From San Marcos to the wide world
Leona Osinga, by her own admission, can’t sit still for very long.
An international studies major — with a double minor in French and geography — she’s constantly on the move, whether it’s helping start a ultimate Frisbee team at Texas State, making desserts as part of Le Circle Français or working to support women studying geography.
Oh yes, and traipsing off to France to work for the summer — with just limited exposure to the language.
“Leona is just a force of nature,” says Dr. Jennifer Forrest, one of her French professors.
And an international one at that.
Roots in East Texas and Beyond
Osinga grew up near the small town of Winnsboro, but she didn’t have the typical East Texas childhood on the family dairy farm. Before she was born, her parents left their home in the Netherlands and emigrated to Egypt and then to Texas, seeking better opportunities in the dairy business. They kept memories of their homeland alive and Osinga spent many summers visiting relatives abroad.
“We were raised very Dutch,” she says. “We’ve always been a little different, but that’s OK. We embraced it. We’d go back to Holland and visit because the rest of our family still lives there.”
She grew up speaking both Dutch and Frisian, a closely related language, as well as English with a little bit of an East Texas drawl. She came to Texas State partially on the recommendation of the athletic trainer at her high school and partially because she found one of the university’s brochures in a friend’s truck.
Even as a high school student, Osinga was driven to explore other cultures, spending one semester of her sophomore year in New Zealand. Coming to Texas State, she knew she wanted to get into international studies — with a focus on international business — but learning a third language wasn’t in the plan at first.
“At my high school, we only had Spanish, which isn’t that exotic living in Texas,” she says. “I already spoke Dutch with my family. French, it’s the beautiful language of romance. So I decided to take it here.”
And then, as it turns out, intensively in France.
Branching out in French
Looking for a way to immerse herself in the French language, Osinga hunted for a job in France in 2010 — and found one through Jobs4Leisure, a Dutch company that places young people in tourism-related positions.
She became an “animator” for the summer at a family vacation camp in the Mediterranean coastal village of Saint-Cyprien, developing children’s programs, helping with the information desk and working each day with multilingual guests.
“Everything was in French, which was a big challenge,” she says. “Luckily there were a lot of Dutch guests there, and a lot of people from the U.K., too. I had the whole French/Dutch/English experience in one. I’d recommend it for anyone looking to learn a language — just jump right in.”
It made a big difference, says Forrest.
“She was basically a beginner last year, and she just decided she needed to go to France for the summer,” she says. “It improved her French just remarkably.”
The experience confirmed what the French professor thought of one of her brighter students.
“She’s just what you would expect a young American to be in this age of internationalization,” Forrest says.
Cultivating a Global Future
Osinga says she simply is part of a generation that is globalized, attuned to what’s happening around the world.
“I definitely want to move around — I can’t sit still for too long,” she says. “But I want it to have a purpose, to make a difference. I don’t know exactly what, but I’m going to stumble upon it.”
That’s why she’s taking as broad an approach as possible to her time at Texas State. In addition to her minor in geography, she’s been active with Supporting Women in Geography, a campus organization that helps women in what has been a male-dominated field. She’s also in the International Studies Club and is president of Le Cercle Français, the French club at Texas State.
She also helped start the women’s ultimate Frisbee team.
“Sometimes I sleep,” she says with a laugh.
In all seriousness, she says, she came to the university to broaden her horizons. And she hasn’t been disappointed, meeting people from around the world and benefiting from close involvement with the French faculty.
“There’s something for everybody here,” she says. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you may have done previously. You still can come together and accomplish things, even if you’re different.”