Welcome Back

As my last post before my flight bright and early tomorrow morning for the States, I figured I would take today to just reflect on these past months. Which it’s crazy to even say that I’ve been gone for months. I guess time is an illusion.

I’ve had a few people say to me how proud they are that I “stepped outside my comfort zone.” And to that, I don’t know how to respond. I feel like that is so fake and doesn’t apply to me, a person who of all the places in the world, chose to stay on the same continent to “study abroad.” And choose a place that when they consider the semester “Winter,” they don’t lie.

So I feel like I shouldn’t receive much credit for just living somewhere else for a few months. In my head, that doesn’t seem like a big deal. Study abroad is becoming more and more common, and I constantly see people I know off traveling and going on adventures. Compared to most people, when I say I went to Canada, they’re kind of confused. Why would I choose to subject myself to frigid weather to live one time zone away from home? Big whoop.

Please realize that I am generally very hard on myself. It’s weird for me to think otherwise. It doesn’t help that I come into the experience, as if this were my first year of college again, with tons of expectations for myself. Assuming I would immediately make lots of great friends. That I would always be off exploring somewhere new. That I would step foot somewhere new and just thrive in all aspects.

Okay, being hard on yourself AND optimistic and ambitious isn’t a great combination. It just sets you up for failure, or at least disappointment. Why do social situations make me anxious? Why does figuring out public transportation make me anxious? Why can’t I just transform into this outgoing, spontaneous person who is constantly energetic and socializing and doing everything that everybody else seems to be doing?

Because that’s not me. I think people, including me, paint studying abroad as a mind-blowing, life-changing experience. That’s sure what some people’s social media posts look like as they’re off in Europe or Australia or Hawaii. For me, this semester has been about me, having a chance to just do what I want to do. Which, most of the time, isn’t very glamorous. It’s often turned out to be lots of reading and getting into podcasts and learning about new things.

I’ve also faced some fears and have come to realizations. The pressure I put on myself in academics really went into haywire as Canadian grading became real. They don’t mention much about the actual classes when studying abroad, do they? For someone who has only really seen top marks for all of my hard work, not seeing that has been…hard. To say the least.

I’ve also learned how much I value the people in my life. Although I mentioned it before, most of my semester has been me constantly questioning, Am I doing this right? Am I missing out? Am I not doing enough? And I wish I had an answer. But global learning coordinators also don’t tell you much about being mentally ill and studying abroad. So many different factors are involved with studying abroad that I didn’t necessarily consider.

But with all of the hard days, not including the days when it just wouldn’t stop snowing, those hard days made me appreciate the good things even more. The coming of sunshine and spring temperatures was an amazing transformation. My means of exploring, walking until I feel like turning back, had me stumble upon some beautiful finds. I cannot imagine a landscape now without dense clusters of trees everywhere. I also greatly appreciate the people I do have in my life and how valuable they are to me.

Do I feel like a changed person coming back? I don’t know. Obviously we’re always changing and evolving, but I hope, if anything, I have become more grateful. More in awe of the beauty of nature and loved ones. I hope I can just go on walks wherever I am and stumble upon little discoveries. I hope my love of travel will push me toward whatever chapter may be next after I graduate next spring. Heck, maybe I’ll start throwing in “eh?” at the end of sentences just for fun. I have an excuse now, right?

It doesn’t feel like I’m flying back south, that I’ll no longer feel like a makeshift Canadian citizen. Because yes, I will truly miss this place. I will miss the immense kindness of every single person I meet, the scenery of this campus and town and country, the Prime Minister that I was mere feet from in passing, the new little place that I can call a little piece of home. Especially if I end up becoming a recluse in the Canadian woods. I have to keep my options open.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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Speaking My Language

After taking two years of French, three semesters in the States and one in Canada, I would have expected myself to be at least familiar with understanding the language.

Simply put, when people say that it’s harder for adults than kids to learn a new language, they weren’t “kidding.” (Kid? Kidding? I tried.)

