Category Archives: English

Umbrella Category

Bertrand Guillotin

“My name is Bertrand Guillotin.  I have been at Duke University since 2002, thus for almost thirteen years.  I have served as the director of the International Programs Office for the past ten years.  Before coming to Duke, I got my MBA at Thunderbird in Arizona.  In fact, I arrived in the United States nineteen years ago.  In 1996, when I arrived, I got my degree and then I worked for American Express.  After American Express, I worked for Nortel Networks, and after that—at Duke.


“My role here at Fuqua: I am the director of International Programs and Internal Affairs for MBA Daytime Programming.  Thus it’s the largest, I don’t know if you know, there are nine hundred full-time students, “en temps complets” in French.  This is, in fact, the largest Fuqua program, and it’s also the Number 1 program in the United States.  So it’s quite big and quite good.

That’s one part of my job.  The second part is to organize Study Tours.  I don’t know what you would call them in French, but they are intensive, cultural, academic, professional visits where you visit companies.  We offer these in Brazil, Latin America, South America, China, or wherever someone wants to go, wherever the students are interested in going.  Thus, that’s the second part of my workload.

The third part is work authorizations.  That is to say working on student visas for students who have a visa here for as long as they’re considered foreign students.  They need my authorization to do an internship or to work more than two years at Duke.  Thus, I keep busy with work authorizations also.

And the fourth part of my job: I work with everything that has to do with international conferences here.  Thus, either with colleagues at Duke, when they organize something, for example with Canadian Studies or the Center for Caribbean and Latin American Studies, or even our international clubs.  We have a lot of international clubs here. When they organize a conference, I help them also.


The first difference that I noticed between the French in terms of workplace culture is actually based on the method of communicating, the style of working.  For example, when French people pose a question, they usually have a logical reason.  Therefore, they say, “voila, here are the important facts, this is the current situation,” and then they ask their question.  In America, Americans don’t explain anything before posing their question.  In general they just ask their question.  Voila the question.  Thus, it’s very direct.  Communication in french is indirect.

What I noticed is there isn’t a lot of hierarchy in the workplace in the United States, in particular when I worked at American Express.  One day, my boss asked me to come to his office.  And I said to myself, I’ve made an error, I’ve done something wrong, I’m going to be reprimanded.  I was nervous and when I arrived he said to me, “Have a seat. Would you like a cup of coffee?”.  A cup of coffee? No, that’s okay, thank you.  What is going on? What did I do?  And he told me, “No, everything is good. You’re doing very well, your work is very good.  You’re doing a good job, so I wanted to tell you thank you”.  This would not happen in France.  In France if your boss asks you to come to their office, it’s not good.  Thus, it was completely the inverse.

I have noticed that at noon, at lunchtime, lunchtime doesn’t exist.  People take very little time—fifteen minutes, thirty minutes. In general, in France, it’s one hour, two hours.

I would say for current MBA students, it’s very important to do something international.  When I arrived, it was a good idea, but it wasn’t truly obligatory. Now it’s obligatory.  I would say not necessarily on the level of courses or curriculum, etc., but it’s true that employers are asking for international expertise and international experience.  I can also say that for me, there is a lot more work than before.  I now have partners who help me with my work.  I have a partner for example at Duke Visa Services for work authorizations.  I have an external partner for the all the international trips that we organize.  Thus, it’s necessary to work as a team.  You have to have a lot of relationships, partners, internal help, external help, in order to do it all.


Merci Bertrand!

The interview, videos, transcription and translation were done by Susannah Roberson and Patrick Ray

Laurent Dubois

Laurent Dubois, Professor of Romance Studies at Duke University, was born in Belgium and has lived most of his life in the United States. He is a specialist in the history and cultures of the Atlantic world, specifically Haiti and the Caribbean, and has been a key contributor to literature and research on the politics of soccer. He received his BA from Princeton in 1992 and a PhD from the University of Michigan in 1998.

Professor Dubois is a unique addition to the Triangle francophone community because of his Belgian heritage yet primarily anglophone upbringing. His academic interests and personal background intersect to give him unique insights into the rich cultural heritage of French speakers in the Americas. This is his story.



