Obies Using Languages: Phoebe Downer ’17

Phoebe is a fourth-year Neuroscience Major and History Minor. Phoebe spent Fall 2015 studying abroad in Amsterdam and learned Dutch while there.

I spent last Fall studying abroad through the IES program in Amsterdam. I was directly enrolled in a Dutch University and took all my classes there, except for a Dutch language course which was offered by the IES program, specifically for international students. Although we weren’t required to learn Dutch and I could get by easily just speaking English it seems rude to live in another country and make no effort to learn their native language. Plus, it was a great opportunity to learn a language while immersed in its culture, which is such a different feeling than simply learning in a classroom, removed from cultural experiences. I can literally remember the first time I read an advertisement and understood what it said. It was an incredible moment of recognition and that feeling continued with every interaction I had where I realized I could actually understand and respond to native Dutch speakers. It’s such a powerful and rewarding experience to see it all come together like that.

The language itself is definitely hard though, and people in Amsterdam realize that. Even as I improved in my language skills it was always obvious that I was an international student and people would laugh at my incorrect pronunciation, but not in a rude way. And they were always willing to meet me halfway and help in my learning process. In one of my classes I was the only international student and it was so interesting for me to be the one odd-one out in that way. It was especially interesting because the Professor was teaching in English as his second language, whereas I was sitting there learning it from my perspective of English as a first language. Occasionally professors would even ask me for help with things, which is totally understandable, but I can only imagine how weird it must be for them to be in that position – teaching in your second language and having someone fluent sitting in the audience. It’s definitely cool to think about how our different perspectives collided like that though and gave us each something to learn from the other.


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