Kathleen Fillingim: Creating Connections Through Languages


Kathleen Fillingim: Creating Connections Through Languages

April 3, 2019

A photo of Kathleen Fillingim standing under a tree in Dakar, Senegal

Majors: French & Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability
Minor: City and Regional Planning
Class of 2019

By Ana Mitchell

“I love foreign languages because they can create relationships amongst members of different cultures and encourage opportunities for appreciation of diversity, support for equity, and respect for the unfamiliar,” described Kathleen Fillingim. A double major in French and Environment, Economics, Development and Sustainability (EEDS), Fillingim has had the opportunity to make connections abroad through French in Dakar, Senegal, as well as utilizing a basic understanding of Mandarin in Taipei, Taiwan.

In May of 2018, Fillingim studied abroad in Dakar, Senegal to enrich her French, though students of African American and African Studies and International Studies could also receive credit towards their majors or minors. She was seeking to expand her knowledge of Francophone countries beyond France, as her studies in high school focused primarily on France. “Too often, French programs focus on French culture and the Parisian French, while either completely ignoring or glossing over France’s huge problems—both historical and current— such as their role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, their current role of imbalanced power over their former colonies, and issues of racism and Islamophobia within the country today.” Luckily, Fillingim has found that courses at Ohio State, such as Francophone Literature and Francophone Cultures, have taught a more holistic and critical understanding of French culture and history.

The Dakar program was lead by a Senegalese resident director and former French and African American and African Studies professor, Cheikh Thiam, at Ohio State. His connections to the Dakar community enriched the experience of being abroad, as he invited local Senegalese university students to join in on their program activities and help integrate Ohio State students into the culture.

A challenge that Fillingim faced abroad was overestimating her ability to speak French. Although she felt very confident and proud in her command to navigate the environment, she still faced difficulties any language-learner would experience. She recalled a time when her and two friends, who did not speak French, got lost on their way back to their host families. Being the only one in the group who could speak French, Fillingim felt all the pressure to get them back home. It took over an hour to get back to their neighborhood, trying to ask locals and explain the situation to the taxi driver. Despite the frustration, Fillingim sees the experience only as something she can grow from, “Now I know what I need to work on and know I need to think more carefully about what I am trying to say, so I am not stumbling over every other word.”

Living with a host family was the most memorable aspect of her time in Dakar. “My host family was very influential because they were who I started my day off with, and who I came back to at the very end of the day. They really helped establish each day as a positive one, and when I came back, I never felt too tired to talk with them,” described Fillingim. On the day of departure back to Columbus, Fillingim was surprised to find herself crying at the airport, as she rarely finds herself get emotional over experiences such as these.

Fillingim’s minor in City and Regional Planning had allowed her to expand the interests she has in her EEDS major to incorporate more technical skills and design, which will ultimately give her more breadth of opportunities. This past spring break she participated in a three-credit hour study abroad program, Moving (and Eating) Around Taiwan, through Knowlton School of Architecture. The program explored mass transit in Taiwan, looking at infrastructure, walkability concepts, and different modes of transportation. The professor also incorporated authentic cuisine into the fabric of the program to encourage students to experience other aspects of Taiwanese culture beyond city and regional planning.

She found that this program lent her a good perspective for understanding and comparing public transportation in Columbus and it’s initiative to become a Smart City. “The experience was really eye-opening because I think Columbus with the Smart Columbus plans have a lot of good ideas but we are also very different compared to Taipei. We have a huge bias towards cars and not public transportation,” described Fillingim.

For the week in Taipei, Fillingim also got to practice the little bit of Mandarin she learned from high school. “It is a big regret of mine not continuing with it in college. I really tried making Chinese a minor, but the schedule of the introductory courses did not work with my schedule.” She wants to pick the language back up on Duolingo, especially since she is considering returning to Taiwan.  

With one semester left at Ohio State, Fillingim is looking to work a few years after graduation, hopefully abroad, befores she goes to graduate school or applys for a Fulbright. “I’m still unsure about what I want to do because I have so many interests and only a few ideas as to what those interests entail.” Fillingim does see herself working in sustainability consulting, or helping business make certain practices better for the environment. She hopes to return to Dakar or Taipei, but is also considering working in France or somewhere in Europe.