How Did I End Up in Belgium?

For those who have ever wondered how I ended up in Belgium, and why I study linguistics and French, here’s the long story why:

I started studying French when I was twelve, mostly because the only other options were Chinese and Spanish. I’m practically tone-deaf, so Chinese was a no go, and I found all the conjugations in Spanish to be a headache. The French-American School of New York happened to be located in my town, and as my family was the only one in the neighborhood with a trampoline, there were always a bunch of young French kids ringing our doorbell and squabbling about whose turn it was to jump. I figured what the hay, maybe with some French oratory skills I could get these little non-Anglophone devils to pipe down a bit.

After a course in Languages of the World my Freshman year at college, I knew I wanted to study linguistics. There are lots of different aspects of linguistics a person can specialize in, like neurolinguistics, computational linguistics, historical linguistics… I was more interested in sociolinguistics and dialectology, which essentially studies who speaks what, and how and why. Seeing as I went to Tulane University in New Orleans, I figured this would probably be the best place in America to study French because there are still remnants of Creole and Cajun all around the state. New Orleans turned out not only to be interesting because of the French aspect, but is a city with more than a handful of dialects that change from Uptown to Downtown, Garden District to St. Claude, Gentilly to Chalmette, black to white, class to class, block to block. There will certainly be a blog on this.

In order to further my French language education, I set out my Junior year to spend a year drinking vin rouge and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes along the Seine in Paris. Turns out I was not as Parisian as I thought I was, so I came back state-side after one semester. I wasn’t satisfied with my French though, and was itching for more adventure. So I packed up my stuff again and went off to Dakar where I spent a semester studying French and Wolof, the lingua franca of Senegal. I was on a School of International Training program, and we were each required to do a month long Independent Study Project. I was interested in studying young people’s relationships with the languages of Senegal, and ended up doing field research in two Dakar high schools, interviewing young girls about how, why and when they speak which languages, and what sort of judgements and values they attach to each language. I wrote Attitudes et valeurs sociolinguistiques des lycéennes de Dakar (Socioliguistic Attitudes and Values of Female High School Students in Dakar).

I came back from Senegal faced with the last semester of college. I’d spent the first semester in the land of baoboab trees and goats, and the thought of graduating and becoming a real person seemed very, very far away. Twiddling my thumbs in front of the French department one day, I saw a sign for a year-long scholarship for a student of linguistics (check) and French (check) to study linguistics and French in either Nova Scotia (Canada? Nahh), Paris (been there, done that) or Belgium. This was offered by a Louisiana organization called CODOFIL (Council for the Development of French in Louisiana) and Wallonie-Bruxelles International, part of the francophone government in Belgium. With my background and research in French and linguistics, coupled with the fact that I was the only student in the entire state of Louisiana who applied, I got the scholarship and spent this year studying French, cross-cultural communication and linguistics at the Université libre de Bruxelles. And that is how I ended up here, in Brussels, land of ex-pats, beer and French fries (although they aren’t French at all).

About alicestockwellegan

Language and culture enthusiast from New York living in San Francisco.
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