May 13, 2013
Foreign language teaching assistants offer a unique perspective on Pacific University in a five-part series starting today.Wanda Laukkanen | Writer
The first thing that struck Robin Huguenot-Noël about the United States was how big everything was.
“When I arrived in San Francisco, everything was so huge, huge, just huge,” said the native of France, his arms spread wide.
“Nature was so huge … everywhere, so huge. The cars are huge, the buses are huge, the houses in San Francisco are huge, and so I thought, ‘Maybe it’s because the nature in America is so impressive that everything needs to be like human answers to nature’s hugeness.”
Hugoenot-Noël is one of five foreign language assistants at Pacific University who work on the Forest Grove Campus teaching French, German, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese to undergraduate students. Three of the five — him, Anna Heggenberger of Germany and Yu-Chun Hung of Taiwan — are here on Fulbright grants through the Institute of International Education. Lucas González Cebolla of Spain and Anna Murakoshi of Japan, are here through other cooperative agreements.
This is the 19th year that the FLTAs, as they are known, have been at Pacific helping to teach foreign language, said Lorely French, chair of the Department of World Languages and Literatures. They assist in classes, take charge of ongoing conversation tables and organize cultural evenings with activities such as cooking, films and games.
Along the way, they learn a bit more about American culture.
“What surprised me is how friend the people are,” said Heggenberger. “If you’re from Germany, you’re not used to people just talking to you.
“And I learned, when people ask you, ‘How are you?’ they don’t want to know. It’s just a greeting. People walk by you and ask, ‘How are you?’ and, before you can answer, they are gone.”
“Here it seems easy, you can say hi to everyone,” echoed Hung. “When I was on the MAX, people would just say, ‘Oh my god, I had a bad day.” … They talk to you and I’m like, ‘Whoa, do I know you?’”
For Hugoenot-Noël, the exposure to American culture also has played into his interest in politics. He lived in France until he was 16, then attended a German boarding school. In addition to French, German and English, he also is learning Spanish. He hopes to return to Germany to earn a master’s degree in international political economy, and perhaps eventually a doctorate, as well.
He interest in politics led him to a political science course at Pacific this fall, where he got involved in the presidential election, canvassing and encouraging people to vote.
“It was very, very, very interesting,” he said. “I would meet people from different backgrounds.”
Being a foreigner made the process particularly interesting, he said.
Some people, he said, told him, “I’m never going to vote for the candidate you are supporting,” and others asked, “What the hell are you doing, participating in my campaign?”
“I could really, really tell the difference between the two different visions that have been represented during the campaign,” he said. “I’m kind of sad the American society is divided, but I understand it.”
Outside of his own political study, Huguenot-Noël also has enjoyed interacting with undergraduates, teaching a class on the evolution of French society, and traveling around the United States.
He, along with the other Fulbright-funded assistants, has attended orientations at Stanford University and in Washington, D.C., and he also visited the Southeast and counts New Orleans among his favorite places.
“I appreciate the South,” he said. “There is a particular spirit there, and they have good food there.”