Cougars study abroad
By Ethan M. Rogers
Clackamas Community College students and some faculty traveled to France for the college’s summer 2023 study abroad program, experiencing life from another perspective.
“What was mentioned? No air conditioning. Yep, nope, there’s no air conditioning. It was pretty hot,” said Ernesto Hernandez, chair of world languages department at CCC.
Hernandez, who grew up bilingual speaking English and Spanish, studied French and German in college, learned Japanese while living there and has lived in many countries around the globe. He is one of a handful of staff responsible for the study abroad program, which in the summer of 2023 was two weeks of cultural immersion in the south of France at a town called Perpignan and three days of relaxation in Barcelona.
For Hernandez, returning to France is a homecoming of the heart.
“What do I say, my body is Nicaraguan, I’m American, of course, (and) my heart is French,” he said.
Having a deeper relationship with a culture or with a language, Hernandez said, “is like having a relationship with a person, actually. It’s not always pretty, but having a deep relationship, whether it’s with a person or with an entire culture or language, is worth having.”
In addition to the 2023 trip to France, the Global Study Committee has for years been providing students with study abroad opportunities that combine college credit classes with immersive cultural experiences as a way to deepen students’ connection to the world around them.
Recent years have included trips to Ireland and Costa Rica. The next study abroad trip, in December, will see 30 CCC students travel, with four staff members, to Ireland.
As an older student concentrating on French language studies for personal enrichment, Zandra Walton had an interesting perspective on the France/Spain trip.
“I’ve been to Europe before, some of the girls that had been on the trip hadn’t been, but it was kind of fun to just watch the discovery for people, especially that haven’t been to another country,” Walton said. “I think a trip like this is probably a better opportunity than just going for a week as a tourist because you get a little bit more immersed and a little bit more understanding of what the differences are and how people and cultures are different in different countries.”
For Hernandez, truly experiencing a culture and language doesn’t start until you have to deal with some of the everyday problems of life. Something as simple as getting yourself to work, renting an apartment, or getting a driver’s license. These are things that a tourist can’t experience but which the study abroad program touches on, if only in a small way.
“You start seeing the world in a very different way,” Hernandez said. “It puts a light onto your world that you thought you knew where things are done in this way, ooh, and other people do it this way, interesting and maybe we could do it that way and maybe actually they could learn from us a little bit in this area – it changes you, you’re never the same person again.”
Some people may be put off by traveling to a country where they don’t speak the language, but having fluent language skills was not a prerequisite to join the study abroad trip to France.
Students were able to take different levels of French language classes. While in France the group stayed in dormitories.
“It’s not like staying at a hotel and being catered to,” Walton said, “it’s more just having to make your way in a different language in a different place where they do things differently, it’s a good, eye-opening experience.”
Walton, after only a year of French study, was surprised she could understand so much of what was being taught.
“The instructors didn’t speak a whole lot of English because it was an international summer program, so one of the nice things was being able to meet students from all over the world that were in the program,” Walton said. “It helped you kind of flex that creative muscle in trying to understand what was going on around you when it’s not your native language. It was actually a little stressful but it was kind of fun at the same time.”
The group had different outings including tours, beach days and visiting historic villages including the small Mediterranean town of Perpignan.
“I kind of loved that it wasn’t really touristy,” Walton said. “It was a very French city, so there weren’t a whole lot of tourists, which was nice.”
French markets are pretty incredible,” Walton said. “People bring their little rolling carts and they go to the markets, like farmer’s markets but they have them a couple times a week and that’s where a lot of people get the majority of their food. They don’t buy in big supermarkets like we do. Just kind of cool to see the big vendors with 150 different cheeses or fresh seafood and stalls at the marketplace. Our farmer’s markets are pretty great but the ones there put us to shame.”
Communications instructor and Global Study Committee member Kerrie Hughes loved her trip to France and Barcelona and looks forward to the school’s future study abroad programs to Ireland in December and Costa Rica next summer, despite having met with misfortune in France.
“I ended up breaking my foot in France,” Hughes said. “We were going to a castle towards the latter part of the trip and I was wearing flip flops and I tripped on cobblestones. Yes I know; I should not have been wearing flip-flops on cobblestones.”
Despite the crowds, Barcelona offered students a chance to experience another culture that was both different from their own and different from the one they’d just spent two weeks immersing themselves in.
“Barcelona was amazing,” Hughes said. “I think all of us that went on this trip really thought that Barcelona was a great way to end the trip. The two countries are so different. France has a very… they’re a little bit more ethnocentric, meaning if you don’t speak French completely it can kind of annoy them. They didn’t always like it when we were trying to figure things out. You get that in all countries but that was kind of what we experienced in France.
“But when we went to Barcelona,” Hughes said, “it’s such an international city that everybody spoke English to some degree and if you didn’t know how to say something they would teach you. They would have fun with you.”
Hughes called this a 360 degree turn from the experience in France.
For Hughes, it was like “being welcomed. We would go to restaurants and we would all be trying to order in the language the restaurant’s menu was written in and if we said it wrong they would help us say it right instead of getting mad or getting frustrated they would joke with us and laugh with us. It was one of the most welcoming cities that I have ever been to in all of my travels. It was absolutely beautiful.”
Being able to get an up close look at two different cultures was a major side benefit of the trip.
“To really see the fundamental differences of two different countries that are right up next to each other,” Hughes said. “I think for the students, it was, ‘Wow, I’ve got two examples that are completely different from my own culture.’ We’re fortunate enough to be able to do that in Ireland too because we’re in Ireland and then we go spend the day in Northern Ireland which is a completely different country.”
Although this December’s trip to Ireland is booked solid, with 30 students and four faculty, there may still be room on the summer 2024 trip to Costa Rica.
For more information on study abroad trips contact Kerrie Hughes at Kerrieh@clackamas.edu