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Ortakales ’16 boosts language skills in France

Yaslynn Rivera '16 and Jennifer Ortakales '16 in France

Yaslynn Rivera '16 and Jenny Ortakales '16 lived with the same French-speaking family while studying abroad in France during the 2015 summer break period. (Courtesy Photo)

Jenny Ortakales ’16 has always wanted to visit France, but the cost of spending an entire semester abroad, for her, seemed a bit daunting.

“My program was a shorter time commitment and for less money,” said the Journalism major. “It was an amazing experience. I really hope Emerson keeps it going because not everyone can afford an entire semester abroad.”

Global Spotlight SeriesOrtakales’ two-week study program, titled Intercultural Communication in Aix-en-Provence, brought 10 Emerson students and Associate Professor of Journalism Jerry Lanson to southern France for the second half of May. Lanson was on sabbatical in Aix-en-Provence last year.

“It was my first time outside the United States,” said Ortakales, who is from Belmont, New Hampshire. “I’ve wanted to go to France for so long. It was one of those feelings of, ‘Wow, I’m finally experiencing some of the French culture I’ve been dying to see.’”

The France program is one of several new summer study abroad programs that Emerson’s Office of Internationalization and Global Engagement launched this year under the Global Pathways initiative.

France program students - summer 2015

Students who participated in Emerson's Intercultural Communication in Aix-en-Provence, France, in May 2015 pose for a photo. From left (top row): Sheldon Lui, Max Folgert '18, Christine Fusco '16, Colby Smalzel '15, (middle row) Yaslynn Rivera '16, Lili Clement '16, Jenny Ortakales '16, Alex Zakon '16, (bottom row) Taylor Anthony, and Luca Bucura '17. (Courtesy Photo)

Students this summer are also studying in Greece, Czech Republic, Mexico, Ireland, Austria, and the Netherlands at Emerson’s Kasteel Well.

In France, Ortakales and her classmates lived with French families and studied the language at the College’s partner institution, IS-Aix.

“I got to a point where I started to think in French and even had a dream in French,” Ortakales said. “I was like, ‘This is crazy! It’s seeping into my brain on a whole other level!’”

Ortakales and her roommate, Yaslynn Rivera ’16, lived with a family that spoke mostly French.

“They spoke a bit of English—the husband more than the wife,” Ortakales said. “But they tried to speak to us in French as much as possible. Some people stayed with families that didn’t speak any English at all.”

The students also took guided trips to historic sites and day trips throughout the historic region of Provence.


Jenny Ortakales '14 in southern France in May 2015. (Courtesy Photo)

“One day we went to Les Beaux, this little town up in the hillsides,” Ortakales said. “You get to walk around these winding roads and cobblestone streets with these tiny businesses. It was really beautiful.”

In addition to keeping daily journals, the students read the book 60 Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong (2003, Sourcebooks), which was written by two Canadian journalists who embedded themselves in French culture. Some students, including Ortakales, also interviewed a French journalist.

“It’s more elite,” Ortakales said of journalism in France. “You really have to follow a specific path.”

Most journalists in France must carry an identity card, the “carte de presse,” and follow more stringent rules compared to American journalists.

Back in Boston, Ortakales is working at a downtown clothing store where she often comes into contact with summer tourists, many of whom are French-speaking.

“It’s made me more confident to approach someone in the store and ask [in French] how they’re doing,” she said. “It’s cool how I could take that knowledge and use it in my job…and help them feel more understood.”

Visit Emerson’s Education Abroad and Domestic Programs website.

Editor's Note: This article is part of the twice-weekly Global Spotlight Series that examines the experiences of Emerson College students who worked or studied abroad this summer. New articles will appear Mondays and Wednesdays in August on Emerson College Today.

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