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Two Professors’ Perspectives on Studying Abroad

Two Professors’ Perspectives on Studying Abroad

By Sienna Hubin 

Students come back from studying abroad all the time saying it changed their lives, and that they highly recommend the experience. According to nasfa.org, 162,549 American students studied abroad during the 2019-2020 school year. This made me wonder if teachers think studying abroad is as beneficial as students do, so I interviewed two of Walla Walla University’s language professors: Alma Alfaro, professor of Spanish language, literature, and culture; and Jean-Paul Grimaud, professor of French and global communication.  

Q: What do you teach?   

Alfaro: I teach Spanish language, literature, and culture. 

Grimaud: I teach French and other classes in rhetoric, linguistics, and culture from a holistic perspective. 

Q: Do you encourage students to study abroad? Why or why not?  

Alfaro: I encourage students to study abroad to learn about other people and their cultures. 

Grimaud: I strongly encourage students to go abroad because it is a whole transformative experience linguistically, cognitively, emotionally, educationally, culturally, and mostly spiritually. 

Q: Do you think studying abroad helps a student learn a language better? In what ways? 

Alfaro: Yes. While abroad, students live with the culture, the people, and they have the opportunity to broaden their horizons. 

Grimaud: Upon return to the US, not only their language skills have improved in terms of proficiency, but also they are more mature, less fearful, more confident, and ready to tackle any challenge and/or solve any problem. 

Q: When students come back from studying abroad, can you see a difference in their behavior/mindset or in their language skills?  

Alfaro: Some show growth, as they have been able to adjust to a different culture and way of life. Students get out of studying abroad as much as they put into it. 

Grimaud: [They return] better since the whole immersion experience targets the whole person. See my answer to the previous question. 

Q: What other benefits does studying abroad give to a student?  

Alfaro: It helps them to navigate how to be independent and learn how to react on the spot. [It gives them the opportunity to] experience something new. 

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Grimaud: They grow as a person.  

Q: Do you think that a person needs to live in a place (even just for a little while) where the language they are learning is being spoken in order to fully master it?  

Alfaro: Living abroad helps to see the world from a different perspective and gives learning a new language a great advantage. 

Grimaud: Language does not exist in a vacuum. It is organically tied to the human condition that takes place in time and space. 

Q: Do you have any tips for learning a new language, besides studying abroad?  

Alfaro: Watch movies, listen to the radio, talk to people who speak that language, and read too.  

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References 

  1. Interview with Professors Alma Alfaro and Jean-Paul Grimaud. 
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