Second languages and Science: The Big Bang!

Posted on Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Valerie Binder

On Convocation Day 2020, Valerie Binder was taking a little break from a summer job she loves, maintaining trails, portage routes and backcountry campsites in Lake Superior Provincial Park. While the virtual graduation ceremonies were taking place, Valerie was stretched out in her hammock under tall pines in Northern Ontario beside her favourite lake in the world, feeling confident about what the future holds with her honours BA (major in French as a second language, minor in biology) in hand – an atypical but winning combination! Some insightful reflections from an FLS graduate.

Why did you choose uOttawa?
I chose uOttawa for the French opportunities on and off campus. I was attracted to the French program’s courses and small class sizes, uOttawa’s bilingual campus, and the city’s bilingual culture and proximity to Quebec, a francophone province where I could immerse myself in the language.

How did uOttawa prepare you for the next chapter of your life?
uOttawa prepared me for my next chapter in life by providing opportunities for me to learn about my field of study and about myself. I grew not only in my capacity to think critically and work smarter (not harder), but also to step out of my comfort zone and meet new friends in all facets of the university experience — in university clubs, where joining the uOttawa outdoors club helped me connect with nature and like-minded people; in working for Residence Life, where I met my core group of friends and strengthened my ability to compassionately support others and myself; and in the community, where volunteering and activism helped me look beyond the campus and raise my voice in solidarity with others. These are experiences that will stay with me throughout my life.

What impact has learning a second language had on you (personally, academically)? 
Learning French has had an immensely positive impact on me. Academically, studying French has allowed me to genuinely enjoy my program of study (FLS), as I love languages and am interested in French language and culture. Going to class, connecting with professors and working on course projects always felt effortless and fun, as I genuinely loved learning French. Personally, the support I’ve received from professors and colleagues in FLS has helped me overcome my linguistic insecurity and gain more confidence in speaking a second language. Speaking French also opens another cultural door through which I can perceive the world. English is actually my second language, my mother tongue being Czech, so now having French, I feel like there are so many more opportunities to connect with different people.

What are some lessons learned?
The most significant lesson I learned throughout my time at uOttawa is that it’s more important to be adaptable and capable of working with change than it is to make the perfect plan. In my experience, having a general plan to work with was good, but it was going with the flow and welcoming new opportunities and paths that benefited me more than rigidity.

What are your hopes for the future?
In the future, I plan on teaching French, biology and outdoor education at the high school level, hopefully in Northern Ontario. Before then, this September, I’ll be studying Rekreologie -pedagogika volného času (recreation and the study of free time) at the University of Olomouc in the Czech Republic, with the intent of going on exchange to Norway to study friluftsliv (outdoor education and open-air living, specifically the Norwegian philosophy) for a semester. Overall, wherever I end up in my life, I plan on just being happy.

Any words of advice you would like to share with new students, or even with your past self?
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the competitive culture that is often facilitated in academia, and to let that culture make your personal growth and academic achievements feel inadequate just because there isn’t a spotlight on them. I had an Indigenous studies professor who taught us that instead of trying to be the best, we should focus on simply being well, which taught me two things. One, there is nothing wrong (and everything right) with following a program you enjoy that makes you happy to learn, aiming for a life of peace and prosperity; and two, your emotions are always a valid factor in your decision-making. If something feels right, it probably is.

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