Convocation, French, Students

Yehee Cha discovers a deeper appreciation for French and francophone cultures

June 10, 2020
Cha will graduate with an honours BA in French and a minor in History in June 2020, after which she will start her MA in Comparative Literature at the University of Western in Ontario in the fall.

Yehee Cha has always enjoyed the French language and came to Simon Fraser University planning to become a high school teacher after completing her degree. During her SFU journey she discovered a new, deeper appreciation and love for the French language and for francophone cultures.

“I cannot imagine my life or myself without French,” Cha says. Small class sizes and supportive teachers allowed her to make friends quickly. She says professors like her honours supervisor Professor Catherine Black from the Department of French and Professor Jeremy Brown from the Department of History encouraged her to think critically and explore new subjects.

Cha will graduate with an honours BA in French and a minor in History in June 2020, after which she will start her MA in Comparative Literature at the University of Western in Ontario in the fall.

Read more below as Cha shares some of her most memorable moments and highlights during her time at SFU as an undergraduate student.

What were your most memorable courses, instructors during your undergraduate degree?

Some of my most memorable and impactful courses were from history, especially my two modern Chinese history courses with Jeremy Brown who introduced me to a subject I had initially barely understood, but which now absolutely fascinates me. My final undergraduate assignment—my honours essay—takes the cake among my favourite projects: I analyzed the challenges of literary translation by comparing the English translation of a French novel Windows on the World and the original work. My supervisor, Catherine Black, inspired my creativity and critical thinking.

What was your most memorable moment during your undergraduate studies?

Undoubtedly, my most memorable and nerve-wracking moment was my one-on-one interview with President Andrew Petter as a part of a scholarship nomination process. In retrospect, my intense preparation for the interview did not necessarily help predict the depth and creativity of the questions that I would face. Yet it led me to personal reflection which continues to serve me as I envision my goals and future projects. I believe I matured even in the short span of our conversation. More than anything, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with President Petter and I deepened my appreciation for the administration of the university. I also feel prepared to thrive in any interview in the future!

Your favorite activities or campus clubs that you participated in during your time at SFU?

The French Student Union (FSU) and the French Conversation Club (FCC). In fact, I was a founding member and eventual president of the latter. I also spent a semester in a core group with the United Christian’s Ministry. I highly recommend extracurricular activities as they enrich the campus experience. Through FSU, I bonded with some of my closest friends from SFU. Overall, the FCC has proven extremely rewarding as a testament to my leadership and willingness to connect with the community. The core group in UCM invited me into incredibly deep and genuine conversations with wonderful students about God, faith, and life.

What challenges have you had to overcome while completing your degree?

For me, the transition between secondary and postsecondary education ran smoothly for the most part except for in French classes. Having never taken French immersion or “core French” classes in high school, I was unprepared for the intensity of the intermediate-level French courses in which I was placed.

My grammar and writing were excellent, but I possessed almost zero experience in spontaneous oral conversation. Consequently, I struggled to comprehend what was going in class and to express myself. Even though I earned a high grade thanks to my competence in grammar, I was discontent with my oral limitations. Thus, I set off to live for five weeks with a francophone family in a small, Québécois town called Chicoutimi.

Those five weeks shattered the second language anxiety (or third language anxiety in my case) and awkwardness that prevented me from speaking with confidence. I returned to my French classes as one of the highest performing students. As the year passed, I felt ambitious to continue improving, so I applied to work as a bilingual summer guide at Parliament and was selected among 40 bilingual university students for a life-changing experience. My enriched French ended up as only a minor asset gained from my summer in Ottawa.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for new undergraduate students in your field?

To quote Nietzsche: He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.

Because I understood that why for my life, I was driven by my purpose to overcome the challenges I faced while indulging in the delight of the uncountable blessings I encountered.

My strongest advice, for any student, is this: seek the purpose of your life. Take advantage of your studies and university experience to discover what causes your heart to thump, your eyes to twinkle, your feet to dance. Reflect on how you view your life and what brings meaning to it. Also, never take your education for granted. There will be no uninteresting course if you decide to take an interest in it. Even if the subject does not directly affect your degree or career aspirations, absorb the knowledge, and enrich your critical thinking and ability to envision, to question, to understand. If you focus your energy on discovering your purpose and pursuing growth, your post-secondary years will prove unbelievably fulfilling and fruitful.