I couldn’t choose which version to publish, so here is a succession of potential articles. You can read whichever one you feel most attracted to: there are thoughts about bubbles on campus, a wishlist for Santa, a couple of rebellious questions, a journal on my epic journey here, and finally a few numbers about international events at Willamette.
Paper #1: Bubbles
I’ve been thinking for a while about how to write this last piece. With spring, a sense of “it’s over” has been settling. So I’ve been wondering: are things the same as when this year’s Foreign Language TAs arrived? Did we make a difference? And, in the end, does it matter?
As participants in a Fulbright program, we had the mission of bringing together different languages and different cultures, for a better understanding between peoples in the world. So we all came with a piece of home in our luggage. I brought my movie nights (my apologies to the LLC for the popcorn smell that invaded the hub on Thursday nights), my festival of lights (without the lights, which were not allowed in the end, but with a lot of roasted chestnuts), some food in November, my dance music in December in Montag Den, my Molière comedy in March (see the article in a French magazine based in New-York), my card games (Werewolves, anyone?) and so on. But, all in all, does it all make a difference?
What I had planned at first, was to write something about revolutions. I’ve been auditing a class on the 1960s this semester, and I witnessed the success of the Occupy movement last semester. Maybe because of that, or because I’m one of those people who are used to demonstrating in spring in France, I felt like Willamette University needed a revolution: a cultural revolution, a language revolution. When I say revolution, what I actually mean is “evolution”, as in “going towards something better”. I thought that, maybe, we could have bigger events, and try to create a new international dynamic, and to establish stronger and more visible links between here and there, between our campus bubble and the thousand of other bubbles out there in the world. You know, how sometimes you can see colors moving inside a bubble? I thought that if I could integrate some new colors in the Willamette bubble, it would move closer to others and would get even more beautiful than it already was. Concretely, it meant that by having more cultural events (concerts, speeches, films, plays, dances, sport competitions, etc) and by giving them the right proportions, we could show that there was a big international dimension to Willamette. Unfortunately, and even though some of our events were known as far as NYC this year, it was difficult to get attention on campus.
I discovered that languages and foreign cultures, when compared to languages and foreign cultures in other places I had visited, had quite a low profile here. I found that alumni could have the whole campus illuminated before Christmas when I had been forbidden to place two little lights on streetlamps for a big cultural event (festival of lights, December 8th). I found that the French Christmas Carols, which had been asked for earlier in the year, attracted only one potential singer when one day later sororities and fraternities had a singing contest full of Christmas carols, with well over fifty participants. I found that whichever way we tried, we would not have the Smith auditorium for the French comedy that we planned to have in March.
At first, I was disappointed: “crossing a whole ocean and a whole continent, and not being able to make a change”, I thought, was a big let-down. Of course, there was the wonderful human experience: meeting many different people, making new friends, etc. But I had already had that during my first year abroad, and I wanted to do more this year. To this date, I have absolutely no idea whether all these events mattered or not, in the end. I don’t know if they made some people see France differently or consider taking French for something more than credits and language. I hope they did but, as I was saying when I started writing this, spring made me see Willamette differently.
What seemed at first like a nice little campus in an extraordinarily flat town revealed itself to be much, much more. It’s as if the cherry blossoms, in spring, were those missing colors that made the campus bubble even more beautiful. In a way, I understand that the addition of international colors may not always be easy, because there is already a wonderful, colorful, magical world at Willamette University, when you take some time to step back and look at it (which is a natural thing to do when you know that you’re about to leave). The lights of the alumni in December were a traditional winter coat for our frozen campus, the singing contest of the sororities and fraternities were like the aroma of a warm coffee in the cold December air (except that they were warm words instead), and the Smith auditorium already hosted wonderful events during the whole semester. It would have been nice to make a significant contribution to that, but look at how busy everyone is!
