LING 497/AFR 497: Language in Africa
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Daniel Zahn

Liberal Arts Major(s): Communication Arts and Sciences, English, Philosophy
Minor: French, History, Linguistics
Hometown: Allentown, Pennsylvania

What was the best part of your experience?

My exposure to other cultures, people, and experiences was the highlight of my trip. Before college, I never imagined that I would travel across the world to do a small-scale linguistic research project. One of my favorite moments was our last day in the town of Bassila. All the people we met there, from the students learning English who we were interviewing for research to the Anii language development team who we worked with to create archival films, came to a big dinner. I saw all my new friends together, and we shared a great meal. Everyone made sure that I was eating; they really cared about my experience in their country and at their table. I'll never forget the feeling I had there, and I only hope I can share it with others as much as possible.

This experience allowed me to realize the power of my studies.

How did this experience impact you academically?

This experience allowed me to realize the power of my studies. As I was in a francophone country, I got to use my French with the people there. I also got to see the diversity of languages beyond French, with native languages of Anii, Fon, and many others. I also got to see how linguistics plays out in real-time -- for example, what it is like to have primary interviews and conduct experience. I was able to see the other side of the research papers I've read, which made the academic experience all the more real.

How will this experience impact your career goals?

My time in Benin solidified my goal to go into a career of helping others. It also made me realize the power of getting away and exploring beyond school. In part because of my experience, I now plan to return to West Africa after graduation and try to teach English there. I experienced a culture so different from my own -- so focused on community, so eager to help one another. I will not allow myself to go into a career where I don't feel that I'm giving back to someone or the community.

How has the Paterno Fellows Program had an impact on this experience?

The Paterno Fellows Program empowers you to go above and beyond, as well as cultivate a focus on diverse pursuits and interests. The knowledge I've gained from honors classes and multiple Paterno Fellow programs, whether lunches or speakers, enabled me to tackle the experience with enhanced skills and heightened passion. I am grateful for all the support and knowledge the Paterno Fellows program has given me, and this experience was just one among many.

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