Abigail Shelhamer | St. Lawrence University Modern Languages

Abigail Shelhamer


Class year: 
Macedon, NY
Laurentian Singers, French Teaching Assistant, French Writing Center Tutor

A giant, overly saturated child’s encyclopedia from the 1970’s started my language craze when I was about six or seven. Like any good encyclopedia, it gave information on hundreds of topics. I, however, chose only twenty pages that I read and memorized: The Languages of the World. The book provided translations for five common words in thirty languages. As a naïve kid, I thought I would one day learn to speak them all. Now, as a senior at St. Lawrence, I’m a bit more realistic, studying three languages in-depth. 

Knowing that I wanted to study language in college, I intentionally picked St. Lawrence for its accessible study abroad programs. I jumped right in, spending my entire sophomore year abroad in the city of Rouen, France, where I lived with my host family and polished my conversational French. The experience was truly immersive. But I didn’t just learn grammatical concepts and new phrases. I learned aspects of language I didn’t expect to. I began to really understand how the French thought about the world, and how their language drives their perspectives (and how their perspectives drive their language). The relationship between language and culture continues to fascinate me, and motivated me to declare a multi-language major with French, German, and Chinese.

The same year I studied in France, I also traveled to Senegal, another Francophone country. At this point, I had already taken a few African studies classes, just because the subject interested me. My immersive stay in Senegal really tied together my French and African studies classes, since much of Africa was colonized by the French. The great thing about SLU is that many of the classes are interdisciplinary, and before long you will be able to make connections between classes in completely different disciplines. Now, I draw on my Educational studies classes to complement my experience as a teaching assistant.  

As my senior year flies by, I plan on either returning to France to be an English teacher, or searching for a similar position in Asia after graduation. Although the job search seems daunting, the SLU network is international and supportive. I know I have chosen the right school when that school now wants to help me start the next chapter of my life!