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How French Poetry Helped an Alzheimer's Patient

HUM Grant recipient Fiona Bates shares her internship experience in France.

When Fiona Bates (Spanish, French Studies ’24) visited Paris with her family, she didn’t realize that the trip would set her on a path to working with Alzheimer’s patients years later. After returning from that trip, Bates began taking French classes, and she gained enough proficiency to become a French 201 instructor and eventually apply for (and receive) an internship in France. This experience taught her the importance of connecting with others through languages and practicing her language skills in different settings.

Bates’ internship lasted six weeks with Les Petits Frères des Pauvres, a company that specializes in elderly care. Part of her responsibilities included visiting Alzheimer’s patients in their homes or care facilities to interact with and befriend them. In her one-to-two-hour visits, she formed meaningful connections with these patients and did her best to brighten their days. Bates says, “One of our main goals was to help these people have a meaningful life and find joy.”

Fiona Bates wearing a mask standing next to an elderly woman.
Photo by Fiona Bates

Bates specifically recalls an experience with one of her patients, a woman who was in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s that allowed her to speak and communicate effectively but caused memory lapses. Bates and this patient bonded over their love for French poetry, and Bates read to her almost every day. Bates cherishes this experience because, “She [the patient] could remember the words. I would start reading it and she would come in and say it by heart, and we would read it together. And this was just the most tender thing, because she was so happy.”

In addition to the beautiful moments she experienced with her patients, Bates also received the opportunity to practice her French in more conversational settings. At the end of the internship, Bates felt more confident in her French skills, and she appreciated how the experience allowed her to use the skills she earned in a classroom in real life. She hopes to pursue a career in interpreting and plans on spending the next year doing medical interpreting in Utah.

To anyone who is thinking about pursuing an internship in a different country, Bates says, “Even if you don’t feel qualified to do an internship or if you feel like ‘oh I’m not sure where my French is at,’ I would say just do it. You have to make mistakes and I think that’s just a part of language learning. You make mistakes, and you feel dumb sometimes, but you learn so much more from it.”

Learn more about the French Studies program here.