In the spring of 2023, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy explained in a New York Times op-ed that he had created a new initiative centered on combating isolation and strengthening communities in America. Although we spend more time than ever communicating with others on social media, Murthy pointed out that digital tools are no substitute for real-world interactions. A sense of true community and face-to-face connection is essential to our well-being.
What are some remedies for loneliness? Murthy suggests spending 15 minutes per day interacting with neighbors or colleagues, or volunteering to help those in need. Another remedy is language classes.
The experience of speaking a new language can make you feel highly vulnerable, and this is precisely why you should challenge yourself to learn alongside others. In a language classroom, you can’t fall back on the linguistic defense mechanisms that you have been developing since childhood. You have to rethink how to start a conversation, how to make a joke, how to show that you care about what someone else is saying. In short, you have to learn how to connect in a new way. When language learners come together, they quickly develop close bonds because they see each other at their most vulnerable.
What sets adult language schools apart from other institutions is their ability to bridge generational gaps. At Coucou French Classes, it’s not unusual for a 20-something fresh out of college to strike up a friendship with someone their grandparent’s age. This diversity enriches the classroom atmosphere and extends into various social settings. When Coucou student Michael first signed up for classes in 2019, he was both excited and apprehensive. Although he considers himself a relatively shy person, Michael quickly found a sense of community when he met his classmates Olivia and Jim. “Despite being of different ages and having different backgrounds, we bonded over our love of French cinema,” Michael says. Together, the three form a tightly-knit group and they regularly go to the movies and to museums together.
Michael’s story isn’t exceptional; it’s the norm. As Americans struggle to put down their cellphones and make time for friends and family – and as newspaper headlines about an “epidemic of loneliness” become more and more frequent – Coucou has emerged as an important community-builder. “New York City can be a tough place to make new friends, so I’m grateful to have found them through Coucou,” Michael says. Many other students – those taking classes in New York, Los Angeles, and online – echo his sentiments.
The beauty of the Coucou classroom model is that it leads to all sorts of relationships. Students not only take traditional-style classes but also attend French fashion, yoga, drawing, or baking workshops. As the school has expanded, its directors have continued creating casual events where students with shared interests can mingle. Many students have met their partners or spouses at the school, and the teachers can no longer count how many “Coucouples” have met in their classrooms. Lately, teachers at the school have begun referring to the “Coucou Effect.”
It’s the shared excitement of navigating a new language and culture; it’s the sudden spark you feel as you begin talking with a fellow student; it’s the camaraderie built in and outside the classroom. In an age in which superficial digital interactions are becoming the norm, the “Coucou Effect” stands as a testament to the transformative power of real human connection.