Student conquers language barrier, pursues degree


Photo by: Contributed Photo

Melaney Mills, a student during the 1980s, has returned to FMU after more than 20 years to complete the degree she was unable to finish. Mills recently returned from a semester studying

After deciding to follow her dream to finish her university degree more than 20 years after starting it, junior Melaney Mills, wanted to make the most of her university experience by studying abroad in France.

During the 2016 spring semester, Mills took a break from her mass communication studies at FMU to study at the University of Caen in Normandy, France.

According to Mills, she found out about the study abroad program through her French class last fall taught by Dr. Elizabeth Zahnd. “

A little less than a year ago I walked into Zahnd’s elementary French class,” Mills said. “In the second or third week she announced that we could be eligible to study French abroad.”

Zahnd encouraged Mills to complete the application for the study abroad program.

“I knew that I could complete the foreign language requirement and experience something I’d only dreamed of,” Mills said.

Zahnd and Dr. Mark Blackwell, coordinator of international programs, ensured that Mill met all of the requirements to go to France for the semester.

Prior to studying abroad in France, Mills had never left the U.S.

“Going abroad without anyone in my family has given me courage,” Mills said. “If I can accomplish something like that in France I can get through anything back home.”

Mills had only taken one French class, so the language barrier proved to be a difficulty while she studied in France, Mills said.

“Other than taking that French class mentioned before, I had no foreign language,” Mills said. “When I went through South Carolina public schools, foreign language was not required and I do not believe it was even offered at my tiny school in lower Florence County.”

Over the course of Mill’s semester abroad, she grew more comfortable with the language.

“The more time I spent there it became easier as time went on,” Mills said. “Communicating in French in class was possible. Going out to use it among the locals, not so much.”

According to Mills, the friends she made while in France were the best part of the trip.

“I was able to visit this American family who had recently moved to France several times in their home,” Mills said. “Being so far from friends and family, I received much comfort being able to visit in their home and be a part of their family.”

Mill’s course work consisted of French grammar, spelling, writing and culture.

Mills said studying in France allowed her to grow in her French and learn the proper pronunciations.

“Speaking to local people was still difficult, but the level of confidence I now felt made it much easier,” Mills said. “They appreciated it, too.”

During Mills’ time outside of class, she traveled with the university and friends to various sights near Normandy such as the Cliffs of Etretat and the Palace of Versailles. Mills also traveled to Bourdeaux and Paris.

Mills was an FMU student during the 1980s, but she never finished her degree.

After moving back to Florence County to take care of her mother after she suffered a stroke, Mills came back to FMU in the fall of 2013 to finish her undergraduate degree.

“It was a dream to return to school to finish my degree, so I saw it as the perfect time and started classes,” Mills said.

In addition to studying abroad in France, Mills has performed in an on campus production and participated in the Toastmasters group on campus.