Being a graduate student in Paris has been a wonderful experience;
not only do you learn a language, and all of its nuances, but you also
learn the culture, both French and Parisian. Through the Middlebury Master’s
Program in Language, I took two classes at the Nouvelle Sorbonne with French
students. The first class was a study of Notre Dame de Paris by Victor
Hugo, comparing it to the numerous film adaptations of the novel. I am
also taking a year-long French economics course. The best part so far has
been working on my thesis. I am studying the problems raised when religious
beliefs or practices are brought into the French classroom. In the U.S.,
students are generally free to wear symbols of their religions, including
shawls and scarves. In France, however, Muslim girls who wear these shawls
and scarves are being discriminated against because the government finds
them not in keeping with the lay mission of the school system. I am looking
for ways to ease the cultural tensions this issue raises.
Now, for the first time in my life I am truly on my own. I have adapted
to the French routine: I go to the same boulangerie to buy my baguette,
to the same fruit stand at the market to buy my clementines, and to the
same corner cafe to read and have my chocolat chaud. I have made numerous
French friends, all of whom enjoy sharing opinions on politics, cinema,
general differences between the French and Americans. I have seen great
French movies that will never come to the U.S., not to mention great plays,
including a French adaptation of The Blue Room starring Daniel Auteuil.
I am also working at GapKids near the Eiffel Tower.
Even though it is an American company, it has been “Frenchified” and
I can see cultural differences there. I will never have this chance
again in my life; I am making every moment count. I have learned that my
American culture and language are not the only ones that matter. With my
studies at Muhlenberg and now with Middlebury, I can move freely between
my English-speaking home culture and my adoptive French world!
Jenny-Lynn Knotek ‘99