“Unravelling the Ball of Yarn” with Christina Socci

Christina Socci, an English major at Dickinson College, discusses her experiences as a literature student and second language writer in Toulouse, France.  Christina describes how she adapted French writing conventions, developed as a writer, and imported her new awareness of writing and the writing process back to her English studies and to her work in the writing center.  Listen to her podcast.

16 thoughts on ““Unravelling the Ball of Yarn” with Christina Socci

  1. This podcast was an insightful comparison of the writing styles of two cultures. I found the paradox that was mentioned in French composition especially intriguing. Openness in writing prompts but restrictive form and organization of ideas seems contradictory to a successful paper, but has been working for French students their whole lives. Although I haven’t been abroad, I do notice differences between Spanish, the language I am studying, and English composition in terms of organization. English development from thesis to body to conclusion is very explicit, while the Spanish seem to prefer a more conical organization, introducing development before the main point. This discovery was intimidating for me, and I can only imagine how it would be if I was actually living abroad. I admire Christina’s ability to admit how difficult it was to adapt to the French style, but am hopeful for my future studies after hearing of her triumphs.

  2. The prompt “American Feminism.” was interesting to hear about, it was surprisingly trite. But, hearing about the heavily structured format of their papers (compared to our English papers) seemed to compliment this method of using short prompts because much of the paper already relied on the prescribed structure. Very different from the more lengthy and elaborate prompts in my English writing.

  3. This was a really interesting podcast that illustrated the differences between writing in two different languages. Christina brought into focus our discussion from Tuesday with her specific examples of her hardships in class, especially with the broad topic and methodical planning she discussed. Christina showed that it is extremely difficult to adapt to a different culture of writing, but it is still possible! I found myself comparing Christina’s discriptions of class to my own literature classes, and I was struck at how different they were. I couldn’t imagine writing a dissertation for a midterm!

  4. I think that it’s incredible how much difference can be found between essay prompt and response format from nation to nation. I am uncertain as to why the paradox of the “American feminism.” prompt and the restrictive, focused, extremely organized paper exists, but it seems to me that it allows for a wider range of options for which aspect of the topic to choose. The problem with the essay format is that it seems like it would prevent writers from being able to develop their writing and creativity, having to write only in a few specific formats for each paper. This sounds like an incredible experience to gain a lot of insight!

  5. First, it truly is mind blowing to consider the international students learning another language WITHIN their second language here at Dickinson. I appreciate how you did not completely discredit the French’s “weird” way of writing, but it is apparent that you learned about your own capabilities and your own values from your cross cultural experiences. This podcast was very insightful, especially since I am considering studying abroad in France.

  6. I wonder whether the paradox of the open prompts versus the restrictive organization reflects France’s cultural values and/or the epistemological beliefs driving their educational system. Christina’s comment that the French “think differently” from Americans intrigued me, and I would be interested to learn specifics about how French culture underpins French thought patterns and writing. Additionally, Christina showed an effective example of “writing-hybridization” when she discussed how she transferred the French skillset of interrogating tacit presumptions to her English writing.

  7. The difference between the acceptable styles of writing throughout the world is truly amazing to me. As shown through this podcast, the definition of a “functional” writing process varies greatly between cultures. The loose prewriting strategies in America would frown upon the highly structured, inflexible form used in France and vice versa. Even so, it is simple to see that the different writing processes used are conducive to creating each culture’s version of an ideal final paper. I applaud Christina for mastering both forms, a feat that is, I’m sure, very difficult to obtain.

  8. I found it interesting that the French form of the thesis statement was a question. Her struggle really represented one an exchange student goes through, especially when it comes to what is expected by the professor. One of the assignments that struck me was the question about “American feminism”, which seemed a bit broad to me. Overall, I could really relate to her struggle and I admire her perseverance in her French writing.

  9. I like how Christina was able to apply lessons she learned in her French writing to her English writing in order to further her development as a writer in English. It seems to validate Dickinson’s commitment to global education by demonstrating the room for growth after immersion in other cultures.

  10. I think the main focus of this podcast bases itself on the specificity of French writing. In contrast with the Italian podcast, it seems that French demands very strict adherence to their rules. Christina describes it as “restrictive,” I think it is perhaps more strict than American writing, and requires a very careful, methodical writing process. One thing I became immediately aware of is that the American final product requires a certain format and a more strict topic, but one is taught to arrive there however they are individually comfortable. In contrast, the French seem to be required to very carefully think, but the prompts themselves are much more free. I could definitely understand how this would become complicated, especially since the American essay would appear to be the exact opposite format, with a freer process but usually more rigid topic. However, they do both appear to have certain requirements in regards to final product, with the formatting being prominent in French writing and thesis development being prominent in English Writing.

