This past summer, I was given the unique opportunity to go on the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education’s first study abroad trip in Amiens, France. Two other OU education majors and I were in Amiens, which is about an hour Northwest of Paris by train, for five weeks beginning in May 2011. During those five weeks, we were given the opportunity to go on cultural outings around Amiens as well as spend a week each in a lycee (high school), a college (middle school), an ecole primaire (elementary school), and maternelle (the closest equivalent to the latter is a hybrid between pre-k and kindergarten).


There were numerous differences between French and American schools. Schedules were incredibly different, as students start at 8 a.m. and end at 6 p.m., but students have two recesses a day (one in the morning, and one in the afternoon), and two hours for lunch, during which they can go home if they so choose.  Discipline at the schools where I observed was also somewhat different than the discipline I have seen in schools in the U.S.; the approach was more authoritarian, and the teacher/student relationship was more professional than familial.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the French approach to foreign language and cultural education was phenomenally different. Students start instruction in English in CP, the French equivalent of first grade, and are given numerous opportunities to continue the pursuit of this language (as well as many others) as they progress through college and lycee. They can even choose to be a part of such revolutionary programs as the “European Section” or “American Section,” during which their literature and history courses (as well as some others, which include, but are not limited to, physics, chemistry, and algebra) are taught strictly in English. In fact, in these courses, I was asked not to speak any French at all so the students could benefit from interaction with a native English speaker.


Through these experiences and my experience in France as a whole, my entire world view was changed, not to mention my plans for my teaching career and my vision for what education can and should be for my future students.  My eyes were opened to the idea and possibility of a more global approach to education.  From an early age, students can, and should, be taught foreign languages. Language acquisition is at its peak in the early childhood years, and, I realized this time should be used to the fullest extent possible.  It was amazing to me to see what such young students could accomplish, and it became a dream of mine to see American students instructed in foreign languages and other cultures as early and as often as possible.


Overall, my study abroad experience in Amiens was, in a word, life-changing. It improved my language skills, yes, but it changed so much more than that. It changed my vision for my future, the future of education, and the future for our children, who can and should be encouraged to be connected on a global scale.  If not for this remarkable opportunity, I would still be a teacher, and, I hope, a good one, but I would never have developed the clear sense of what education can look like, beyond the wildest dreams of even some of the best teachers I’ve ever had.


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