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Allison Dohnalek

April 5, 2016

Year: Junior (graduating May 2017)

Hometown: Eagan, MN

Why did you choose to major or minor in French?
Going into my undergraduate career, one of my goals was to be fluent in a second language, so continuing my French studies wasn’t even a question. I decided to major in French in large part because I wanted to study abroad for a year to accelerate my fluency and have the experience of cultural immersion. I wholeheartedly believe studying another language and culture(s) is an essential part of a global, open-minded worldview.

What has been your favorite part of your experience in the department?
The absolute best part of my experience has been the opportunity to spend a year studying abroad in Montpellier, France. My courses at l’Université Paul Valéry have exposed me to a different education system while developing my language skills and introducing me to new topics. I’ve also had the opportunity to put both my French and English skills to work while interning at an Anglophone bookstore, where I’ve been introduced to a charming mixture of French-English learners and Anglophone expats. Living in the Mediterranean region, where cultural exchange has always been a defining characteristic, has helped me appreciate that contemporary French culture is emblematic of many global phenomena. However, living with a host family has proved to be the best cultural immersion: eating French cuisine, conversing every night at dinner, watching and discussing French news, and sharing travel stories with my family has enriched my French studies unlike any other experience.

Are you pursuing any minors, internships, or fields of interest outside your French major? How do you feel they enhance your study of French and/or your career plans?
Aside from my French major, I am also majoring in English and Global Studies. Across all of these majors, I am interested in postcolonial literature and social theory as ways to understand global inequalities. My French major gives me the language skills to pursue research in a second language on these topics, and many of my French courses and their texts, including Moroccan literature about migration and Louis Althusser’s analysis of ideology, have shown me how Francophone culture and literature are interconnected with the subjects I study in other disciplines.

During my sophomore year, I interned at the Alliance Française, Minneapolis’ French cultural center, where I helped plan and execute their cultural programs. I had a lot of fun strategizing different ways to promote and share Francophone cultures, and I was able to use my language skills while working with people from Francophone cultures around the world.

During my year abroad, I have been able to exercise my love of travel, visiting many cities in France, throughout Europe, and even in Morocco. Traveling has truly helped me appreciate my study of French as not only a means of communication but as a way to begin to understand different cultures.  

After graduation, I hope to pursue more experiences abroad through either a Fulbright Scholarship or a year of teaching in France before beginning graduate study.

What is something about the French department that most people wouldn’t know?
The French department is not all about France! My courses in the department have helped me appreciate just how diverse the Francophone world is. My first elective course in the department was about migration in the Mediterranean region, with an emphasis on Moroccan writers. In addition, many of my other courses have dealt with other parts of the Francophone world and the diversity of the French language.    

What French courses would you recommend for Majors? For non-majors who want to take a French course?
For majors, I would recommend taking a conversation course: it’s a great way to push yourself to speak more, which is more difficult for many students (including me) than reading or writing in French. In addition, you often get to broach different topics than literature and culture courses, meaning your vocabulary will expand to encompass other important domains. I learned a lot of vocabulary on subjects such as dating, gastronomy, and travel in a conversation course, which has been incredibly useful during conversations with my French host family.

For non-majors, I would recommend taking one of the French department courses taught in English. You’ll have the opportunity to study a topic of Francophone literature or culture before committing to the grammar courses you have to complete before the amazingly diverse and interesting elective courses available to majors and minors.

When you are not in class, where can you usually be found on campus?
At the moment, you’ll find me either traveling Europe or enjoying a coffee and a book in one of Montpellier’s many cafes when I’m not in class. (La vie, c’est très dur.) Don’t worry, I do have to do homework here, too.

In between and after classes at the U, you can probably find me library- and cafe-hopping, where I will be finishing a stack of readings, writing papers, and taking long study breaks with friends. Some of my favorite spots include Espresso Royale in Dinkytown, the couches in Folwell Hall, and Wilson Library on West Bank. You can also catch me at the offices of the Minnesota Daily, where I work as a copyeditor. Close reading in English and French have proved exceedingly useful in making sure our student newspaper is accurate and well-written.