Our university is a world of its own. When you see everything that is happening in Smith, in the stadium, in Sparks, in Hallie Ford or even in Goudy, how could anyone doubt it? In the Willamette Bubble, there are already enough colors to leave anyone completely satisfied, and that’s probably why it feels difficult to add more colors. The best way to give an intro to foreign languages and cultures, then, is to forget that they are foreign. We all have common interests, and we can go forward from there. Willamette is a good place to become a universalist, in a way, more than a foreign student. It’s a good place to have beautiful artistic projects, it’s a good place to fight for more solidarity in the world (“Not Unto Ourselves Alone Are We Born”), it’s a good place to live together, in the same big world. If other languages can offer a different frame to do these same things, rather than presenting themselves as an end, maybe more people will see why they’re interesting.
I am re-reading this article, ten minutes later, and I’m realizing that there is something I’ve forgotten to add. A world of its own may often forget that there are other worlds out there. Don’t forget to watch out of the bubble from time to time. When you see all of the nice things that can be found at Willamette University, don’t turn your back to the outside world. A nice dream to have for this university would be that, through enhancing the beautiful colors of our bubble, we do not become a closed society, oblivious of how things are going outside of campus, outside of Salem, outside of America. We all have common interests, that is a treasure we should cherish. We don’t say things the same way, that is a treasure we should also cherish, while explaining it. If the Willamette bubble, full of bright colors, full of bright people, opened itself a little more to the outside world, it could spread its colors in many more wonderful places, in a more efficient way. Pop the bubble and you get a rainbow. “Willamette World… News” then, because I wanted to give news from the Willamette World rather than from the outside World, today. Hoping that both can be reunited very soon.
Paper #2: Dear Santa
For students at Willamette University for the year 2013-2014, I would like:
– more successful French events (more people for movie nights other than Amélie, maybe discussions after the movies)
– some visible cultural events: international camping night on the Quad?
– some sport event with the Language Departments/Clubs: International Quidditch World Cup? Olympic Games with real sports (soccer, rugby, racing, rowing, swimming, table tennis, etc), funny games (sack-race, race with an egg in a spoon, etc) and cultural activities (quizzes, cooking contest, singing contest, traditional and modern dances, etc).
– a new edition of the International Karaoke Night, probably not in Kaneko but in a more central place
– a successful Games night?
– something in Smith Auditorium: a Talent Show? a Concert with a guest like Tété or Eric John Kaiser (often in Portland)?
– a fake (or real?) demonstration on campus?
– how about developing a small French gazette or newspaper with the students?
– a small “European Union” club gathering members from the French, German and Spanish clubs, based in Ford at the LLC’s headquarters and in charge of organizing a common European event or exhibition for the year?
In short, Santa, what I would like for Willamette next year is the realization that taking language classes is not simply learning weird grammar rules or becoming able to communicate in Paris. It’s expanding the frame of our possibilities, it’s being able to do everything we love and everything we care about in more places around the world. It’s being able to care about those things in English, in Chinese, in French, in German, in Japanese, in Spanish, in Russian, etc. Learning the words is only a means to an end. And if you’re not sure what you want to do, then languages offer the most freedom possible, because you may learn a new way to speak, but you’ll be the one deciding what you want to speak about. Freedom is the key, the sky’s the limit, and the campus is the place where it all begins.
Paper #3: ‘Cause the times, they’re not a-changing”
This year, I’ve seen the beginning of an “Occupy” movement which occupied parks rather than Capitol buildings.
I’ve learned more about the 1960s in America.
I’ve also seen more homeless people than I would ever have imagined in the USA.
I’ve seen so many distressed, lost people whose minds looked as deteriorated as their bodies.
I’ve seen people who wouldn’t go to the hospital when they really needed to, because they weren’t sure that their insurance would cover them.
I’ve seen the right to contraception contested, and the fear of foreigners exacerbated.
I’ve seen waiters who had to live off tips because their employers didn’t pay them enough (and yet, prices are not lower than in places where tips are not necessary: where is the money going?).
I’ve seen roads and houses in appalling -even dangerous- conditions but without any plans for renovating them.
I’ve seen people who had to work several jobs in addition to studying to be able to survive.
I’ve seen governmental institutions (whether local or not, I don’t know) who had given up.
I’ve seen students getting in a lot of debts, just so they could get college education.
I’ve seen those same students not always getting a job after they’d spent thousands in preparing for a degree.
Can you see it too?