Will Gallagher: Introduce yourself. Where were you born? What do you do now? (0: 00-1: 19) 

Lauren Dubois: So I was born in Brussels, Belgium in a francophone family; but I left when I was three weeks old for the United States. We immigrated to Bethesda, Maryland. My parents worked at the National Institute of Health—they were scientists. Therefore, I grew up in the US in a francophone family so we always spoke French at home –that’s how I learned French, given I have always lived in the United States. Here (The U.S.) helped me a lot in my profession. I am a historian and I work a lot in France and the Francophone world but I have never formally studied in France.


Tomas Gimenez: What is the path that led you to Durham? (1: 20-1: 53)

LD: I did a PhD at the University of Michigan and then I found a position as a professor at Michigan State University in East Lansing, in the “big north.” And then I was asked to come to Duke in 2006, or in 2007, so I came here to work at Duke in the Romance Studies Department and History. I have been here now for seven years.


Will Gallagher: So why did you choose a career in education, teaching? (1: 54-3: 39)

LD: From the beginning, when I was undergraduate, I did my studies at Princeton. I was already very interested in writing, or more so, in writing non-fiction stories. I thought to maybe work as a journalist, but then at Princeton I was very interested in the same subjects that I pursue now which is the history of the Caribbean – especially Haiti. So it was with intellectual passion that got me interested in these subjects, and then I decided to pursue a doctorate in anthropological history directly after studying at Princeton. It allowed me to travel, do research, and to have an interesting life. And then here I could work – in fact in this career you never know if we will find positions! But I was able to find good jobs and I love teaching, writing and research. I write about a lot of different topics – the history of the Caribbean and more recently I am working on the history of soccer and other topics as well, so I have explored various topics. I work across disciplines. I have a background in history and anthropology, but I work a lot in literature. I’m in two departments. For me it’s quite interesting to be able to cross different areas of studies.

TG: What are some challenges you’ve had in your career? (3: 40-5: 21)

LD: Well, there were the normal challenges, finding scholarships, being able to have scholarships for research as well as to going to graduate school. There were also moments of doubt, whether this work was really what I wanted to do—it is normal, I think. Then I needed to decide what career and how to pursue that career. I think in general it’s a career where we have a lot of flexibility, so in fact it has a lot of autonomy to make choices. Sometimes I think about what happens in the academic world is challenging because we sometimes have to choose topics that we really like but then we always have periods in research that are annoying and those that are difficult. There are challenges in the middle of a project that are complicated, so it is true that sometimes there are colleagues that say we must love the subject very much because if it’s really hard, it’s difficult to finish. I will say that it’s always about finding the balance between work and family life, this is the issues that everyone tries to address.


WG: What do you think of the culture in Durham, and North Carolina? Are there large differences between the culture here and the culture of your birth country, or rather the land of your parents? (5: 22-8: 35)

LD: Yes, I love Durham. I think it is an interesting city with many different levels; it is a city that at first glance, we do not see very well. This is not a city of easy access, there is a lot of cultural and social worlds that are somewhat hidden, and I know that for many students it is a Duke city ​​that is not easily understood; but there are a lot of things happening in Durham. I love that there is in fact a lot of people in Durham that is completely separate from the university world. The difference between the cultures? Well that’s funny because I always say when I’m in Europe I always defend the United States and in the United States I have to defend Europe. I feel fully capable to understand both worlds quite well and also understand why the two worlds do not understand each other at all. It is true that there are many subtleties… but it looks like Europe and America are not so different because there are cultures, shared history, language, literature, etc.

But there are huge differences, particularly in terms of education systems, so this is very fascinating that I often think, given my personality, I do not know if I would have succeeded academically in Europe in a system that is much stricter and organized. I believe that the education in the American system allows for a lot more creativity, and paths that are a little weirder. So I know I would have a very different life in a different culture. When I see the contrasts between the models of education that way it is very striking. And I see that when I try explaining to students the model of education in the United States vs the French model, it can be very complicated. In fact it is like explaining baseball to a French person! And in the other direction, explaining soccer to some Americans is complicated! This is all to say that, of course there are many people in our generation and many students who live between cultures so you get used to understanding many backgrounds.