Over two years of foreign language, I have experienced a variety of teaching styles and techniques to understand conjugations, grammar, and vocabulary. Some has stuck, but very often, it doesn’t. To utilize the benefits of learning another language, higher education should continue improving upon students’ learning styles and maturing minds.

The importance of learning a foreign language is quite apparent. As I mentioned in my first column of my semester abroad, research shows bilingualism not only helps individual face an increasingly globalized society, but it also improves memory and academic performance.

When abroad, I expected to come back to the States spouting off French. Being exposed to those who naturally dance on the line between speaking English or French has certainly been an interesting experience. However, my French class was not helpful. Even for reviewed information, I had difficulty being a passive student in a lecture hall watching the professor write sentences on the board. I couldn’t engage or pick up the words of audio recordings played. My one area of support, writing, was rarely needed or forced upon students in a timed test, inevitably leading to minuscule errors.

According to website FluentU, older students tend to view new languages through a filter of expectations and experiences. After speaking English for years, students inevitably search for those patterns they are used to seeing. For younger students, they learn from an unbiased perspective that allows them to pick up new languages easier.

Another setback, ironically, is older students more advanced cognitive function. An experiment conducted for LiveScience found that adult learners actually try too hard when learning language. Children use their procedural memory, the one humans use to pick up habits and skills, without the distraction of declarative memory system, the one for facts and vocabulary. Adult students have more complex systems that might distract them from picking up a second language as easily as their first. Much more research is needed to understand how adults learn language, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from pursuing knowledge.

No matter the age, memorization of grammar, vocabulary and conjugation has proven to be ineffective in long-term comprehension. The Washington Post reports a wide variety of research showing students not mastering languages by hard study and memorization. Rather, people acquire language when they understand what instructors tell them and what they read. This “comprehensible input” allows students to absorb and acquire the grammar and vocabulary of the second language.

My home campus’s modern foreign languages department, over my time fulfilling my graduation requirements, has been very forward-thinking when teaching students. Rather than a passive lecture with occasional individual work (requiring the professor to spend a solid half of the class time walking around the room to every student to make a single comment), USD professors have found progress in one-on-one discussions and work with other students. Also, classes are small enough that they often work together to write on the board and even relate back relevant topics using vocabulary words.

Some experts even go on to distinguish between language learning and true fluency. The British Council says the biggest mistake education makes with language is trying to teach languages in the same way we teach science, history and mathematics. Instead, students should acquire second languages in the same way children learn their first. To create an environment nurturing fluency, classroom should be comfortable places not forcing students to use a second language perfectly. Instructors should also respect the natural order of acquiring more subtle parts of language like nit-picky grammar rules. The content and intent of a student should be the priority.

As with any subject, everyone learns different. A cookie-cutter system isn’t effective for true understanding. According to The Guardian, linguists find greater success in teaching foreign languages through task-based learning. This technique focuses on providing realistic context to language beyond memorization that emphasizes language as a means of communication. While the grammar establishes the groundwork for fluency, interaction, between others and with communicative platforms, truly develops it.

With the evolution of English alone, teaching and learning any language should be an ever-evolving process reflecting the current setting. The complexities of a maturing mind might feel like an obstacle blocking the path, but it’s important to continue trying to take language away from strict textbooks and take it back to its roots: human communication. That communication looks more like blog posts and tweets, but nonetheless, it’s still language. And language is not passive. Language doesn’t come from sitting in a classroom staring at a list of conjugations and rules to follow. Instead, language comes from activity and living, breathing speakers.

I don’t necessarily plan on going to France and having in-depth conversations with locals, but no matter the language, I hope to pick up what I can and immerse myself in others’ cultures. Language is what sets humanity apart from other mammals. It’s truly a beautiful thing. And that fact wasn’t something illustrated on a whiteboard; it was made evident in how words move people forward, make them feel deep emotions, allow them to share their unique messages and make a lasting impact. Try conjugating that.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Serving up Intuition

Once I learned about the concept of intuitive eating, especially in the thick of disordered eating, I was simply appalled. In pure disbelief that there are people who are so in-tuned with themselves, they don’t overthink the food they eat. That sounds like a fantasy world where we all frolic through fields of wildflowers and chase rainbows.

