Bonjour from Boone

New partnership gives students international classroom experience

Erin O'Neill

From Boone to Belgium, students across the world are improving their language skills one Zoom call at a time. 

Students in French 1050 are participating in the Conversation Sections, a partnership between students at App State and students at Université de Mons-Louvain in Mons, Belgium.

The Conversation Sections provide students with an opportunity to practice their French and English skills with one another. The sessions began the week of Oct. 7, and students will meet weekly in groups over Zoom, a video conferencing website, until the week of Nov. 18 and discuss a different theme each meeting. 

“We picked themes that are going to create conversation,” said Jean-Francois Fournier, the professor for the French 1050 class.

The topics of discussion include tourism, politics, questions of identity, taboos, the environment and education issues. Each group of students will read an article, in either French or English, related to the theme prior to the video conference. 

Hannah Leopard, a sophomore journalism major with a French minor, wrote in an email that the partnership allows students at App State to make connections outside of the country. 

“This is such a valuable experience because not only are we practicing our French, but we’re able to do it with people our own age who use that language throughout every day, and it’s useful for them because they get to practice their English, as well,” Leopard wrote. 

The Conversation Sections is also a way for students to create networking opportunities and have an “authentic learning experience” with native French speakers, Fournier said. 

“It’s simply to practice a conversation in a natural setting as if they were in the country, without buying a plane ticket,” Fournier said. 

Regan Booth, a sophomore public relations major with a French minor, said the conversations are a good opportunity to improve her French skills, but can be difficult at times because the students in Belgium are more advanced in English than students in her class are in French.

“The most challenging part is asking questions in French about the articles because the topics are even difficult to discuss in English, and so then when you have to ask it in French and you forget the words, it’s really stressful,” Booth said. 

Another obstacle students face is the time difference between the two locations. Mons, Belgium is five hours ahead of Boone.

“What is complicated is, obviously, it’s not the same time zone, but I think that because they know that they are going to have a good time, it’s not seen as work,” Fournier said. 

Leopard said the students laugh a lot together, discuss what Belgian students think of Americans and talk about their college experiences. 

“The most interesting part is getting to know some French lingo that they use that we are not taught in French class. Especially, it coming from teenagers because they have very similar phrases to what we would use, and these are things our French teacher would never be able to teach us,” Leopard wrote. 

Although the Conversation Sections are a mandatory part of class, the partnership is meant to be more of a cultural experience than an academic one, Fournier said.

“It’s not a question of GPA, it’s a question of opening up a window of the world to meet people,” Fournier said.