TG: Given that you appreciate the diversity in Durham, have you found a Belgian francophone community? (8: 36-9: 30)

LD: It’s more apparent in college. I did not find one in Durham; I sometimes have encounters with a Haitian community that is French and Creole speaking. There is a large francophone community, especially West Africa (Cameroon, etc), and some French as well. But I would not say that there is a structured Francophone community in Durham. In the Romance Studies department, since I teach in the Romance Studies and History department, many of my colleagues speak French. So it’s there. I usually just speak French with my family, and it is true that I have a few friends and colleagues here who are speaking with whom I speak French.


WG: Do you feel a sense of belonging to the global Francophone community? And how has this influenced your career choice? (9: 31-10: 48)

LD: Definitely somewhere, in fact I would say that speaking French certainly allowed me to be part of the discussions, especially in France, Haiti, Africa. I also like some aspects of literature in French given there are many things that are not translated into English. There is also the world of culture, music, soccer, etc. I would say it is rather an informal membership, so I’m not very oriented towards the formal institutions of the Francophonie, but I love all the contacts it creates. In particular, as you know, French is a very important language in Africa, and it allows me to meet many colleagues and there is a whole intellectual world, which is in French that would be unattainable without the language.


TG: Given you did not grow up a lot of time in Belgium, do you feel you have a close relationship with Belgium? (10: 49-12: 36)

LD: I have a rather ironic relationship. I like to be Belgian when it suits me, like when the football team plays well! And then there are certain aspects of the culture in Belgium that I enjoy: food, comics, etc. But as you know Belgium itself has a rather fragile social construct. It’s true that I feel more Belgian French for example. I lived several years in France, so I have lived longer in France that I have ever lived in Belgium but my personal alliance is more with the Caribbean than Belgium given my work. I would say that I feel more connected with Haiti and Guadeloupe than Belgium, but it is a country that I like. It is true that my experience is a little limited, because I’ve never been educated over there…just usually for vacation. In contrast to France I have more links with universities in France and it is there where I was anchored in my studies. I lived in Paris and Aix-en-Provence, so I am more familiar with these two cities.


WG: So there are other linguistic communities in Durham and North Carolina. What are the language communities that have the biggest presence? (12: 37-13: 21)

LD: I know the Latino community is rather large in Durham. I have some links and contacts with the Haitian community, where there are French and Creole speakers. I know there are other linguistic communities but I do not have much contact with them.


TG: Do you think they have integrated well or not? (13: 21-14: 13)

LD: I think the Latino community is a bit complicated in Durham. Since this is a relatively new community, there are many questions about the presence in the city, etc. I think there is enough tension in a broader sense concerning the whole question of the Spanish and immigration to the United States. The Francophone community, because it is less visible and is made up of more people in the business world, it’s more multilingual people, so they are viewed a little differently.

Benjamin Massaoui


Benjamin Massaoui and his bakery in Durham

by Breanna Kendall and Allie Tallering 

Benjamin Massaoui is a Frenchman who currently lives and works in Durham, North Carolina. He is originally from Paris, France and now is the owner and head chef of a bakery called French Corner Bakery. We were lucky enough to be able to interview Benjamin on his life and time as a French-speaking native living in Durham. See below for the English translation or click here to view the original interview in French. We would like to thank Benjamin and his children for their time and for the delicious croissants ! Everyone should go and visit his shop in Durham to talk to him (in French or in English !) and to try for themselves his very special treats !

Find the French Corner Bakery here and on 2500 N. Pointe Drive.





Question 1: Where did you grow up and how did you find yourself here in Durham?

