Brittney Balser had just a few criterion while choosing a high school: strong academics, the opportunity to play volleyball, and — not negotiable — a study-abroad program to a French-speaking country.
"I did an exchange program to France the summer before eighth grade," says Balser, a Grafton native who's now a 17-year-old senior at Magnificat. "I always knew I wanted to go back when my language skills were more advanced."
So in January, Brittney, who's been learning French since kindergarten, accompanied four other Magnificat students and teacher Barbara Kikta to spend nearly three weeks at Collège St-Michel in Brussels, Belgium.
"Even in kindergarten, I always loved going to French class, I just loved the sound of it," she recalls. Brittney says her interest in French has endured "because you're never done learning a language. It's an ongoing challenge."
In Belgium, immersed in the language she loves, Brittney adapted comfortably to attending classes in French, participating in conversations and even watching her host family's favorite TV shows — American exports such as Desperate Housewives and How I Met Your Mother — dubbed in French.
Back at home, she encourages fellow students to make foreign language more than just a get-it-over-with requirement.
"The world is such a small place now," she says. "Our generation is going to have to be fluent in at least one additional language to compete with the generation coming up behind us."
In February, three Collège St-Michel students completed the exchange by coming to Magnificat, where Brittney's classmates got a glimpse into another culture.
"They're not just like these Europeans who are so different," she says. "We're all people; we like the same things; we listen to the same music."
The experience cemented Brittney's college plans: She'll head to Duke University next fall on a full volleyball scholarship to double major in political science and a French and Italian program.
"It was like they made a major just for me," she says.
With a goal of becoming a lawyer, she is certain that more time in Europe lies in her future. "I could see myself living in Europe. Maybe I'll retire there."