Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 4, 2023

My high school French class

By MADELYN KYE | February 8, 2022



Kye looks back fondly on the French classes she took before coming to Hopkins.

As an International Studies major, I am required to take a foreign language. For freshman fall, I signed up for Intermediate French I, feeling excited for what was ahead in college but nostalgic for my experiences with French before college. Namely, the six years of French I took in Huntington, N.Y.

We had two teachers over the course of middle school: the first, an Italian woman obsessed with purple pens, the boisterous type who spoke rapid French when she introduced herself to monolingual parents. The second, a soft-spoken, kind woman who told my parents that it made sense that I was a Virgo. 

It was one of those classes that very few people had registered for in the first place: My graduating class of over 400 students had one section of French from seventh grade through senior year. Many of us were strangers in the beginning, but through years of class Secret Santas and singing songs to strange tunes in the name of remembering various verb tenses, I graduated high school with six years of entertaining French class stories and two best friends. 

And, as much as I have continued to enjoy my French classes at Hopkins, I am consistently struck by nostalgia when I think about my experiences in high school French class.

I have yet to encounter anything remotely similar to the environment of my high school French class — a community where, although some cliques existed between one table and the next, everyone always felt comfortable voicing their opinions and engaging with the class. When we exchanged gifts for our Secret Santa each year, our teacher participated. There was no element of fear present in drawing names for the tradition because we all knew each other so well. 

The unmatched comedy of the group projects certainly furthered this environment. Most notably, there was a trio that never failed to prepare a video of them rapping in French as it related to the current unit (although they never would let anyone outside of class see the video), dialogues that were acted out with absurd amounts of enthusiasm and my group’s typical game of Jeopardy! — we knew that Jeopardy! was a great way to kill time, and we capitalized on that notion fairly often, with lengthy skits and endless questions as we reviewed for exams. 

The culmination of these years of bonding was supposed to be a field trip to see The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway at the end of senior year, having read the French edition in class. Unfortunately, we had planned the trip for April of 2020, and when the pandemic hit the U.S., it was swiftly canceled.

Instead of goofing around on the Long Island Rail Road with my friends to and from the show, we were confined to our homes and condemned to stare at the Phantom masks that our teacher had given to us as inadequate placeholders. Mine is still strung up on the wall of my childhood bedroom. I still haven’t gone to see Phantom — I don’t think I could go without picturing the trip that I had looked forward to for so long.

Although the last time I was physically in French class with my best friends, Alice and Robbie, was nearly two years ago, the connections we made have continued to grow. The routine of our group projects is long gone. Alice would script them, having lived in a French-speaking part of Canada, I would check all of the grammar (she was admittedly lazy and made frequent errors) and Robbie would handle all of the technical aspects of the project, comically claiming he had retained absolutely nothing that we had been taught.

But now, we text frequently in our group chat (which, of course, has a French name), reminisce about the oddities of a class that can’t quite be explained and grapple with the fact that we will never again have to film ourselves cooking pasta and narrating the process in French, or glue paper after paper to a too colorful poster board. 

Madelyn Kye is a sophomore from Long Island, N.Y. majoring in Writing Seminars and International Studies. Her column discusses people and things that have entered and exited her life, often through the lens of growing up.

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