Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Introducing a new world view

When my colleague, Charlie Huenemann, professor of philosophy, invited me to contribute to the new alumni blog “Office Hours,” I welcomed the opportunity. What now can I say about myself, my position here at Utah State and my students, as I am about to start my fourth year as an assistant professor of French? Foremost, I should say that the department of Languages, Philosophy, and Speech Communication, which now also comprises the Intensive English Language Institute, is a true gem of collegiality that provides a fertile breeding ground for interdisciplinary research.

My research and teaching interests encompass transnational Francophone literature and cinema from Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. I am particularly interested in the intersections between colonial and postcolonial metropolitan French and North African Francophone literature, and the ways in which these literatures and discourses continue to cross-fertilize one another. This is particularly fascinating against the backdrop of the ongoing Arab Spring that has been sweeping the Arab world and which we discuss in my classroom.

These past two summers, it has been my privilege to lead a group of students on a five-week study abroad trip to Paris and to the beautiful town of Annecy, which is located in the Haute Savoie region, about 50 kilometers south of Geneva, Switzerland. In Paris, we stayed in a hotel in the popular St. Michel quarter, just a few steps away from Notre Dame. We indulged in a number of museum visits (Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Musée de Cluny, Orangerie, among others) and hit some of the obvious highlights, such as the Eiffel Tour, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysées, Sacré Coeur, and many other sites. We also took the train to Versailles, to visit Louis XIV’s famous Château de Versailles, which students found pretty awesome. The real challenge began in Annecy where students were separated and placed individually in French-speaking host families.

As a French German national born in the heart of le pays des trois frontières, also referred to as Saar-Lor-Lux (Germany, France and Luxembourg), I am used to cultural diversity to the point that it has become part of my identity. Utah being rather mono-cultural in many ways, it has been a very fun and rewarding experience to introduce my students to a new culture, a new language and, most importantly, a new world view during the study abroad trip.

While at first, they appeared rather intimidated by cultural difference such as bread with jam and espresso-style coffee for breakfast, they were able to adapt rather quickly to the French way and felt empowered by their experience. In Annecy, I spent many times talking on the phone to a furious guest mother, clearing up misunderstandings with regards to dinner times—dinner being a sacred time of the day. On one occasion, I even went to the police station to report a student as missing after talking to his panicked host family. Luckily, everything turned out to be just fine.

Once students settled into their routine schedule made up of intensive French, free/fun time and family time, they really started enjoying themselves. They took advantage of Annecys beaches, the pedalo boats, and the free film screenings at the Annecy Animation Festival—the largest in the world. They also took to the culinary side of France, indulging in many ice creams, crêpes Nutella, Kebaps, Tartiflettes and fondues savoyardes, and baguettes.  I was glad to see that some even dared to try some of the particularly runny, moldy and stinky cheeses such as the Reblochon and survived to tell about it!
                                                        - Christa Jones, assistant professor of French


Lac Annecy

Student in front of Oscar Wilde's Grave


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