A Successful Exchange


Location: Romance Languages and Literatures Dept.

By Mollie Zubek and Gail Hinchion Mancini

Marie Sanquer, an exchange student from University of Rennes, will study at Notre Dame against next fall after a summer home in France. Headline…headline..headline By Mollie Zubek and Gail Mancini Marie Sanquer came from France this year to study French language and literature. For her effort, she found that the American education system truly can offer something about her native language that her native universities do not.

Sanquer, a master’s degree student, is the first student to be part of an exchange program with the University of Rennes instituted by Julia Douthwaite, assistant provost for international studies and a faculty member of the French department.

In fall semester, Sanquer signed up for Douthwaite’s class on “Revolution in Fiction.” Douthwaite had decided to take her class in a fresh direction by assigning students to to create a project that connects an aspect of the course they found particularly meaningful to their own experience of revolution.

“The goal in this project was to allow students to engage creatively with historical material produced during or after the French Revolution,” said Douthwaite, who credits anthropologist Dan Lende’s work on blogs as her inspiration to try something different. “The students could create a poem, story, painting, collage, Internet site, film or an ‘altered book.’”

The creative project, while educational, also served as a way to step away from the more challenging aspects of the course, such as it being taught entirely in French or writing a 10 to 12 page mid-term paper in French. “The creative project leveled the playing field and empowered some students to show strengths that were invisible when we focused on oral/written proficiency alone,” Douthwaite said.

Sanquer would have no problem in a class taught in French, or writing in French. But she had not been exposed to the freedom of such creative expression. She chose to make a film, something for which she had great interest, but no experience.

To help students understand the concept, Douthwaite asked for help from Jean Dibble, associate professor of art and art history. Dibbles recent work embeds current and historic imagery as a way of challenging the viewer with the rich entanglement of the present and our remembered cultural past.

“The creative dimension allows each student to tap into his or her own way of engaging with material,” said Douthwaite. “In fact, it demanded that they become personally invested in the material we learned about from reading books, in a wholly different way.”

Although not a filmmaker, Sanquer chose to make a film. “It’s not a story. It’s a movie showing me at Notre Dame trying to make a movie about the French Revolution. How to find a camera, how to find a set,” Sanquer says. But the vision that inspired Sanquer was clear and compelling.

“Revolution is personal and a question of identity. We have this little sparkle of revolt in us. What makes the revolution go on is if people feel this sparkle,” she explains.

Glad to have had the chance to make a short film, Sanquer also was pleased to observe the creativity of her fellow students, whose works included paintings, drawings and collages.

Sanquer’s year here has served as a spark in general. She has returned to France and will defend her master’s thesis at Rennes this summer. In fall, she will continue working on a Notre Dame master’s while she prepares to apply to study for a doctorate, here in the United States.