Benjamin: I was born and raised in Paris in the 13th arrondissement and lived my whole life in Paris. I traveled a lot around the world. I first came to the United States in 1998 to see if I liked it. I worked in New York for one year and I liked it a lot. I came back to France to get some of my things together and to get my visa. In 1999, I came here for good. One thing that is really funny is that everyday that I worked in Paris, I drove by the Eiffel Tower. The last day I was in Paris, when I was on my way to get on the plane, I drove by one last time and realized I had never been in the Eiffel Tower. I realized that I was about to immigrate to the United States without ever going in the Eiffel Tower. So I stopped by car and went inside! I grew up in Paris without ever being in yet. But I’m sure that it is a similar situation for people who live next to Niagara Falls. They wake up every morning and go about their business. They don’t open the window every day and say “Wow it’s so gorgeous!”

Question 2: Paris vous manque?

No, not really. I lived there my whole life. I know the city. When I miss something, food especially, I can just make it!

Question 3: What do you do as work and how did you get interested in this work?

As you can see, we make bread and pastries. I began when I was 15, now I’m 50. That’s 35 years that I have made bread. I had an uncle who was a baker. It was the good way to always have fresh bread. I did an apprentice and I became a baker. It took me 7 or 8 years to become a professional baker. Then I traveled a lot. One day in 1994, I was in Africa and I heard something very interesting from a man in the Congo. When an old man dies, it’s like a library burning. All the knowledge flies away. If I want to become good at what I do, I want to learn. I want to teach others. So for that reason, I began teaching classes on baking and making pastries. As you can see, this is my son. He is in the process of making cinnamon buns. And my daughter is over there too.

Question 4: Vos enfants, parlent-ils français?

No, they know “non” but not much else!

Question 5: What do you think of the French community here in Durham? Do you like Durham?

Yes, I love Durham. I have lived here 8 years now. I don’t really know the French community here. But ever since opening this bakery, I have gotten to know it better as they have started to come. Before that, I didn’t really communicate with them. Two weeks ago, the French commissioner from Raleigh called me to congratulate me on the newspaper articles in the News & Observer and the Durham Sun. He invited me to a gala and I said no thanks. I have been here 12 years and just because my name is now in the newspaper, he invited me. I am just a baker. I think there are people who are more deserving of this invitation. I just bake bread. There are teachers, nurses, and doctors who deserve more attention from the media than me.

Question 6: How long have you had this bakery?

We have been here since December 2014 and it has been a great experience. We have been very well received. We have 5 stars on Yelp, 5 stars on Facebook. I saw someone put on Facebook, “Even the pictures smell good!” I am lucky that God has given me two good hands and it is a benediction and it is a benediction for others. On a lighter note, when I realized I could not loose weight, I try to loose weight and I can’t, I decided to put people around me that are a little bit more “fluffy.”

Question 7: Des derniers mots? Mange beaucoup? Mange bien?

Bon appétit! You must come visit me at my bakery and try my bread! You can have French reunions here. We have coffee and free wifi – we have everything! Every time I can speak French, it is like I have a piece of candy in my mouth. Because I don’t speak it a lot. My kids spoke French just up until the day they went to school. And after they were exposed to English all the time, they began to respond to me in English and then little by little they lost it. It’s sad, but I’m sure they understand more than they tell me. I think it is selective! We need more people that speak French!




Sandrine Pauwels

N: Could you please explain your story a little – how is it that you speak French, why do you live here and work here..? Perhaps to begin, where were you born?

S: I’m a Parisian. I come from Paris. I spent part of my childhood in Paris and part in Portugal also because my parents were expatriates for their work. So I came back to Paris, I left when I was three and came back when I was twelve and thereafter, I always lived in Paris. I did my studies in Paris. I worked in Paris.

I was trained as a documentalist. I worked at the commission of documents of the stock exchange. A bit like the ICC here. The organization that controls the stock exchange. So I married and had a husband and a son.

My husband had lived in the US and we started to export to the US a product of French decorations. We decided to move to the US to develop this business in fact.

I came to NC in 87 because I had a friend who lived here and I was a student so doing some travel.

When we decided where to go, we decided in the end on Raleigh. Yes, I live in Raleigh, not Durham. So yes, we arrived with our two young children.

