That Time I Infiltrated An Undergraduate Language Class

By: Joanna Zhang
12/27/2020

I can’t remember the last time I took a class for fun. It must have been freshman year of high school when I enrolled myself in a creative writing camp much to my dad’s chagrin. After that, my schedule was always filled with required classes, or classes that I have to take to benefit me somehow in my academic journey. So when I finally finished my required PhD classes, I decided to actually take a class for no reason other than out of personal interest. 

I had always loved learning languages. I think as someone who didn’t grow up speaking English but eventually became fluent, I had some intuition on what was required to grasp a new language, and enjoyed the sense of accomplishment that came with understanding something other than my mother tongue. All throughout middle school and high school, I took French as an elective. It was partly out of interest, but mostly because I knew colleges wanted well-rounded students. So naturally, upon entering college, I never touched French again due to the heavy course-load of my engineering major. 

However, after some (forced) self-reflection during this locked-down summer, I decided to pick it back up again. So out of a whim, I enrolled in a French class at UCSD for Fall Quarter. Not going to lie, it was intense. The class met five times a week, three days to work on speaking skills and two days to work on grammar. On top of grammar homework, we also had to read a book. There were three exams and weekly vocabulary and reading quizzes. All classes were taught in French with absolutely no English allowed. If you didn’t know how to say something, you had to come up with some roundabout way (in French) to get the professor to understand you. 

Despite all the work, I loved it. I loved learning about French culture, doing the readings, and giving my two cents in class in my terrible French. Sometimes I even enjoyed learning the grammar. Most of all, I loved the fact that after eight years, I could finally take a class purely for fun again. It gave me something else to think about when I was feeling burnt out with lab-work, and provided a loose form of structure in my life. In the end, it really wasn’t that bad. I guess when you don’t feel pressured to earn good grades, learning can be fun again. My takeaway from all this? Grad school is probably one of the only times in your life where you have so much flexibility, so take the time to pursue something outside of research! UCSD offers classes on so many different subjects, it doesn’t hurt to check them out! Meanwhile, catch me struggling even more in Intermediate French in the Winter Quarter.

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