Author: Emily Bonia 

It was late last November, towards the end of term – the doldrums of the autumn term replete with essays, tests, imminent exams – when memories of the past summer evolve gradually into wistful hopes for the coming summer, that the new (amalgamated)  Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Culture (MLLC) devised an event in MUN’s University Centre to inform students about summer field schools in Europe, opportunities to  study abroad, see Europe and at the same time study of foreign languages and cultures.

Up until 2015, Student Services put together a similar “fair” on a larger scale that included go abroad opportunities not only for language students, but for students in every department and faculty.  The exhibit last November highlighted the MLLC programs – Nice (France), St. Pierre, Heidelberg (Germany), and St. Petersburg (Russia). Amidst the books, photographs, posters and flags, the antidote to November blues – the fair had a taste of what each country has to offer and chat with the specialists – profs and students who have had the experience.

The MLLC advisors Dr. Anne Thareau, Dr. Maria Mayr and Dr. Stuart Durrant, and students from the programs convinced students field schools are a unique catalyst which can be the high point of a student’s undergraduate years. All the faculty members justifiably claim that their summer programs in European locations are beneficial and rewarding.

Durrant goes as far as to describe the programs as “transformative – they really can change a student’s life”  – while the students’ reactions upon return from their far of advetures, are less reserved, their description leaves more to the imagination -“unbelievable, incredible…literally some of the most fabulous  places”.

Durrant has been taking students to the Russian summer program almost every summer since the late 1980s, where students have studied in some of the most famous places in the world. Up until 2008, students from MUN studied at the kochubey palace in St. Petersburg.

Durrant says that the attitude towards education changes for students who have had the experience and opportunity to go abroad for their studies. He says that, as a result of the intensive program that MUN students experience in his program, students often dream in Russian very early on. This is one of the largest indicators that the subconscious is working to maintain and understand the language that a student is learning.

The faculty also emphasize that “students should be aware of the possibilities and not take them for granted.  That’s why we arranged this afternoon drop-in.” While western European destinations are accessible, Russia is not a common destination for students – yet, according to Durrant and his students it is a great place to study in the summer. He has been taking students to the Russia (and before that to the USSR) almost every year  since the late 80s.

As with the French and German programs, students can now live with families or individuals in St. Petersburg, which was not the case prior to 2005. “Our students study in the heart of St. Petersburg and live in a cluster of modern apartments not far away with Russian hosts. Although students are apprehensive – and that is natural –  they find out quickly that for some reason, Newfoundlanders and Russians are very compatible, and in a few days feel much more at home in Russia than students from other provinces, the USA or England for example…even the Russians sense this kinship.”   Said Durrant.

Durrant says that the summer programs are the litmus test for language students to assess their ability to adapt and enjoy life in a foreign environment. With few exceptions, the experience whets the appetite for more – once is not enough, and first experiences lead to further steps, then career possibilities… It is the same for all the languages, French, Spanish, German or Russian.

One of Durrant’s students who studied in St. Petersburg in 2015 – Mitchell Bouchard – is off to Archangel (in the Russian far north) later this month for a semester through the North to North program, an exchange for MUN students to northern universities. “Russia has a big stake in this consortium; if Mitchell had not gone to St. Petersburg and ‘got a feel for life in Russia’, he would not have considered a term in Archangel at the Federal State Arctic University. It will affect his future positively I am sure. And incidentally, it is free – a rare word nowadays.  Other students have spent terms in Nice, various German cities, Moscow, Rostov, Murmansk, St. Petersburg – all sorts of  possibilities are there for those who want a European experience.”  

French Department Head Dr. Anne Thareau, said that, “We were assuming that there would be one [go abroad fair] in October, and when we hadn’t received notice I asked the secretary if I had missed something.”

“Nobody told us that it wouldn’t be happening. We checked into it and it was now a part of the internationalization office, that they would take over from student affairs [who previously ran the events].”

“When we found out it wouldn’t be happening, we felt it was really important to take it on ourselves. So I contacted my colleagues in German and Russian, we got a little money from the dean’s office and we bought food to attract students and we had fun planning the event.”

As a result of planning the event themselves, students who attended were more focused on the programs they offered.

“It is our students who attract other students. They are the ones who share their experience with the programs, which ultimately helped to sell the programs,” said Dr. Thareau.

The language skills of students who go abroad for language programs often have their skills improve in a major way. Dr. Thareau suggests that one of the largest parts of this is their improved confidence, which ensures student participation both abroad and upon return.  

“A huge part of studying abroad is the things you do outside of the classroom – all the things you learn from making friends, going to bars, excursions, travelling,” she said.

Dr. Thareau said that because the department had recently merged from French and Spanish, and German and Russian to be one department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, it was important for them to plan this event and offer students the ability to take one trip for the summer in which they could go learn French in France, German in Germany, Spanish in Spain and Russian in Russia.

“It is not uncommon that a student will take French and another language, so I’ve known students who’ve taken these language courses.”

Ultimately, Dr. Thareau is not alone in believing that “The university should definitely go back to having that fair, or find another way for students to become aware of these programs.”

For students who are interested in going abroad with a language department, they can contact the appropriate language department heads to find out more information about programs that are happening in the near future.