What I don’t understand is why these things are still going on. I feel that the most patriotic thing to do in such a context would be to advocate the respect of the person, of human beings, when money is starting to rule everything around us. I believe it is being very patriotic to stand up for the people in one’s country: “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, did it mean something or has it become a joke? How can there be a government of the people when most of them are denied education unless they become prisoners of huge debts, with the fear of not getting a job, and of not being able to pay those debts off? You can’t focus on education, on growing, on understanding more or on participating in public life with all those worries hanging over your head. And it’s a pity. I believe that a free (or almost free) high-quality education should be a right for everyone, and that it would help a lot in every other field, with every other problem mentioned above. It’s not socialism, it’s not communism, it’s respect for the citizens of a country as human beings, as people who have the right to know what’s going on and to pursue what they’re interested in, whether it be biology, philosophy, sports, agriculture, wood-carving or Japanese. Campuses are a great opportunity to meet people with the same interests or with different opinions, it is a great chance for all of us to shape our opinions and to have informed ideas on what we want to do. A high-quality education is something that we have at Willamette, but it’s far from being free. I’ve read accounts on students uniting in Berkeley, in Columbia, in La Sorbonne and on other campuses, and every time there was a need for several thousands to get things to change. With only 2500 students on campus here, all of them very busy and involved in very different events, in addition to working very hard for grades that will determine whether they have or not the degree for which they’re already paying so much, nothing like that is supposed to happen, and if it did, I’m not sure it would do any good. However, before I go, I still wanted to say, there should be another way, a way that would make college not a privilege but a right for everyone. And once again, I believe that it all begins on campus.
Paper #4: A Journal
I remember a cold day in November, 2010. I remember thinking I had the travel bug, I’d just come back from “the edge of the world” (a wonderful place) and wanted to keep traveling. I remember hearing about a program for teaching assistants in the United States, it was called “Fulbright”, and the deadline to apply was in 4 days. I spent two entire days gathering files, writing essays and asking for letters, and submitted it all in time.
Spring 2011. I’ve just come back from two months in Boston. My research is going well, I have all the information I need, I start writing the introduction on a piece of paper, sitting by the pond on top of one of the numerous hills at home. Later, there’s the interview in Paris. I’m not sure about how it goes. My English is fine, but I’m worried about my French – of the past 18 months, I’ve only spent 6 in France, and I usually don’t speak French when I’m abroad. Two weeks later, I learn that I did well: I’ll be one of the 36 people in charge of “contributing to a mutual understanding between the people of the US and the people of [my] country”. In April and May, I keep checking whether my destination has been decided or not. Finally, the information comes: Oregon, Willamette University. I’m not sure how I feel about this. All my friends are on the East Coast, and I wasn’t against spending time with them. Usually, I also don’t like the rain. But then again, I remember how my year in New Zealand went: I knew no one at first, but in the matter of a month, we had a little group of about fifteen people spending all our time together, rainy weather or not, and it ended up being one of the best years in my life. Plus, I’m interested in the Pacific area, and the Northwest was a place I wanted to visit some day anyway. So yes, I’m going to Oregon.
Summer 2011. Time to go. We’re given a grant of $1400 for traveling, but I can’t find any ticket within that price. The reason why is that we have to attend an orientation session in San Francisco, and prices are high. In the end, I find a ticket for about $1500, with a long stop in Boston, where I can spend time with my New Zealand friends. San Francisco is an awesome time, everybody is excited at the idea of starting work and discovering more of America. Some of us have already been here several times, but others are discovering it for the first time. I remember a hike across the Golden Gate in the early morning, I remember seeing people swim from Alcatraz, I remember exploring the steep streets of San Francisco. The orientation in Stanford was a celebration every day, and the campus was truly beautiful. I couldn’t wait for Willamette. It was already a month since I had left France and I was in a hurry to start working. On August 23rd, at Willamette University, I remember being surprised at the low number of international students. I remember being told not to think critically in order to avoid cultural shock, which I found strange, for a place of learning. I remember being stricken by a dilemma during the ODs: Fulbright preferred us not to make friends with students, but that would prove impossible. I remember a long walk along the river, and posters saying a cougar had been seen in the area: there was the wilderness I had associated Oregon with, the beautiful natural landscape and the forests everywhere. I remember the squirrels everywhere around the house.
