Jennifer Epting ’03 (right) with one of the students that she taught in France.

During the second week of her freshman year at Muhlenberg, Jennifer Epting ’03 had not yet chosen a major. She hadn’t become involved in the activities that would help shape her college experience, nor had she met the people who would become her closest friends.

But one thing was clear in her mind: “I was going to study abroad in France,” she said with a laugh. “As soon as I learned about that program, I couldn’t wait to go. I was so sad that I couldn’t do it until my third year. Junior year felt very far away at that point.”

During her first two years at Muhlenberg, Epting satisfied her love for language through her studies, declaring a double major in French and English, with a concentration in non-fiction writing. She explored her own language through work on both the Muhlenberg Weekly and the Advocate.

Once abroad, Epting’s love for the French language and culture grew, as did her desire to learn and experience more. After returning to ’Berg from her semester at the American Center of Provence, Epting, who has studied French since the seventh grade, knew that she needed to go back. “Living in a foreign country was such an amazing experience, and I didn’t want it to end that semester,” she said. No sooner was she back in the States than she began searching for opportunities to continue studying and living abroad.

Epting decided to pursue a Fulbright grant opportunity and was awarded the Fulbright Teaching Assistantship in France. She taught English and American culture to students in two middle schools and a high school in Clermont-Ferrand.

“It was a wonderful combination of subjects,” she recalled. “I was permitted to make my own curriculum, which was great but also a bit scary. I had taken a few education courses at Muhlenberg, but hadn’t been up in front of a class before. Still, it was good to have that freedom.” Her class supplemented the students’ other English studies and, with Epting, the students not only learned the language, but also studied each of America’s 50 states, dissected popular song lyrics and learned about the singularly American experience of baseball, among other topics. “I loved being able to share the America that I knew,” she says.

While sharing her American culture during the workdays, Epting was also taking in as much European culture as possible during her evenings. She took classes in art history and gothic architecture and enjoyed learning without looking through an American lens. She also enrolled in a German class (partly to explore her own German roots and partly because the university’s beginner-level Spanish and Italian courses were already full) and can now converse, though she does not yet describe herself as fluent.

It was during these evenings, through classes and through interactions with the people that she met, that Epting really began to assimilate into the culture and truly understand what it means to be French, as opposed to what it means to be American. Through this assimilation, she was able to further explore her own identity—as an American, as a woman of German descent and as an individual living in France.

Both in and out of the classroom, Epting has portrayed the America that she knows and loves. Today, she works in communications and alumni relations for the French-American School of New York in Westchester County. She uses her French daily, interacts with students and their families and uses her writing and communication skills to benefit the school. Her majors and identities seem to have found the perfect compromise—she has become part of an international community, though she remains in her home state.

When asked what’s next, Epting is not quite sure. She’d like to live in Europe again—perhaps Germany, so that she can put her newest language to use. She’s also interested in picking up Spanish and seeing other continents. But without question, there is certainly more travel and absolutely more language in store for her.

“I’ve thought a lot about my love for language and where it stems from, and I think it comes down to this: a language is a blueprint for another culture,” she said. “When in a different country or dealing with foreign people, we become mini-ambassadors for our own countries and cultures. There’s something really wonderful about that.”

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