Congratulations on placing in the top 20 of the American Journal of French Studies’s national writing competition in French! Can you tell us more about your essay "Mon histoire avec le français et le fromage" that you wrote in response to the prompt, "Why did you start learning French?"
Marcel Proust writes that taste can trigger memories that are lost in time, and I echo this idea. For me, the French language and culture are directly associated with the taste of cheese. During my year studying in Paris, every Saturday, I would commute to Mairie des Lilas and meet with Mme G., a French lady who gave me language and culture lessons. We would sit on her balcony, drink herbal tea, and study French literature together. After learning that I was fond of cheese, Mme G. would choose two kinds of French cheese for me every week so I could travel around France through my taste buds. Accompanied by the smell of cheese, we voyaged in the ocean of Verlaine, Rimbaud, and Proust.
In your winning essay, you mention that you have been a fan of cheese since childhood and that you grew up in a country where it appeared rarely in dishes. What are your early memories of cheese?
Back in my childhood, I used to go to an Italian restaurant with my mom in my hometown Guangzhou once a month. I would always order pasta because I loved the creamy-colored, sticky-textured layer on top of the dish. In fact, I didn’t even like the noodles and the sauce, but just that topping! Whenever my taste buds came into contact with the rich flavor of cheese, I felt a sense of satisfaction that I couldn’t explain. That’s my first memory of cheese.
Why did you decide to major in French at NYU?
I came into NYU as a Global Liberal Studies major, and I chose to spend my freshman year abroad in Paris. During my stay, I tried to seize every opportunity to learn French and connect with the French culture. When I realized that I could read Proust in French, analyze French poetry, and communicate with French friends in their language, I knew that I wanted to continue this journey of connecting with the Francophone world. So I declared French as my second major!
In addition to French, you are pursuing a major in Global Liberal Studies and a minor in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. Do you find that your different fields of study intersect? How do they work together?
I see both my French major and ME minor as complements to my GLS major. GLS itself is an interdisciplinary field that cultivates all-round 21st century global citizens who are well aware of the world and equipped with transnational knowledge. Thus, my understanding of both the French and Arabic culture and language helps me better make sense of my GLS coursework and pushes my capability to the maximum.
How have you fostered your passion for French in college?
Studying in Paris definitely facilitated the process of me falling in love with this language. I would go to a variety of cultural activities organized by NYU Paris, such as operas, plays, and ballets, and cultural trips to Burgundy, Normandy, and Grenoble. I built up my passion for the French language brick by brick, petit à petit, through these enriching experiences.
What has been one of your favorite French courses at NYU and why?
All the French classes I have taken at NYU have pushed me to further develop my passion for French. They kind of play different roles. For example, the intermediate course taught by Professor Cécile Petit at NYU Paris helped me establish a solid foundation for future learning, Canon Proust taught by Professor Eugène Nicole connected me with the core of French classics, and La Belle Époque with Professor Melanie Hackney provided me with a profound examination of the richness of the French culture.
What advice would you give to students who are considering majoring or minoring in French?
Studying in Paris would definitely help you better understand the language and culture. Once at NYU Paris, try to participate in all the cultural activities organized by the Student Life team- they are all quality opportunities and free! If in New York, participating in events organized by the French Club can also help you meet other students who are passionate about this language and culture!
Of course, I must ask: What are your favorite kinds of cheese?
Saint-Nectaire, Camembert, and Brillat-Savarin (this is the street name of the NYU dorm in Paris!)
Would you like to share anything else about your experiences with French?
Language learning is a lengthy journey. It might start with a tiny spark of curiosity, but gradually you may find yourself in a wonderland, discovering one marvel after another.