Reflections: Langugage Barriers and Impact

Bonjour tout le monde!
My summer in France is wrapping up, and I have had an excellent experience. I am writing this post from my office in Grenoble, France. Here, I have started the last week of my internship at APARDAP, an association that works to match refugees, sans-papier (people without official immigration papers), and other immigrants with sponsors and help integrate them successfully into life in France.
My stretch here has been exciting and stretching, to say the least. Before coming to France, my French level was mediocre at best. I had participated in “Explore” through the Canadian government a couple of years ago, and I had taken a few classes at the university, but that was the extent of my French experience. Moving to France for the summer has been interesting. Especially trying to live and work with a language barrier. Before I started my stretch experience here, I took a class through the CUEF at Le Universities de Grenoble Alpes which significantly helped to improve my French; however, nothing prepared me for working in a French Association. Until this point, all my French language experience had been among other Anglophones except for my professors. Here, I submerged myself into an environment with primarily native speakers. I remember my first day where I sat in on a meeting and was overwhelmed with native French speakers talking amongst each other and over top of one another. I wasn’t sure if I was prepared for the next six weeks that laid ahead or if I could succeed in such a foreign environment. The last five weeks have proven to be stretching, but I have learned to thrive in this environment. I have learned so much about the struggles of immigration, refugees, and sans-papiers here in France and how associations like APARDAP have led the cause to help these people succeed in both their administrative procedures and integration into everyday life in Grenoble.
So, while my “stage” (internship en Français 😉) has been fascinating, but I’ve been asking myself, “How does this relate to leadership?” While choosing my stretch experience, I didn’t know what I would be doing during my internship here at APARAP. I also didn’t know how it would relate to leadership (although I hoped it would), It has proven difficult to lead in a foreign environment in a language that I do not speak perfectly. At the same time, APARDAP is an association that leads in their work with refugees, sans-papier, and immigrants. By taking part in this organization, I have been a leader. I have lead in Grenoble by helping to create an environment that is welcoming to foreigners, especially during a time where many people would prefer to close borders. I have lead by aiding in integration and keeping these people, who legally are not allowed to work, keeping themselves occupied constructively. I have also picked up soft skills from this internship that will be transferable into other leadership positions in the future. For example, my experience in a foreign country and working in a foreign language has given me more empathy for other people in my situation. Breaking cultural barriers is increasingly important in a globalizing world, and especially in this global political climate. This internship has given me excessive experience with this. Not only have I had to break French cultural barriers, but also barriers between myself and the refugees from an array of countries. This internship has given me a unique experience and perspective to bring with me back to Canada and apply in my leadership roles.

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