N: When was this?

S: It was in June 1999.  It’s been a while now! And so we arrived, thinking we perhaps wouldn’t stay long, that perhaps not much happens here! And in the end, we’re still here! And so my husband developed his business. He imports to the US bench tops of enameled lava. It’s lava which comes from the volcanoes in France and it’s enameled with different colors. And then sold throughout the US. He’s responsible for the whole American market.

So me, I didn’t work, I looked after the children. Until the month of September last year, when I started to work for Helen Solterer at the Centre for Francophone studies here at Duke.

N: And in doing your work as a documentalist, were you at a library as well or more in the stock exchange?

S: No, not a library, really a centre of documentation for people doing research on the law of the bourse, research on society, it was our responsibility to create documents for lawyers, for people doing studies on society. It’s not open to the public, it’s really more integrated as a business.

T: What are the obstacles that you’ve encountered in American culture?

S: It’s complicated. In my experience, as a Frenchperson you have the impression that you know American culture. So when you say you’re going to live there, it’s not like saying that you’re going to live in India, China or Africa where you’d think “Oh! That’s completely different, I don’t know what I’m going into!”
But in fact, when you arrive, you realise you don’t know much at all.
And especially, I think, because we weren’t going to New York or a large well-known city. We arrived in the south of the US in a small city. Relative to Paris, it is very small, and things are very different in fact.
The way people function… At the beginning, going to the supermarket, was very different… So in fact, every day, you have the experience of saying “I thought I knew but in fact I don’t know.” And that, it’s very interesting in fact, it’s very interesting. You might think that it’s not very exotic coming to the US, not very different. But in fact it is, there are many things to learn.

N: And they’re perhaps things that you don’t hear about in the rest of the world?

S: Exactly, it’s daily life in fact. Also the relationships between people. Many things.

N: This is very linked to our studies, the francophone community in North Carolina… Is there much of a french community?

S: I can answer this well because in fact, it’s me that keeps the list of French in Raleigh and the Triangle. And also Carey because there are growing numbers in Carey. More Raleigh and Carey, not so much Durham and Chapel Hill.

I don’t know the exact figures but there are quite a few francophones. And numbers are growing. A lot of businesses that bring them in. The Canadian francophones as well, there are quite a few of them too. And they’re quite diverse in fact. All sorts of people, careers and ages. Quite a few came to work for IBM. And there are those who retire in North Carolina.

T: Do you think it was easier for your children?

S: Yes, my elder son was 5 and my daughter was 9 months old. He went to an American school and it was very easy for him in fact. He speaks very well English, much better than me!

N: So effectively, your children are quite American?!

S: It’s not that simple, not that simple! Because they’re really of double culture. We always speak French together. We never speak English together. Because all of us have French as our maternal language. However, it’s interesting, they speak English together, because that’s the language of their studies at school.

Also, we have TV5, I’ve tried a lot to maintain French in our family. And they speak French well.

N: Do they have French friends?

S: No. Well, yes, some. There is a small French community. There are some of the same age.

My daughter has one francophone friend with whom she’s very close.

My son, his very good friends, they left when they were about ten so he has far fewer francophone friends.

N: Do you still feel connected to the French working world? For example, with his business, your husband must have to do negotiations in France, have strong connections in France?

S: Yes, because though his business is independent, he must buy from France. he must have connections… he has to go over there, make visits, have meetings, so yes, the link is still quite strong.

T: Do your children take French classes at school?

S: So no, that’s a bit complicated. Do you know CNED? It’s a French organization under the Ministry of Education that proposes French classes as if you went to school in France but by correspondence… They’re for students who are sick and can no longer go to school or for gypsies, people who travel who can’t attend a fixed school. Or for expatriates who have no French school to attend. For my son, just for French, not maths or the other subjects, we did this until about sixth grade… And after, he could do no more… which I understand! For my daughter, we did it a little but I taught her to read and write myself in fact.

And in fact, the problem is that the level of my children is too high to take High School level French so in the end, I made a deal with my son for him to do AP French in his last year of school and in fact, he tricked me, he made up a story and never did it!

