University of Lyon II and University of Paris 4-Sorbonne
When we talked, Marie Charon apologized several times for her English, as she has been learning it since high school. Nonetheless, many people would give anything to be able to speak another language as well as she speaks English. Marie was even extremely articulate in discussing, in English, her studies about "challenging socially constituted categories of gender and sexual identity." In her thesis that she wrote last year with advisor Mr. Georges Molinié, President of La Sorbonne in France, she examined how "certain literary texts tried to outreach the normative way of thinking about gender. We always think of gender in binary categories, like male and female, and homosexual and heterosexual," so she wrote about how some authors try to go beyond this binary way of thinking. In the French language, "feminine gender is more marked…it's complicated," Marie attempts to explain to me. She says that some authors try to undo gender by writing neutral pronouns, so that the reader cannot notice the difference. This is important because "discrimination starts within language," Marie believes, "since language marks the difference between genders." Additionally, there is only one university that has a women's studies department in Paris, and none that Marie knows of with a gender studies department.
Though she was afraid at first of going to an all-women's college, Marie has been enjoying her time at Smith so far. "University here is very different from university in France. The teachers are closer to their students," which she likes, and she also enjoys having "more life on campus" than at the universities Marie attended at home at the University of Lyon II and La Sorbonne, which do not have the residential life or activities that are prominent here at Smith. The biggest difference between secondary education in France and in the United States, however, is the price. "Of course," Marie says, "there are much more means here: the best equipment, better resources," but she is still astonished by the cost of attending a private liberal arts college in the U.S.
Marie chose to come to Smith because she wanted to study abroad, which she was planning to do for a long time in order to be in a different country and improve her English. The only others time she been to the U.S. before was when she traveled to New York and Canada, but only for a short vacation with her family.
However, she didn't have a fixed idea of what people in the U.S. would be like when she came to Smith because she didn't know what to expect. "Usually we see American people," Marie says of the French stereotype of U.S.-Americans, "as if they don't want to know about other countries and…don't even know where France is or Germany is." She is insistent on reminding me, though, that just because this ignorance is the stereotype, she does not necessarily agree with it. Furthermore, Marie thinks that the French "have a much better image of American people since Obama [was] elected. I think that changes a lot…we couldn't believe that American people would elect a black man," she says with a smile.
After Marie graduates, she wants to go back to France and become a French teacher. We both laugh about how it is ironic that Marie wants to be a French teacher, yet she is studying here in the U.S. She is currently a teaching assistant at Smith in the French department. When asked if she was homesick, Marie said that she misses a lot of people at home, but she is happy to be here.
By Katie Paulson-Smith '14, Global STRIDE Fellow
As part of the Global STRIDE fellowship, the fellows interviewed and profiled international students in the college's graduate program in American Studies, to help familiarize them with people who have made cultural transitions.