MEET THE GOALS YOU SET FOR YOURSELF IN THIS EXPERIENCE?
“That’s a total understatement – of course I did! I gained so much hands-on experience in the immersion period, during the internship. I could not have imagined before actually doing it that I would be translating from French to English, and sometimes even a little bit of Spanish. I could actually think in French at my internship, after my time studying the language. I had never experienced that before! I now know what it feels like to be bilingual.”
WHAT WAS YOUR TYPICAL DAY LIKE AT YOUR PLACEMENT?
“I interned with a nonprofit organization connected to Senegal, that provides services and education for immigrants living in Paris. In my role, I was going into classrooms and helping the immigrants adapt to French. I was teaching them to read, write and speak French, and a little bit of comprehension. That was my main role.
My 2nd role was to be a translator. The boss was French, and he knew I was American. I would translate the handbooks from French to English.
For my 3rd role, we had class workshops on Mondays and Thursdays where someone would give a class presentation in French, and another person and I would translate from French to English, or English to French. Since I could understand French better than speak it, I would translate from French to English.
One of my goals was to make my students a little better and to be a better translator, both in speaking and in writing. I think all of these goals were met. The students were mostly adults – one in their mid-40s, the youngest people were the other interns, 19 and 20, and the one that spoke 3 languages was 25. Some of the students were from France and could speak French, but they said they could not get an education. Some of them were from Africa – Nigeria and other places in Western Africa. Others were from Bangladesh and 3 or 4 were from Afghanistan. At first when I was in my French classes, I had classmates from China, Italy and Brazil, and then I started teaching in my internship with people from different regions of Africa and other places in Europe. This really means I learned a lot more than just about France.”
WHAT DID YOU DO IN YOUR FREE TIME
“I tried to go to the Louvre. The first time I went, it was closed. The 2nd time, it was also closed. The third time finally open – or maybe closed. The 4th time it was open and I went in! In the first few months I went to a lot of parks, as the museums were all closed.
I started watching cartoons in French – there was one that I watched as a kid in English but it was all in French. In class, teachers spoke to us slowly so we can understand, but the cartoons are fast, and that’s how I started learning. I would also read a lot.
I also did a lot of exercises, running or doing push-ups outside. I did a little yoga, studied languages, hung out with new friends after class, drew pictures, and talked to people back at home. They wanted to know what it was like in Paris!
The last thing I was doing was trying to survive. My American card got hacked, and it took days to get my money back, and then my card got locked. I ended up transferring money to France so I could learn about and talk about money in my classes. Then I had a lot to learn in my internship too – survival business stuff, technological terms…I learned how to handle stress. That’s one of my favorite parts about traveling. When something bad happens – sometimes you have to wake up earlier than usual, travel farther than usual – you have to get organized. After going through that, you come out on the other side smarter, more adaptable. It’s something that I learned when traveling more, and became much better at in France. There’s always something new to learn.”
HOW WAS YOUR HOUSING?
“I lived in a hosted apartment with a French lady. She was really generous. She shared a lot with me, and she kept her house really clean. I was impressed! We got along like apples and apples – really well. I tried to help out around the house and do projects for her. I think both of us are better for it, and we are friends now. She could only speak French, so it was great for me to practice, and in the end I could also say that I know what it’s like to be a foreigner where you HAVE to learn the language. She said I kept getting better at French!”
HOW WERE YOUR FRENCH CLASSES?
“The language classes were the best part. I was late to France by a whole week, and then I went to the wrong place entirely. They really had to get me in shape! They helped me get to class, and then I got to class late. I came in the way new students come in – ready to start but messing up a lot in class. My teacher used some English with me to explain directions. After that I got on my feet and started getting better. I did mess up a lot, but probably because I wanted to talk a lot.
Later on when I was able to talk in entire sentences with students and teachers, then it got fun! There’s power in speaking – great power in speaking. Once you’re able to talk, then you can start sharing ideas, making jokes. If someone can’t understand you, you can take French and re-explain it in a different way – that means your French is good enough! You can learn French by using French. The teacher explained things in French, and I could learn from the dictionary all in French, and I started thinking in French at that point! I was watching things in French more than in English. It was the coolest feeling ever. And I loved that I could flip into either language at any time!
One time in class we were talking about our dreams. I was joking, saying I dreamed about being a diplomat and a dictator, and that all countries had to obey me. The teacher said, “This is my class, you follow MY rules, I’m the dictatress!” Everyone was laughing so hard. I loved doing presentations in class – whenever I presented, everyone was crying from laughing so hard. My favorite moments were when we got to argue with the teacher and each other. One time a woman from Australia and I were arguing about politics. We had this debate in front of class. We made our points clear in French. Arguing politics in a different language – that stuff was good! Having a friendly argument – that was really fun.
My goal is to learn all 6 major languages of the UN, so in addition to English, Spanish and French, I still want to learn Arabic, Russian, and Chinese. I’m planning to go to Egypt next year to learn Arabic. I’d also like to learn Swahili and ASL.”
WHAT TIPS WOULD YOU GIVE FUTURE PARTICIPANTS?
“Language learning has 1,000 sides to it. People think they can learn quickly one way, and in reality, if you want to speak well, you have to practice speaking. Most people want to learn a language by reading. If you want to read well, then read, and if you want to write well, then write. But if you want to speak well, you have to talk. If you want to be fluent, you need to be ready to study and practice in all of these different ways. Put in the hours to get good. When you start to think in the language, that’s when you’re getting there and getting closer to being fluent. It takes time, but it’s so worth it.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
“I’ll be getting a job to pay off my student loans and save up to go to Egypt next year. I might also be going to Mexico with friends for a wedding, so it will be great to use my Spanish. In Egypt, I plan to either teach English or work with an NGO or maybe volunteer. My big thing in the meantime is to study Egyptian Arabic. I think I’m going to get it – I have not failed yet! After Egypt, I’ll continue studying my languages, write an autobiography, take care of my other skills, learn to draw with both hands, learn how to code and be a polymath and polyglot!”
It was such a joy to help AJ plan this experience, and we’d love to help you, too! Learn more about World Endeavors’ International Relations internships abroad and our other exciting fields offered in France. We’d love to help you find an internship abroad to set you on course to achieve your professional goals while making memories and friends all around the world.
Read more stories from amazing World Endeavors alumni here, and enjoy more of AJ’s wonderful photos before you go!