Marion Monson is a woman who was born in France. She moved to the United States when she was twenty-one years old. At the moment, Marion lives in Durham and works in the Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies at Duke University.
Can you describe to us your current job?
My work varies a lot. The department in which I work has a lot of different projects and artistes who create different things. There are also art historians who do theoretical research and people who create visual studies. The term “visual studies” is a broad term that describes a lot of different things, but which includes the study and creation of visual information and visual culture. My position is to run the department from an administrative point of view. My duties include paying employees, buying supplies, resolving problems that come up. These problems vary. We moved to a new building and thus, I help coordinate this move. My work changes a lot one day to the next. It also can be very different one month to the next. Depending on the time of year, the different tasks come in a cyclical fashion and others are more urgent.
What is your first memory of Durham?
It was hot and humid. I arrived in Durham in August and it was very hot in summer. Thus, the weather in Durham was a little bit of a shock. However, the university and teaching in the Department of Romance Studies, it was what I had done before coming to Duke and so, it was normal. The city of Durham was different than Ann Arbor where I had lived previously. The atmosphere and culture in Durham were different from Ann Arbor because these two cities were in different regions. Trying to understand the southern accent took some getting used to. Durham has changed a lot since 2002. In particular, the downtown area has become more active: there are a lot of galleries, restaurants, and interesting businesses. Additionally, I have had two children here in Durham at the Duke Hospital, and Durham is a great city in which to raise my children.
What is the impact of the French language on your daily life?
Very little. My husband is American. His French is not very good. He understands pretty well, but we can’t really have a conversation every day in French, so in fact at home, we essentially speak English. With my daughters I try to speak French, but it is not always easy because they speak English amongst themselves, they speak to me in English, I speak English to their father, and so it is truly an effort to adjust my mind to French. I mainly use French when speaking to my family, who are in France, but in my work I also have the chance to use French. That is what is pleasant, because… I am not sure, it is a satisfaction, using my native language for work. Our department has a multitude of collaborations with European institutes, notably Lille III and Le Fresnoy, Studio de arts contemporains, which is an art school in the north of France and so when we communicate with these institutions, I communicate in French with the employees there.
Have you noticed any differences between the business world in France and in the United States?
It is difficult for me to say because I came to America when I was 21 and I had studied all of my life before then, and I had not really worked in business in France. So I cannot make very clear comparisons, but I know, based on what I have heard from friends, that if one does not have the exact qualifications, exact experience and exact employment history, one will not be hired. So I appreciate that in America I have had the chance to learn while working, because for my job, there is not really a degree that would prepare me for all of the things that I do in my job. I am obliged, every day, to learn something new in my job. And I appreciate that in the United States, the professional world permits learning, without the expectation that everyone knows everything on the first day. I would never be able to have this position here, or even the three jobs (I had) before, in France, without having the exact degree one must have for this job. For that, it is good that I have experienced my professional life in the United States.
Translated by Lauren Taylor and Zoë Bakker