Photo of Amber Dawn Smith

Spartan Showcase: Amber Dawn Smith

Prior to enrolling at Case Western Reserve University, Amber Dawn Smith lived a completely different life—many, in fact. Her surroundings have changed so frequently, she said she has lived in more bedrooms than she has fingers and toes.

Her life has involved studies at Cleveland Institute of Art, a successful career in restaurant management and even a brief time living abroad in Tunisia, but by age 30 Smith felt burnt out and wanted a change.

She’s always considered Cleveland to be her true home base, so when Smith had the opportunity to transfer to CWRU after completing an associate degree from Cuyahoga Community College as part of the Cleveland Humanities Collaborative, she didn’t think twice.

Coming to CWRU came with an “overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment”—a feeling that continues even a year into her program. As a transfer student, Smith will only spend two years at CWRU before graduating, but she is already taking advantage of the opportunities available to her.

And as a French and Francophone studies major with a minor in Arabic, traveling abroad is an important part of her undergraduate experience. Smith began her summer in Paris as part of the “The Paris Experience: France” program to immerse herself in the culture and language at the heart of her studies.

We spoke with Smith to learn more about her experience in Paris and what led her to focus her studies on French.

Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

1. Why did you decide to study abroad?

I chose to study abroad to expand my education beyond textbooks and the classroom while having a firsthand perspective of life in France. It was an educational opportunity I could not refuse. In addition, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities that exist for me as a student at CWRU.

2. Why did you choose the country and program you’re in?

 As a French major, I felt participation in the program would benefit my research for my capstone project about the Francophone world. The program focuses on immigration and immigrant communities, which I believe will benefit my future by providing an experience to add to my resume and expand my employment opportunities. 

3. What has been your most valuable experience so far?

This program is not designed to take students to the famous landmarks in Paris (the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre Museum, etc.) and has focused on museums and landmarks influenced by immigrant communities and artists. I have, of course, taken the time to enjoy some of the more world-renowned establishments, but I’ve enjoyed looking at Paris through an alternative lens. 

Our residence hosts groups of students and individuals from elementary to post-secondary education and is situated on the outskirts of town surrounded by a community of generally welcoming locals. This experience has allowed me to live like a Parisian and connect with other students, community members, immigrant families and individuals. We have spent ample time learning about the history of migration and France while focusing on the positive and negative outcomes of what it means to be a migrant in the French world. Overall, it has allowed me to not only learn the subject matter but has encouraged me to place myself in someone else’s shoes.

4. Why did you choose your major?

While living abroad in Tunis, Tunisia, I realized the importance of the French language outside of its country of [origin]. There, in addition to their spoken dialect of Arabic, everyone spoke French and often code-switched between the two languages while in conversation. The street signs were in French, the restaurant menus were in French, and there were French TV stations, official government proceedings, and French products/grocery stores. When I began my studies at Case [Western Reserve], I learned about the history of French colonization and it opened my eyes to the broader aspects of the world. I realized quickly that many native-born Americans around me were also ignorant of the subject matter and I felt the need and interest to expand on the subject.

5. Do you expect your study abroad experience to augment your class work?

Yes, absolutely! In general, I question how an experience abroad would not affect one’s perspective on the world and their experiences in it after returning to their corner in the United States. I am hoping to return to Case Western [Reserve] this fall with reflections on my research experiences that I may be able to offer to my instructors and peers. I am hoping to utilize my documentation when developing my senior capstone project.

6. What are your career goals?

When it comes to my career goals, I keep an open mind to the possibilities. I have always been comfortable working in international work settings with other individuals who do not speak English as their first language. I could easily see myself becoming an educator or an ESL instructor while staying in an educational setting for the rest of my life. However, I am very much open to the idea of working outside of the United States and seeing what my options are abroad!