Monica Voth's semester in France changed her life

Outdoor market in Montpellier, France

Monica Voth, who will graduate in May will a degree in French and a minor in international studies, spent five months at a university in Montpellier, France. Her experience changed the course of her life.

“I’m moving back to France after graduation,” she said. “I really found myself over there. I don’t want to be anywhere else.”

Monica will move to Montpellier permanently. She has studied French since middle school but didn’t consider herself a proficient speaker of the language until the end of her study abroad experience. Monica, who grew up in Newton, Kan., ultimately wants to be a librarian. The following essay won third place in Washburn’s annual Study Abroad Essay Contest.

Sharing Cultures in the South of France

How was my five month study in France? It was very French. Search for words to define the south of France and they will just as accurately describe my semester in Montpellier, France. Cuisine focused, relaxing, spontaneous, multicultural, and rich with history sum up my language learning months away from Washburn.

I was fortunate enough to live with a family that gave me a true full-immersion experience. We passed hours together every day around the dining table discussing current events and enjoying the wonderfully prepared three-course meal of the night. My host mother cooked only with produce purchased at any of the numerous local outdoor markets. Through the markets and her meal preparation, my host taught me about the region’s agriculture and culinary specialties and the culture of France in general. Speaking only French, she also missed no opportunity to correct my language mistakes, which after all is why I was there.

Relaxation is imperative in the south of France. I learned the value of slowing down and taking time to appreciate the beautiful and rich culture around me. My friends and I passed the cooler months in cafes until the weather turned warm enough to spend our afternoons in parks and on the beach.

I learned to go with the flow in France. In Kansas, my days were outlined with to-do lists. In Montpellier, I took each day as it came and often made plans no more than six hours in advance. Without this freeing approach, I would have missed out on some of the most exciting and one-of-a-kind experiences I was blessed with during my study abroad. Without newfound spontaneity, I would not have begun a seemingly normal Tuesday attending classes and ended it in a small sailboat with a Swede, Canadian and three French off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Like in most cities in France, the people of Montpellier were deeply proud of their history and being founded in 900 CE, there was plenty for them to teach me. Walking to school every morning through ancient streets was astonishing. I had the chance to live in an area I might have only read about in history classes otherwise.

It was not just the French whose culture I had the chance to discover. At my school I had the pleasure of befriending students from all across Europe, South America, Africa and Australia. The highlights of my trip were the times spent in cultural exchanges with friends.

I flew to France to gain language learning experiences I could not have in Kansas and learn to converse fluently in French. I met these goals, but what I did not count on was the many other aspects of my life and self that were changed by my semester abroad. I have a greater appreciation for European cultures and a vastly expanded worldview, but most significantly, I ended my five months in Montpellier attached to a foreign city and culture in more ways than I imagined possible.