By Sangeeta Dhawan
Upper School World Languages
A sure way to make French real to our students is by introducing them to individuals in their general age group who have become fluent and have successfully integrated their language skills in their chosen career path: how they persevered and the obstacles and triumphs they celebrated along the way. The path to fluency is not always direct and not always short, but they key is to not give up.
Back in 2013, I met an intrepid soul in student Julia Yingling, who in her senior year attended GFA. I heard stories about how she had decided on her own to plan a year abroad in France with AFS-USA, lived with a host family, and loved it. I heard about her travels to Morocco to continue exploring the extended francophone world.
After coming back to the US, Julia joined Greens Farms Academy where, in addition to an Independent Study Post-AP French course, she also took a slate of regularly required courses and worked on a senior thesis with the GFA Global Perspectives Program. She joined B@BEL, the school’s online World Languages magazine, in its first year in 2013, and set to work posting articles and embellishing submissions with original photography from her travels.
On the day of the Senior thesis symposium (April 23, 2014) where students present their research and defend questions from all students and faculty in the high school, I made sure to get a front-row seat. When I saw the title of her thesis on the program, “The Berber Ceiling: Language-Based Inequality and the Limitations of Education Reform in Morocco,” I knew I had to be there. This is the kind of student to whom you say, “Come back and see me when you’ve graduated from McGill or la Sorbonne,” because you know they will! Her delivery and poise together with the quality of her research, the exposition of her arguments and the clarity of her conclusions were impressive. You can read it here, if you like.
Soon thereafter, we learned that Julia had been accepted at McGill University and was off to pursue her passion for International Relations and French in Montreal. Then followed the period of what I call the “dotted lines.” I saw her intermittently on Facebook. Once, she came back to school to visit, and I realized that Julia had perfected the Québécois accent since I had last seen her! The best part of this story is that none of these milestones and successes can be credited to her French teacher. Julia is internally propelled and believes she can do what she sets her mind to. Which is exactly what she did in high school. Which is what she continued doing in college.
Participating in Model UN at Greens Farms Academy was a natural choice for Julia, and she continued this work at McGill Model UN where she served as the Deputy Undersecretary-General for Specialized Agencies for a year, followed by a year in the position of Undersecretary-General for Committee Affairs.
She was Staff Writer for the McGill International Review (Undergraduate Research Journal) and wrote feature pieces on foreign policy, international relations, security, and defense policy. Julia was also Editor in Chief of the Russian Undergraduate Students' Society’s (RUSS) undergraduate academic journal, Samizdat Journal (Самиздат).
According to this polyglot, multi-talented, recent graduate of McGill University in Political Science and Geography, “I am interested in geoinformation science, civil conflict, international security, and the interplay of geography and politics.” She continued, “I've been working in French and English throughout my undergrad and completed some elective courses in French, and at my new job I'll be working as a GIS analyst with the Ville de Montréal as our main client.” She started her new stint in October 2018 and is simultaneously taking courses in GIS at the UCLA extension in preparation for graduate school. Her undergraduate thesis, “Ungoverned Spaces in Civil Conflict: A geospatial analysis of the Lord’s Resistance Army” can be read here.
If Julia’s story is inspiring to me, it has to inspire her peers.