Godi Godar

My name is Godi Godar. Currently, I live in Durham. I originally come from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 

Q: How did you end up here?

I came here through a connection with a missionary who invited me here to the US. I continued learning English at a community college in Durham. I’m a skilled worker and built my house here too.

Q: What do you do?

I started an organization that protects tropical forest in my home country. The organization is called Go Conscious Earth.

Q: What languages do you know?

First, I learned Bantomba. Then, in elementary school I learned Lingala, a commercial language. From about 4th or 5th grade until college. I learned French. 

Q:Do you know any others in the area from your region?

I know someone from Congo who lives in Raleigh. I don’t have much association with that community because I think I live kind of far from Raleigh. But, at times I feel there is a big community that exists.

Q: Do you have any difficulties with language?

When I go back to Congo and I speak English, French, or Lingala. I mix them up. Language is a bit tricky for me. 

Bertrand Guillotin

“Je m’appelle Bertrand Guillotin. Je suis à Duke University depuis 2002, donc ça fait treize ans, presque. Je suis directeur du International Programs Office depuis dix ans. Donc, avant j’ai fait mon MBA à Thunderbird en Arizona avant Duke. En fait je suis arrivé il y a dix-neuf ans, aux Etats-Unis. Donc en 1996 quand je suis arrivé, j’ai fait mes études, après j’ai travaillé chez American Express, après chez de American Express, à Nortel Networks, et après—Duke.”

“Mon rôle ici à Fuqua: je suis directeur de Programme Internationaux et Intérieur du MBA Daytime Programming. Donc c’est le plus gros, je ne sais pas si vous connaissez, on a neuf cent étudiants “full-time,” en temps complets en français. C’est, en fait, la plus grande programme de Fuqua et c’est aussi le programme qui est numéro 1 aux Etats-Unis. Donc on est assez grand et on est assez bon.

Ça c’est une partie de mon travail. La deuxième partie c’est d’organiser des « Study Tours. » C’est à dire des, je ne sais pas comment dire en français, mais ces sont en fait des visites intensives, culturelles, académiques, professionnelles, ou en fait des visites d’entreprises. Donc, ça on le fait sur le Brésil, l’Amérique latine, l’Afrique du sud, la chine, ou pas importe ou on y veut aller, où les étudiants sont intéresser. Donc ça c’est la deuxième partie de mon travail.

La troisième partie ces sont les autorisations de travail. C’est à dire on fonctionne des visas des étudiants ce qui ont un visa ici en tant qu’étudiante étranger. On besoin de mon autorisation pour faire un stage ou pour travailler après l’hors deux ans à Duke. Donc je m’occupe des autorisations de travail aussi.

Et quatrième partie de mon travail: je m’occupe de tous qui est en conférence international ici. Donc, soit avec les collèges à Duke quand on organise quelque chose, par exemple avec Canadian Studies ou Center for Caribbean and Latin American Studies, ou alors nos clubs internationaux. On a aussi beaucoup de clubs internationaux ici. Quand ils organisent une conférence, je les aide aussi.”

“Une première différence que j’ai remarqué entre les Français et dans la culture dans le milieu de travail, c’est en fait basé sur une façon de communiquer, une façon de travailler. Par exemple, les Français en général pour poser un question, ils ont un raisonnent logique. Donc ils disent, « voila, nous connaissons les fait intels, que c’est la situation maintenant, » et ils posent leur question. Donc, en Amérique, les Anglais n’expliquent pas tous avant de poser une question. En général, ils posent leur question. Voila la question. Donc c’est très direct. La communication en français c’est indirect.

