Tag Archives: language barrier

Studying Abroad in Paris

By Autumn Palen

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3 minute read]

Prior to 2020, during one of my spring semesters at USC as an undergraduate student, I studied abroad in Paris and it was a fully immersive experience. All of my classes were in French, the family I lived with was French, and wouldn’t you know it, quite a lot of people I passed on the streets were keen on speaking French. Those handful of months were wonderful. My teachers were all angels, the city was gorgeous, and although I had a relationship dynamic with my host family akin to Harry Potter’s relationship with the Dursleys, I’d say that overall I enjoyed my experience.

First of all, the city is gorgeous. Ridiculously so. I remember my first night there—awake since 5 am, taking a post-dinner trip to the Louvre, walking from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, and stopping mid-journey for wine and cheese. The mix of sleep deprivation, jet-lag, numbness from the cold, and walking nearly all day culminated into the sensation that I was drifting through a dream. I couldn’t have actually been there; it was all too much. I thought there was no way this tiny, ovular, romantic city was going to be my home for the next fifteen weeks.

Wine and cheese from a local cafe in Paris, taken from @autumn.palen on Instagram

But it was my home. Every weekday, I took the metro to class. Although admitting my adoration for the Paris Metro garnered weird looks from actual Parisians (mainly because of the general odor permeating the trains/platforms, as well as the occasional muzak cover of Ne Me Quitte Pas), I held strong that I loved the public transportation system. It was so efficient, arriving every 3 minutes, maybe 6 in the worst-case scenario (I understand that Los Angeles is a much larger, more car-based city, but I couldn’t help but notice how much more efficient the Paris Metro was than the LA one).

Photo of the Paris Metro taken by @autumn.palen on Instagram
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Learning to Love the Italian Language

By Arianna Babraj

[5 minute read]

Before changing my major from Public Policy to International Relations, I had a lot of doubts concerning my future career path and my academic focus. The most looming concern I had, however, was the language requirement that I had to complete as a part of my coursework. I had always dreaded my high school Spanish classes, and even though I had studied abroad in Italy during my freshman year, I had avoided studying Italian beyond the introductory level. When I was placed into Italian II at USC, I was convinced that I would fail and went in counting on the fact that I only had to get a “Pass” grade until Italian IV. So, I pushed my worries to the side and figured I would deal with that later.

I don’t think I have ever been more excited about a B+ than when I got my first Italian II exam back. After a few classes, surprisingly, I actually found myself looking forward to the lessons. By the end of the semester, I had even added a minor in Italian and was spending my free time learning vocabulary through listening to Italian songs and watching Italian TV shows. At the end of the semester, I made a pact with myself that I would go back to Italy when I reached a conversational level so that I could truly experience Italy, and fully get rid of my hesitations towards learning a new language.

The next semester, I walked into my first class as an Italian minor, determined to improve my speaking. My professor was one of the sweetest and most wonderful people I had ever met, and she is someone that I aspire to be like. She was supportive of me and my goals and took the time to get to know me both in and outside of the classroom. When I told her about my hopes of moving to Europe after graduation, she told me that she saw a lot of herself in me and encouraged me to take risks and go on adventures.

Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

One summer, I took the risk of designing an independent research project with an IR professor which required me to conduct interviews with Italians in Italy. I was nervous of course, but I was confident in what my professors had taught me. On the plane ride over to Italy, I remember thinking how far I had come since my freshman year when I was too nervous to approach people on the street to ask for directions in Italian. Now, here I was, speaking with confidence and experiencing something new.

I was lucky enough to have a friend on this trip with me. We had both had the same Italian III professor and we both formed a strong relationship with her over our passion for the language. This same passion brought us together and gave us the opportunity to work on this project. This trip brought us even closer together, and we now consider each other best friends. 

While on this trip, we received a message from our professor offering us the opportunity to visit her hometown and meet her mother. Unfortunately, my professor was not in Italy at the same time, but her mother was willing to host us with open arms. We were ecstatic and immediately accepted. Neither of us could believe that we were actually going to meet our professor’s mom and visit her hometown.

Photo by Bogdan Dada on Unsplash

That day was one of the happiest and most beautiful days of my life. I don’t think I ever stopped smiling during my visit. The fact that we were there, speaking Italian and bonding with our professor’s family and friends was incredible. I was honored to have even received the offer of meeting her family and visiting her hometown. That day I truly felt that I had accomplished my goal. Never did I think when I set the goal of eventually returning to Italy, that it would lead me on such a beautiful adventure.

Featured Image by Christopher Czermak on Unsplash

Arianna is a recent USC graduate that received her B.A in International Relations. During her freshman year, she studied abroad for an academic year in Rome, Italy, and she continued to study Italian throughout her undergraduate degree. She loves traveling and learning about other cultures and, in her free time, she likes to take dance classes, go hiking, and watch movies.

Music: the Universal Language

By Michael Neufeld

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[4 minute read]

I get it, learning a language is difficult. Not only do you have to learn the vocabulary, grammar and syntax of a different language, but you also have to discover all of the nuances, idioms, and contexts for word usage so that the things that you say make sense and express meaning. Because learning an instrument holds many of the same challenges, music is often referred to as a language of its own. Not only must you spend time learning to play an instrument or sing, but you must learn to read and listen to it carefully to truly engage with it. There are multiple levels of meaning in music, and a lot of those levels are changed by the perception of the listener.

Photo by William Recinos on Unsplash

The main similarity between music as a language and actual spoken languages is that the content never changes. In the same way “a ball” in English is “una pelota” in Spanish, a D major chord may be called something different in a different culture. However, many cultures still recognize a ball as a round object used for playing games. In the same way, a D major chord still retains the same sound produced; it doesn’t change across cultures. Thus, when orchestras perform the works of Tchaikovsky, they will sound the same. Played with some level of variance due to the styles of each culture (think of it like speaking with an accent).

The sounds that are produced do not change much across cultures, so emotions and ideas can be universally translated. What I mean by this is, what sounds beautiful in America will often sound beautiful in Japan. What sounds bad in Germany will sound similarly bad in Mexico. A romantic song may still carry that romantic connotation in another context. A scary song can still be used to induce fear in other settings. This is the magic of music: it can carry such emotional weight across a variety of cultures and nations, and by doing so it transmits power, messages, and feelings where words cannot.

Photo by Sergio Capuzzimati on Unsplash

An example of this can be found in the popular J-Pop song, “夜に駆ける,” or translated to English, “Racing into the Night,” released at the end of 2019. I personally have a very small understanding of the Japanese language; although, I know enough to hear fragments of words or sentences, I cannot understand the entirety of a song without looking up translations. However, I can still feel the undeniable energy of a song, the compelling melodies in the vocalist and piano parts, and the emotional release during the breaks and key changes at the end. This song in particular has been on my mind since I discovered it for myself, due to its attention-grabbing qualities. Interestingly enough, this song was based on a Japanese short story by the name of “タナトスの誘惑,” or “Temptation of Thanatos.” Thanatos was the ancient Greek personification of non-violent death, likened to a god according to the mythology of the time. Here we can see how the art and ideas themselves have transcended cultures, both spatially and temporally.

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