FFS graduate Bruni shares internship experience in Paris
Recent FFS graduate and Schreyer Honors Scholar Michelle Bruni ('16, B.A. in Language and Linguistics) sat down with us and answered some questions about her recent internship in Paris. She shares insights about working in France and how her studies in the department prepared her for life abroad.
What was the nature of your internship and how did you arrange it?
This past summer I completed a 3-month long internship in Paris, France. I worked in a linguistics laboratory that is funded by the CNRS, Ecole Normale Supérieure and Université Paris 3. The research in the lab focuses on linguistics and Natural Language Processing. I actually found this internship through a listserv I joined called Paris Linguists. Every day I would receive several emails about new papers, conferences and job postings. Eventually there was an advertisement for this position and I just applied for it! I was one of ten other interns in the lab, all of whom were French students.
What were your duties and tasks?
I worked in the lab five days per week, around 7-8 hours each day. My job was to choose four texts, two in French, two in English, and annotate the corpus by creating co-reference chains. For example, in the sentence “John called his mother”, I would create a chain between the words “John” and “his”, since the two words refer to the same person. I would also create a separate chain for “his mother” if she was mentioned later on in the text. The texts I chose were Sarrasine by Honore Balzac, La Morte Amoureuse by Theophile Gautier, The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Only the two French texts would be used for research in the lab, but being that English is my first language, my director wanted me to compare and contrast how co-reference is marked in both French and English.
What was it like to work in France? What particular challenges or differences did you notice?
I had studied abroad in Paris for my entire junior year of college, but working in Paris was a completely different experience. One of the major differences I noticed was that the French begin work later in the morning, and end later at night. Most of the researchers didn’t arrive to the office until 11am, and others would sometimes leave at 7pm or 8pm. I remember arriving my first day around 9am and no one was there! Another thing that was particular to this lab was that everyone ate lunch together every day at the same time. There weren’t more than 20 people in the lab, so it was a great way to get to know everyone and talk about other things than work. It was also pretty interesting to see what French people eat for lunch compared to Americans – everything was organic. The only difficulty I had at times was the language barrier. Communicating on a daily basis posed no problems, but naturally there are some words and expressions that I don’t know, and that can be frustrating.
What helped you feel prepared for your internship?
I felt very prepared for my internship, and I have my French studies at Penn State to thank for that. Being able to speak the language is one barrier to overcome, but so is understanding the culture. I really appreciate how Penn State’s French program offers a little bit of everything: culture, literature and linguistics. Learning about French history offers an insight into French values, and more often than not can help you understand why the French are the way they are or do the things they do. Also, knowing a little bit about French history and French literature is particularly useful in conversation. French people are very impressed when Americans can talk about their history and culture! I was surprised by how many questions the other French interns had about American culture, only before realizing they don’t learn about American culture like we do in our French classes.
What are your plans now that you've returned?
I completed my undergraduate studies this past August, and now I am working as the lab manager for one of the psycholinguistics laboratories in the Department of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese at Penn State. I hope to start graduate school next year and work towards a PhD in Cognitive Psychology, specifically studying the neurology of bilingualism.
Do you have any advice you have for students wanting to pursue similar opportunities?
First, do it! One of my biggest worries was not being able to finance my international internship, but thanks to funding from the College of the Liberal Arts, the French Department, and the Schreyer Honors College, I was able to live comfortably for the three months I was abroad. If it’s that important to you, you can find way to fund your internship. I would also emphasize how useful listservs can be when searching for an internship. The type of internship I was looking for was very specific and difficult to find, which goes to show if you search high and low you will find one!