Qu’est-ce que j’ai remarque c’est qu’il n’y a pas beaucoup de hiérarchie dans le travail aux Etats-Unis, en particulier chez American Express. Un jour, mon patron m’a demandé de venir dans son bureau. Et je me suis dit, j’ai fait un erreur, j’ai fait quelque chose de mal, je vais mon faire gronder. J’étais nerveux, et j’arrive et il m’a dit, « assieds-toi, tu veut un café? » Un café, non, ça va, merci. Qu’est-ce qui se passe, qu’est-ce que j’ai fait? Et il m’a dit, « non, ça va, tu va très bien, ton travail est très bien. Tu fais les bons travails, je voulais te dire merci. » On ne fait pas comme ça en France. En France si votre patron vous dit de venir dans le bureau, ce n’est pas très bon. Donc c’est complètement l’envers.

J’ai remarqué que pendant le midi, dans l’heure de déjeuner, n’est pas. Les gens prennent très peut de temps—quinze minutes, trente minutes. Donc en général, en France, c’est une heure, deux heures.”

“Je dirais pour les étudiants MBA maintenant, c’est beaucoup plus important de faire quelque chose en international. Quand je suis arrivé, c’était une bonne idée, mais ce n’était pas vraiment obligatoire. Maintenant c’est obligatoire. Je dirais pas forcement le niveau des cours ou de « curriculum, » etc. Mais c’est vraiment les employeurs qui demandent la connaissance internationale et de l’expérience internationale. Je peux aussi dire que pour moi, il y a beaucoup plus de travail qu’avant. Donc en fait, on a des partenaires aussi qui nous aident à faire notre travail. J’ai un partenaire, par exemple, à Duke Visa Services pour les autorisations travail. J’ai un partenaire à l’extérieur pour tous les voyages internationaux que l’on met en place. Donc en fait il faut travailler d’équipe. Il faut beaucoup de relations, de partenariats, internes, externes, pour faire tout ça.”

Merci Bertrand!

L’entretien, les vidéos, et la transcription sont fait par Susannah Roberson et Patrick Ray

Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith is an American journalist specialized in African studies. He worked as deputy editor of the foreign desk at Le Monde and, as the Africa editor of Liberation. He is the author of multiple academic publications about African culture and history in both English and French. Since 2006, Smith is a professor of the practice at Duke University.


1. Can you introduce yourself briefly?

My name is Stephen Smith—and by the way, just then I pronounced it in French, as I have for quite a long time. I was born in Connecticut, so in the United States. My father was American, my mother was German, and so I lived for quite a long time in Paris, where each time I picked up the telephone I had to say “Stephen Smith” because if I didn’t, no one understood.


2. When did you first come to Durham?

The first time I came here was in 2006. I was « Media Fellow ». I had worked for a long time as a journalist specialized in Africa for « Liberation », and, then, « Le Monde ». Afterwards, I left – I had published some books and I wanted to become an independent journalist. In that context, I was invited here for six weeks as a « Media Fellow ». I did not know anything about Duke before I came, but then I became visiting professor for a semester and after that I was offered a contract.


 3. When did you start learning French?

I started learning French when I was 17, so I did not have any family connection – as I was telling you, my mother was German, so, I spoke German with her, and English with my father, who died very quickly… I arrived in Paris at a very advanced age. They always tell you that you cannot learn a language correctly at a certain age. And so, I told myself : ok, if I am, let’s say, a doctor learning French at a certain time would be enough to work as a doctor but as a journalist that will be harder.

However, in reality, when you are an adult, and learning a language, you truly baptize each word. When you are a child you just breathe the word in certain type of situations, but when you are an adult you reflect on each word, and each one is tied to a situation. For me, learning a language as an adult, baptsising each word under pressure worked really well. As a adult, the words started to come very easily because everything was constructed – nothing was natural.


4. How did you become interested in African Studies?

I was first interested in Africa before being interesting in African Studies. An in reality in ’75 I had to go to China for a year, but that didn’t end up happening, so at the last moment I wanted to take a year off. I no longer knew where I was really going with my studies, and so I left at the last minute for Sub-Saharan Africa. It wasn’t’ my idea, it was the mother’s idea. She said, “If you go there and then come back, you will know what you want to do” and she was right. I had no money, had no scholarship, so I had to work. It was a difficult and quite complicated year from that point of view, but it brought me back to reality and when I came from there, I told myself that I would return to my studies, and even specialize in Africa, and I worked my whole life on Africa. I wrote books, I worked as a journalist, and I teach as a professor. So, my passion is Africa and the field is secondary. I try to think about and talk about Africa, whether it’s in a book or in the classroom, it is relatively indifferent to me. I am very happy that I can do that here at Duke, of course. It’s a department that, truly as soon as I stepped foot here it I really liked it because it is very open—not in the American sense of diversity—but very open in the sense that I have colleagues that work on Hip Hop and others who work on diasporic communities, and I’m crazy about Africa, and I like that conversation between us so I am very happy to be here.