Fall 2011. Not the best time ever. As opposed to what had happened in New Zealand, it was difficult to gather a consistent group of people here (like, more than a dozen). Everyone was very busy, and I was too. With 10 to 15 hours a week tutoring, I learned more and more about my own language and the way it was taught to people whose first language was English. It was a really interesting time, but I didn’t want to just be a tutor: the “mutual understanding” I had to promote was also cultural, I felt. So there were the movie nights, the cooking night, the cheese tasting in Portland, the dance music night in Montag, the festival of lights, the preparation for the Christmas Carols, etc. Lots of work, but everyone was so busy. I remember a great evening with the faculty of the Department before the winter break, which had the effect of a Redbull drink for a while. In December, I had energy again and I felt like after all, I had not lost my wings: we were going to stage “Les Fourberies de Scapin” the following semester.
Winter 2011. Theatre was at the centre. We all worked together to show “Les Fourberies de Scapin”, and even though we didn’t get Smith auditorium, we got so much support and good coverage. Definitely one of the best times of the year, spent with a wonderful cast for 15 to 20 hours a week. There were some fun times in rehearsals, an amazing team spirit right before and after performances, and some very good celebration times and games’ nights in the midst of all that. Winter was also when I got the chance to travel a little bit, going back to California, seeing L.A., and before that there were Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon – such a change from Salem! An additional anecdote: winter is also when I encountered Portlandia (“Keep Portland Weird”) and Salemia (“Keep Salem
Lame The Same!”). Both can be found on youtube, and they’re recommended. 😉
Spring 2012. A time of change and wonders. It’s the end of the cold and rainy weather, and the campus looks wonderful. I tried to have more French events, but there are so many things going on on campus at this time of the year that it would have been difficult to have enough motivated people to make another big event happen. So it will be low-key, but still important work: helping the new French Club, having a few more French Movie Nights, informing people about the elections in France, adding subtitles to videos and looking for more documents for FR205, and finally participating fully in student life (having time to go to other events, getting really into the classes I’m following in addition to preparing FR205, etc). Spring is, so far, a really good time.
Paper #5: Accounting reports
First French Movie Night (Amelie): attendance about 20
Subsequent Movie Nights (every week): attendance between 0 and 8 (often closer to 0)
Cooking Night in WISH: attendance about 20
Dance Music Night in Montag: attendance 0
Festival of Lights and Free Roasted Chestnuts: attendance 2
Weekly French Tables (at any time during the week): attendance between 0 and 2
“Les Fourberies de Scapin”: attendance 200 (yay!)
Cheese Tasting in Portland: attendance 8
Concert and Pastry-Tasting in Portland: potential attendance 2
Movie in Portland: attendance 12
Movie in Salem: attendance 10
ENS de Lyon (my home institution): 1000 students, 138 international students (12%), attendance for most events 30 to 40 students
Victoria University of Wellington (my first host institution): 22000 students, 2800 international students (12.73%), attendance for most events 50 to 100
Willamette University: 2500 students, 233 international students (less than 10%, including 130 in the America Studies Program at TIUA – less than 5% without the American Studies Program), attendance for most events 0 to 10
Even though the percentages are not as high as in other institutions, there is a strong international community at Willamette. I think it’s a pity that such a strength is often neglected in terms of attendance to cultural events or availability of spaces (like Smith auditorium, Ford movie theatre, or simply in terms of authorization to have a campus-wide presence for certain events like, in my case, the colored lights for the Festival of Lights). Willamette is a great community, but it should open itself more to the rest of the world. There is a real risk of becoming totally enclosed and exclusive, and I hope things will get better for the diversity of languages and cultures on campus in the years to come.
To close this article (and this year at Willamette), I’d like to thank everyone who made this year an interesting experience and who provided support in organizing things or getting around campus at first (right now, I’m thinking about the LLC, the OIE, the French faculty, Leslie Cutler, everyone who came to FR205 and to tutoring, my fellow FLTAs and international students ;), and the wonderful cast of Scapin, but I’m probably forgetting other people) and I’d like to wish to anyone who’s reading this all the happiness in the world. See the beautiful song in the link below: 😉
All the Happiness in the World