Studying French in SwitzerlAND
I decided to study French at University of Lausanne because the program had a holistic approach to language acquisition and advancement. Being immersed in the French language has helped me in drafting U.S.-France international agreements at work, and analyzing primary sources published by the French government and think tanks. Academically, I would like to use my French language skills to broaden the scope of my thesis next semester. It would be great to analyze French, Korean, and American news articles to understand how intelligence agencies leveraged the negotiators’ uncertainty and mediated security negotiations, respectively, in France, South Korea, and the U.S. This would be a great academic challenge and professional development opportunity for two reasons. First, this would be the first time that I’ve conducted academic research using my French language skills. Second, I would be able to bring in international perspectives regarding global security and intelligence issues, rather than focusing solely on U.S. national security issues. My thesis would serve as a foundation for my career interest in international security cooperation.
Whenever I had time outside of my language studies, I explored Switzerland to learn more about the complexities of the Swiss culture. I realized that the image of Switzerland abroad—of purity, punctuality, precision—is entirely different from the reality within its borders. I began to see that Switzerland is a far more complex country than first meets the eye. It's a country that takes a long time to get to know, and it's a country that takes even longer to get to know you, the stranger. It's not a place to expect instant bonding and bear hugs. Without French, German or Italian language skills, Switzerland is very difficult to settle down in, especially as the Swiss government is increasingly denying foreigners’ visas. Many Swiss women have revealed the difficulties of maintaining a job after giving birth to their children, because Swiss companies are not legally obligated to uphold anti-discriminatory policies as American companies do. I was surprised to find that many of the locals were unaware of the Swiss government’s stance on maintaining and improving national security. Many have stated that it is mostly due to the lack of transparency, which then contributes to the locals’ lack of awareness and interest. It was interesting to see that there are significant cultural differences among the German-speaking cantons, in the north, east, and center of the country, and the French- and Italian-speaking cantons in the east and the south respectively. Apart from the obvious linguistic differences, each region’s economy, cuisine, political preferences, climate, and education system were very unique. Switzerland is a place filled with cultural, historical, and linguistic complexities and one can only learn about its realities by living and exploring this country. It has been invaluable to have had the chance to advance my understanding of the French language, the Swiss people, and the complexities of the Swiss culture and history.