Kristen Paternoster

U-M alumni Kristen Paternoster graduated from the University of Michigan in 2022 with a Bachelors of Science in French and Biology, Health, and Society. After graduation, she worked as a research technician at Michigan Medicine before moving to France to teach English in French schools through the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF).

Kristen began studying French in junior high. She initially came to U-M thinking she would minor in French, but after a few semesters of French, she ended up declaring a French major with the plan to study abroad during the summer, knowing that, in the end, she could change the major to a minor if she was unable to fulfill all the credits. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic,

Kristen’s study abroad was canceled, and she thought that there was no way that she would be able to complete all the credits for the French major. However, going through with the major was really important to her, and she knew that it would help in her French proficiency, as well. She was able to choose a biology major that allowed a little more room for extra French courses, and after much determination and a few summer courses, she was able to complete both majors.

Majoring in French allowed Kristen to take a variety of French courses, ranging from linguistics to literature, all of which contributed to her proficiency in French language and culture. Some of her favorite French courses were 231 Second Year French (an intro course that included themed units that each had a corresponding film), Medical French, and French Phonetics.

“For anyone who is considering majoring or minoring in French or another language, I would recommend trying to take at least one or two courses beyond the intro courses,” Kristen said. “The intro courses have a reputation of being very intense, which can draw some people away from going beyond that level, but once you get past that, you have the opportunity to take classes that are not only structured differently but are focused on unique topics that may be interesting to you.”

After graduation, Kristen has seen how much the French language has helped her in her everyday life and the pursuit of her professional goals. She highlighted the fact that verbal and written communication are heavily used in French courses, just as they are in the workforce and in everyday life. It has always been a goal of Kristen to implement French into her career and fully immerse herself in the French language and culture.

“Though knowing a foreign language can seem quite specific, it has proven to come with many transferable skills,” Kristen said. “As I write this, I have only been in France for a couple of weeks, but it
has been a great experience of personal, professional, and academic growth. It is fulfilling to be able to communicate with native French speakers after working hard at learning the language for so many years.”

As she completes her everyday tasks in France, Kristen finds herself remembering things she learned in class such as the terminology related to French health insurance, which she learned in her Medical French course. She suggests that even if you are not interested in pursuing a foreign language to the extent of a major or minor, she would still recommend finding ways to implement the language into your life outside of the classroom. Some things that Kristen did/does include listening to French music, watching shows in French or with French subtitles, listening to French news, and tutoring French.”

“I am grateful for my French education at the University of Michigan, which provided me with the foundation to apply to this program and take part in French life,” Kristen said. “Though living in a foreign country and adapting to its culture comes with many challenges, at the end of the day, when I am having hour-long conversations with my French hosts, I am reminded of the shared human experience, and I feel at home.”