Admittedly, intuitive eating is recent phenomenon that, on the surface, looks like a passing trend. But I could also say that about the rise of veganism, as many people see it, but I would beg to differ.

In a world obsessed with new diets popping up every day, intuitive eating could almost be described as an “anti-diet.” Essentially, those who follow the lifestyle listen to their natural hunger cues. They don’t count as calories or macro-nutrients. They don’t consider foods good or bad. They don’t stick to a strict time schedule of eating at the exact same time every day. They don’t obsess over the size of their plate or going in for seconds.

Maybe it’s just me, but living this lifestyle sounds like being some sort of zen master. The fact people can feel zero guilt for listening to their cravings and knowing when they’re hungry and satiated is mind-boggling to me. And yes, I do see that as blowing every other diet out of the water.

Although the terminology is recent, intuitive eating is really a basic concept. It’s not like other species are thinking about the amount they’re eating or what energy they’re burning. They innately know what they need to survive, and they don’t hold themselves back from that. Humans started out like that, too, contrary to the weird Paleo trends of “eating like a caveman.” Food is a source of energy and shouldn’t have a strict hold over your life.

In an ideal world, we would all be intuitive eating. We’d naturally be at our optimal sizes and shapes, we’d accept each other and ourselves as is, and we’d just strive to be our healthiest selves. But that would be way too easy on us. We’re already so ingrained with counting and measuring, it’s not easy to let that go and just be.

Ask anybody, and you’re going to struggle to find someone who hasn’t at one point gone on a diet or struggled with a form of disordered eating. Especially if you’re in the thick of recovery, don’t try to convince yourself that you can successfully eat intuitively. Trust me, I’ve tried. It didn’t work.

When we binge or restrict, we completely throw off our natural hunger cues. Even if you’re simply trying to follow some fad diet with a specific meal plan, we teach ourselves how to ignore the signals. We distract and discipline ourselves with controlling rules. Your mind and body become out of sync. Worst case scenario, you lose any sense of hunger or satiation all together as your body loses trust in your actions. Again, trust me, I’ve been there. In the disorder you seek control, and yet that’s the complete opposite of reality.

When I say I see intuitive eating as a monk-like practice, I mean that it indeed takes trust and patience because it’s very against the grain of modern diet culture. For so many, saying that food is truly just food, a part of being a living organism, it’s not easy to let that reality sink in. You must gauge your emotions and how your body feels before and after eating. You must avoid distractions to actually notice the signs of hunger or fullness. You actually slow down and become mindful of the activity that is eating and nourishing your body.

Obviously this isn’t an overnight change, and you cannot truly eat intuitively until you have some sense of normalcy if you come from a disordered background. But I think that once you can develop that natural, healthy relationship with food, you don’t overeat or restrict. Your weight doesn’t yo-yo regularly. Your mind isn’t chained to the empirical data or potential effects of every bite you eat.

I’m saying all of this out of admiration for those who successfully let themselves live and eat. Intuitive eating has definitely become an ultimate goal when it comes to my relationship with food. Since going vegan, it’s definitely gotten better, but I accept that it may never be perfect. The principles of the lifestyle, however, are very encouraging for anybody struggling: food is nourishment, and constantly monitoring your intake is not sustainable in the long-term.

I wish dieting didn’t exist. I wish so many people didn’t look in the mirror with disgust at their bodies. I wish we didn’t lust after certain “goals” based on how others live. I wish we didn’t stick on a label on every single food and attach “goodness” to them. I’d certain frolic if that were the world we live in.

Now more than ever, we need to relearn the habits we’ve picked up from magazines and click bait articles and commercials promoting the newest weight loss system. We’ve learned that the way we may naturally want to eat is wrong and must be regimented to fit specific standards. Instead, let’s learn that there is nothing wrong with our body’s cravings. There’s nothing wrong with how we look or the place our unique bodies individually thrive. If there’s anything wrong, it’s the belief that we aren’t good enough and need to change how we look and eat.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie