Thursday, November 7, 2013

Professor Valérie Benoist on Life in France

            Having lived in France, Mexico, Switzerland, and the United States, Valérie Benoist, professor of Spanish here at Grinnell College, has had diverse international experiences and identifies as a tri-cultural person. She is currently on leave and living in France on the border of Spain with her husband and son while she writes her book, which focuses on the representation of Blackness in the biographies and autobiographies of three XVIth to XVIIIth century Black nuns of Spain and its colonies (Mexico and Peru, in particular). These three women were able to break the rule that Black women were not allowed to become nuns in colonial Spanish-America, so Professor Benoist is interested in the construction of Blackness in these three spiritual narratives. One of the main reasons Professor Benoist and her husband chose to move to France, where her parents and brother live, was to give their son the experience of living in France and learning French at a young age, and to make it possible for him to see his grandparents more often.
            Valérie Benoist has lived and studied in France, Mexico, and the United States, but has now lived half her life in the United States, which makes returning to life in France for a year, especially as an adult rather than a teenager, a learning experience. One of the greatest differences she sees between life in the United States and life in France is the way relaxation and family time are valued. In France, there is a much greater focus on time spent with family and relaxing. Elementary school children do not have class between noon and 2 p.m., so they often go home to eat lunch with their families. Most businesses often close during this time as well. This is in sharp contrast to the United States, where sayings like, “Time is money” are common and there is a huge emphasis on work.  
It might be expected that adjustment to life in France would be a greater challenge for Valérie Benoist’s son, who didn’t speak French before moving to France this summer. However, he, like the rest of the family, is adjusting very well to life in France. Professor Benoist attributes a lot of the ease of this adjustment to the extremely helpful people they have encountered and the speedy and painless process of establishing phone lines, bank accounts, school registration, and the like they have faced. Although her son is the only non-French speaker in his class, the teacher assigned to work with him has had a lot of experience working with non-French speaking students and has designed a plan to help him adjust to the school. This extra assistance combined with her son’s involvement in Judo and soccer have made his transition go far more smoothly. Overall, Valérie Benoist and her family are adjusting well and enjoying the slower pace of life, the people, the food, and the warmer climate of France.
We will also be hearing from Valérie Benoist’s husband, Andy Mobley, professor of chemistry here at Grinnell College, in a few weeks!

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