  11. I found Christina’s discussion of French education very revealing, especially since i have been studying French for six years and have learned about the differences between our education system and theirs. I think the paradox between open-ended prompts and the expectation of highly standardized organization plays into the French attitude that students aren’t meant to be coddled or accommodated in any special way. The french schooling system places an emphasis on conformity to standards and doesn’t leave room for much individual expresion or exploration. In this respect, I think it creates a more challenging academic environment (as Christina seems to have experienced) but also sacrifices some of the most valuable elements that can be found in American education.

  12. The French system of writing seems to have a contrast, as mentioned in the podcast: it throws extremely open-ended questions at students where students can literally approach the question at any angle, and a restrictive and regulated form of argument. I think this might be reflective of a French philosophy towards learning and thought; students are still expected to be subservient and ordered pupils (as exemplified through their ordered argument structures) but there is still the idea that the mind is this open, free space (demonstrated with the open-ended questions). Christina mentioned that the U.S. system, with its emphasis on individuality, stresses a looser argument structure, but perhaps the French still have this individuality but express it in the questions rather than the structure of the answers.

  13. The comparison of writing styles between the French and English language made me think about my own writing style when I have to write compositions in Italian. It makes me wonder what my foreign language writing looks like to a native speaker. The way she utilized techniques she used for writing in French and applied them to English writing made me think about my own writing in English as well. It also made me think about the transition foreign writers have when writing in English.

  14. Having spent a year in a French high school predominantly studying the humanities (and therefore writing plenty of dissertations and commentaires de texte), I can definitely relate to a lot of what Christina said. I have been known to bemoan the American educational system, which has a tendency to corner students, especially in middle and high school, encouraging them to write according to a specific format and structure. The French system, though quite different, can certainly have the same effect.
    While in France, I took a German class. As Christina mentions, international students, especially at a globally-focused school such as Dickinson, often undergo the special challenge of learning a third language in a course instructed in their second language. When it comes time to write academic papers in that third language, international students encounter not only the difficulty that everyone has in approaching a second language, but also the challenge that Christina highlights in her discussion with her professor about her exposé. Having different cultural references in terms of writing can put one at a distinct disadvantage. It is interesting to see how another student tackled those challenges, and it is certainly important for everyone learning a second or third language to remember that, while the specific challenges may vary by language and culture, the phenomenon is not a personal weakness.

  15. Christina’s podcast demonstrated the value in persevering through an immersion in a different writing style. Even though the French intimidated her with several of their techniques, Christina was able to adapt to the unfamiliarity of a new writing style and learn from it. For example, she discussed the French technique of incorporating the “question”, or “problématique”, into the opening parts of an essay, a technique that made a lot of sense to me. It follows that in order to write a thesis or come up with an argument, one first needs a question to ask. Providing insight to readers about such a question allows them to see deeper into an author’s writing process and to improve their comprehension of the essay’s main points. It also serves to increase transparency between the author’s mind and the reader’s mind, so that the later can fully understand the significance of an essay. Despite the anxiety one is bound to feel from dealing with unfamiliar techniques, Christina proved that much can be learned from embracing a new writing style.

  16. I was very intrigued to hear the detailed account of what Christina’s writing experience was like when studying abroad. I think most students take for granted their own writing ability as well as their country’s preferred writing system so that when we study abroad and have to write under different expectations there is a huge culture shock. Christina seemed to experience this directly, yet she tried to grow from that and become not only a better writer in regards to the French writing system, but a better writer overall.
    I liked how Noreen pointed out the clear paradox within the French manner of writing: the prompts could be extremely vague and open-ended, such as the prompt, “American Feminism,” yet the organization and pre-writing of the students would be very structured and methodological. If I were given a prompt that loose I would imagine my pre-writing and planning would be as unstructured so to hear that French students are able to take an ambiguous prompt and develop a concise outline to answer it is very impressive. Yet, as Christina said, they have been doing this for years so they must be used to these types of expectations.
    Nevertheless Christina took these differences and adapted her writing style to meet the expectations of her professor. I am sure her experience has become so valuable and the things she learned will carry through in her writing back home in America.

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