5. What were the biggest challenges and biggest rewards of living and working in Africa?

The biggest challenge is probably suspending judgment in order to better understand it from the inside, and taking that seriously. I don’t think that’s specific to Africa, if I wanted to work on Durham and wanted to understand the people of Durham—and there I am not talking about the black community but in general—in order to understand you need to really go inside, and that means suspending your judgment, because as soon as you judge you have already seen the results before having seen the process. And to be ready to put yourself in another’s place. This means that the other person is like you in another circumstance, that is the biggest challenge. And of course, Africa is very different from the rest of the world, very different from the world in which I grew up. I am white, I am relatively privileged, I didn’t know a lot about Africa before when I went there the first time (it was, I don’t know, forty years ago). So having the attitude to put yourself in another’s place is the biggest challenge. And of course very often we pass by because we think we already understand, but in reality we understand nothing. And it takes a long time and the longer you stay in Africa, the more complicated things become.

The biggest pleasure, that’s something relatively personal. When I introduced myself I told you, I come from a family that is a little different (my grandmother was Russian, etc.). Going to Africa was a great pleasure for me because it’s an anthropological laboratory. Everyone speaks many languages, it’s totally commonplace there. You can be born in a village and end up at la Sorbonne or Harvard, it’s quite possible, and I find this trajectory absolutely unique. It is not a shortcut of the European or American story, it’s something unheard of because huts and cell phones exist at the same time in Africa. And this mixture between this laboratory personally attracted me enormously. How do you fit into a world where you are something totally colorful that doesn’t exist anywhere else, or you do not have what we call roots or “rootholds”. In this regard, I always like going to Africa under any pretext just to revitalize myself around people who try to do odd jobs like all of us, and me too.

The interview, videos, transcription and translation were done by Josie Holasek, and Patricia Deza

Marion Monson

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


Originally from Senegal, Mawa fulfilled her dream of opening her own kitchen in January of 2005. She explains,

“I came to the US at the end of the 80s, and went to NYU. Before arriving here, I went to the University of Senegal for accounting. When I got here, I lived in New York for school and then I got married. I stayed and had kids who are now at universities here… so it’s been a while since I’ve been here.”

But just how did her venture get started?

“To start with, we found African products to import because when I first got here, I realized that there weren’t enough African food products. Every time I went to the supermarket, I would ask: why is there spaghetti sauce and not African sauces? So I took classes that I needed about getting started, and just began. My husband was the person who convinced me to start an African restaurant because there weren’t any here at that time.”

In regards to the cultural differences she experienced in the US as native francophone speaker, Mawa adds:

“First, Senegal is different in terms of religious background – I was born in a country where 15% is Muslim. I went, however, to catholic schools my whole life, so it is pretty normal for me here. Another aspect that is different is the « right of elders », the rights you have when you are older. That is to say that if for example, I am older than you, I have more right to do something. I don’t have to be your mother or your sister. If I were older, you would consequently have to respect me. So I was born in that kind of spirit. Sometimes I tell my sons – He is older than you and they tell me « so what? ». My sons can’t really understand. They were born here and are used to life here. There are things I am used to now, and things that I am not. But like my husband says, there isn’t real or fake culture. There isn’t bad or fake culture, there are just differences, and we respect those domains.”

Pascal Vidal

Pascal Vidal is managing director of SKEMA Business School’s Raleigh campus. He shares his thoughts about education styles and cultural differences with students Bao Tran-Phu and Susan Wang.