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Ask Away: 5 Questions for a Peace Corps Volunteer in Francophone Benin


We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…

Meet Julia—a Teaching English as a Foreign Language Peace Corps Volunteer Learning French & Bariba.

"Ask away: 5 questions" banner with Julia portrait photo

1. What was your first experience learning a language other than English—when did you start and how?

My first experience learning another language was in middle school. My oldest sister—who had pursued French all throughout high school, college, and eventually became a part of her doctoral thesis—encouraged me to take French classes. Following her advice, I chose to study French—a decision I am so thankful for!

2. What inspired and motivated you to keep learning the language?

More than anyone, I have mostly been inspired by all of my previous French teachers. In both high school and college, they shared the world of languages with me and showed me how many opportunities one can benefit from by speaking another language. With their guidance and encouragement, foreign languages have been a part of my life for the past ten years!

3. Have there been times you struggled with aspects of learning a new language, and how did you overcome them?

To me, language captures a wonderful duality of struggle and reward because you never stop learning!

When I studied abroad in France for a semester in college, I realized that nothing can help you learn a language better than being immersed in it. Though the first few weeks in a new country were challenging, having a supportive and patient host family and friends made all the obstacles of learning a language that much easier to overcome.

4. What role do language and cultural skills play in your current occupation?

Currently, foreign language shapes my every day! I am a Teaching English as a Foreign Language Peace Corps volunteer in the francophone country of Benin in Africa. Outside of English in my classroom, I am speaking either French or Bariba. There’s so much I’ve gained and am continuing to learn by speaking foreign languages.

5. Could you share with us a favorite conversation or moment that took place in another language—why is it special or memorable to you?

I have been lucky to experience many special moments in my life thanks to foreign languages. In Benin, I primarily communicate by speaking French, but little by little, I’ve been learning Bariba: the local language of my community.

For the past couple months, a few mothers that I live next to and I teach each other our maternal languages. We translate for one another with French as our connector.

After I came home from teaching at school one night, one of the mothers had surprised me by buying me a notebook so that I could record all of my new Bariba phrases and practice them. I was so touched by this kind gesture. Sharing in this language learning experience with the members of my community has been one of my most treasured times in Benin thus far.

BONUS QUESTION: What’s your favorite word or expression in another language?

My favorite expression, and probably most used, is “ça va aller,” which is French for “It will get better.”

If my language learning is at a standstill, or if things don’t go perfectly all the time, I think, “ça va aller.” The phrase suggests an inherent optimism that I find to be key in every new experience.

What’s next for Julia?

“I will be living in Benin for another two years, meaning another two years of language learning! Afterwards, I would like to continue to travel and see where it takes me. Whether or not I continue to pursue language for the rest of my life, learning a foreign language has changed my life, opened my worldview, and given me unforgettable experience that I will cherish forever.”

Check out the Lead with French page for resources on college programs, scholarship opportunities, student testimonials.  And, as always, don’t forget to share your language learning story @LeadWLanguages on social media!