Languages, Literatures, & Cultures

Languages, Literatures, & Cultures

Newsletter 2000

French Beyond Muhlenberg!

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