The French and German TAs welcomed The Student into their lives and into their dorm rooms this past week. I sat down with French TAs Hélène Thiercy, Kahina Amoura and Matthieu Hauchorne and German TAs Diana Bujewitsch and Björn Szostak to discuss their interests, their backgrounds, the paths that led them here, the differences between Amherst and their home countries, friendship and pink.
By some mysterious quirk of fate-and IT destiny-Kahina Amoura’s email address is akahina@ amherst.edu. This is as much of a mystery to her as it is to the rest of us who keep getting it-through no fault of our own-wrong. She came to Amherst early this fall from Dijon, France-home of mustard-to improve her English by taking courses at the College and to be a TA for French 1 and 3.
Kahina chose to study abroad in the United States because she hopes to be an English teacher in France. She applied to a program at her university that sent students to American universities and was chosen, along with nine others, and assigned to Amherst. She said that coming here and leaving friends and family behind was difficult. “The first two weeks are hard, because then you don’t know anyone.” Now, though, she’s settled in and appreciates the campus. “It’s nice how you can walk from one building to another for each class. You don’t have those large buildings with long hallways that we do back at home.” She finds the student body here quite studious, much more than in her native France, and is impressed by the amount of time they seem to spend reading.
However, she has also noticed that the students here do a lot more than study. “They practice a lot of sports and I think it is important because it allows them not to always spend their time reading. They get to relax and do something else other than study.”
Kahina is a third year student at the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon, France, and she is studying for her bachelor’s degree in literature.
Hélène Thiercy has been destined to come to the United States since Aug. 26, 1992, the day when, only 12 years old, she watched the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death on television and fell in love with the U.S. She came here from Brest, a coastal city in Bretagne, France, where she’s studying for a degree in American law, and hopes to earn a Ph.D. in American civilization someday, specializing in American policies and social thought. She hopes, in the future, to become a professor in American studies in France.
Hélène found the opportunity to come here through her university. “I was really bored with law studies and wanted to spend a year abroad in the United States,” she said. She was informed about the Franco-American commission by her advisor, and applied to the Levy Despas fellowship, which allocates a grant every year for one student from France to be a TA at Amherst. Levy Despas ’40 was a French student who died in World War II and whose parents funded this fellowship.
Upon her arrival here, Hélène found the students fairly amiable. “They’re really studious, and I appreciate my classes because the students are kind and work a lot.” She also finds that the student body has quite diverse interests, unlike that of her university at home. “They’re very interested in French culture, so it’s easy to talk to people,” she said.
Her first impressions of the campus when she arrived early in the fall was that it was “really hot and wet,” but now she appreciates its quiet, even though she said that she misses the bustle of Paris.
Her last advice for her American hosts? “Elect another president next time. Please don’t re-elect again George Bush.”
Matthieu Hauchecorne has lived and studied in Paris for five years and can fully appreciate the novel experience of living in, as he put it, “a nice place in the country. It’s very pleasing and quite opposite from Paris. Here you’re lost in the hills,” he added.
Matthieu, who is 23 years old, finished an economics major from his university last year and is now participating in an exchange program that the College has with his school. He applied to be sent to a New England college and chose Amherst because “my girlfriend is in Boston this year as a T.A. too and we wanted to be not too far from each other,” he said. “But that’s not the only reason-I wanted to improve my English and I wanted to register for some political science courses.”
Matthieu said that he finds Amherst’s student body to be “very friendly.” However, he finds that friendships are formed differently here from in France. “It takes more time to become friends in France than it does here,” he said. “Maybe friendships in France are stronger. It’s nice to be welcomed when you come here.” He also finds that people here are generally more outgoing. “French people are more timid than American people,” he added.
Matthieu has a positive attitude towards the classes he’s taking this semester. “I’ve registered for two courses this fall-political science and the philosophy of language. The course on philosophy of language is very, very good. It’s very clear and interesting,” he said.
“It’s exciting to work for the first time,” said Matthieu, who has never taught before. He also appreciates the facilities available at the College. “I like the fact that you have such good buildings for sports, to swim-the pool- I like such,” he said.
Matthieu hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in political science, and ultimately become a professor someday … “maybe.”
Diana Bujewitsch’s room is suffused with pink. Her sheets are pink and pink clothing is strewn over the floor. A mini-basketball mounted on a pink stand is placed on her mantelpiece and a pink fluff-edged mirror lies on her end table, with a couple of pink razors. A box of pink Kleenex is on her windowsill and pink towels can be seen peeking out of her laundry basket. Her clothing accessories-belts, headbands and earrings-are glittery and sparkly. Hello Kitty also makes a big appearance-a little stuffed toy here, a mousepad there and decorative Christmas lights on her wall. “I’m going to turn 24 this December,” she says, “I hope I grow out of liking pink so much.” So do I, Diana, so do I.
Diana comes to Amherst from Göttingen, Germany, where she is in her third year studying English, German and Slavic studies. She hadn’t heard about Amherst before she applied to an exchange program and got accepted and assigned here. “I wasn’t sure at first if I wanted to go abroad and leave my family and friends,” she said. “I wasn’t very excited about being here.”
After spending more time here, Diana has come to like her classes, her large room and the fact that there are lots of opportunities here for students to pursue diverse interests. She names her solo Amherst Dance audition as her most exciting experience. She got accepted and is performing in a piece this December. “You should come see it!” she said.
“I’ve made some friends here, but sometimes I find it difficult to get to know upperclassmen,” she said of the students at Amherst. “It’s so much easier to get to know freshmen than seniors-the seniors just don’t care because they have their own friends, you know?”
All in all, Diana is enjoying a very positive experience here at Amherst. She has tastes which seem slightly odd-her favorite pizza has corn on it, which no one here seems to have heard of. She also took a cross-training class at the gym this fall, and being the only one who actually registered for it, she convinced a friend to join her.
After completing her university study in Germany, Diana wants to become a TV news anchor, and hopes she can still wear her bright pink sweater with cut-out elbows to work.
Björn Szostak, also from Göttingen is pursuing a master’s degree in social science as a double major in communication and political science. He first heard of Amherst through friends of his who came to the College as German TAs two years ago. “It’s really important in Germany to study abroad,” he said. “I wanted to improve my English and get a different academic experience [and] take the opportunity to teach.”
“It’s pretty different,” he said about the College’s academic environment. “There are some things I really like and some I don’t like that much. All students are motivated to study hard and discuss topics and are really focused on their work. Laziness is not common here.” He is also enthusiastic about the quality of teaching at Amherst. “The professors are interested in what you say, what you think and what you write, and the classes are small.”
However, he doesn’t like life at Amherst very much. “Being at Amherst means spending 99 percent of your time on campus. In Germany, studying at university is only a part of your life and not your whole life as it is in Amherst.” He pauses and continues, “Being at Amherst is like being at summer camp, and after a few weeks, I need a break. So I go off campus to New York or Boston.”
“The students here are really open-minded,” he said. “Getting in touch with people is pretty easy. But making friends is still in progress, it needs more than eight weeks.” Björn said that the student body is more diverse here than in Germany. “It’s like a special number of people are privileged to live here in a bubble outside the world. In Germany, university is something for the mass of people. Ninety-five percent of the universities are public, so being here is different.”