Awarded to an undergraduate who achieves proficiency in a foreign language, cultural understanding and enthusiasm for foreign language learning
1st prize: Alice Macdonald 2008, biological engineering division, Ann Arbor, MI
2nd prize: Phi Ho 2008, Sloan School of Management, New Iberia, LA
3rd prize: Patrick Varilly 2006, physics, San Jose, Costa Rica
First prize winner Alice Macdonald used the prize to travel to France, which she recounts below:
When I hopped off the plane at Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Paris, I didn’t immediately notice the cultural differences between the United States and France. Sure, most people were speaking a different language but just how different the two cultures are didn’t really hit me until I returned to America three months later. My return to the United States was probably one of the only experiences of my life that could be described as surreal.
After clearing customs on my return flight in the late afternoon (or early morning in the Parisian time zone I was adjusted to), I needed a coffee. Sadly, no Parisian cafés were to be found at the Philadelphia International Airport. I settled for a coffee chain and after accidentally attempting to order in French and pay with euros, I was shocked to receive a “small” sized drink larger than any I had ever seen in France.
As I adjust back to the states, I miss kissing everyone twice on the cheeks, saying bonjour to everyone, and I even miss the fog of cigarette smoke that is almost inescapable. Another change I failed to notice while actually in France was my French language improvement. Only when I spoke French with my friends back at MIT and they commented on my improvement did I start to think about all the things I had learned.
In short, my experience in France was probably the most educational of my life, even if I didn’t notice that I was learning at the time. My trip definitely reinforced my belief that in order to learn a foreign language, or to appreciate a different culture – you have to experience it firsthand. Meeting and speaking with Parisians, although extraordinarily intimidating at first, proved to be a really great and rewarding experience.