Noémie Vandenborre, Fulbright Scholar FTLA, French Language Teaching Assistant
Can you tell us about where you are from and how you came to Gannon? Why did you choose to join the Fulbright program?
My name is Noémie Vandenborre and I come from the land of baguettes, berets, and wine and cheese: France.
A lot was going on in my life in October and November of 2021 that led me to become a Fulbright Scholar. At that time, I was 20 years old. I had just finished my bachelor's degree and was starting my master's degree. I was planning on becoming an English teacher in France. I would often think about the fact that I had never really been in an English-speaking country. Almost everyone around me had, and every morning I would wake up thinking about traveling. As a student, money had always been tight. My parents wouldn't necessarily help me out, so I heavily relied on myself financially. I couldn't even dream about going abroad on my own. That is what made me think about getting a grant and some help to go abroad.
The first time I heard from Fulbright, I was doing an internship in a research laboratory with my soon-to-be thesis director when he casually mentioned one of his old students who had been selected for Fulbright.
I thought it was written in two separate words: "full" and "bright.” I remember my first reaction was, "Well, I am not fully bright, the people who get that grant must be geniuses who never fail.” Because of that, I didn't bring myself to consider applying for that grant. Then, my girlfriend mentioned that she was going to apply for it, and soon enough, I felt motivated and empowered enough to complete my application.
Fulbright is great for many reasons, but it is a process. By the beginning of February, I had been waiting for an answer for almost a month. I could receive it any day, at any hour, so I was constantly checking. As you can see, I got really intimate with Gmail for those few months. Then, one day, I saw the email. My eyes read: "We are honored to inform you that you have been selected for the Fulbright French Language Teaching Assistant Program of 2022-2023."
Everything happened very quickly from that point on. I received a list of universities from the U.S. Some were in California, West Virginia and Pennsylvania and I had to rank them according to my preferences. Now, because I am writing for the Gannon community, it is easy to guess which university I put first: Gannon University.
Before Fulbright, I had never really seen an American college campus apart from those you see in movies. So, I had to rely on the only things I could: how good does the campus look? How interesting is their website? What are people saying about that university online? How dynamic is the city around it? Is the weather nice all year long? I wanted the snow, so the only person I can blame for choosing the snow is myself. Jokes aside, I love the snow, and I hadn't seen that much snow in a while because in the western part of France where I’m from it almost never snows.
For some reason, Gannon felt like the right choice. I hadn't done a lot of research about it, but every time I clicked on Gannon’s website and looked at photos of the campus, I simply felt like a part of me belonged there.
Throughout May, June and July, I prepared my travel plans, my VISA and all the administrative stuff. Summer went by so quickly and soon enough, I had to say goodbye to my loved ones and the journey began. From Saint-Pol-de-Léon to Paris; from Paris to Chicago; from Chicago to Pittsburgh; from Pittsburgh to Erie. After more than 40 hours awake, I never felt so alive.
On August 8, I arrived in Erie at Gannon University. The amazing Dr. Kosir welcomed me and led me to my dorm, where I slept for 12 hours straight. I ate noodles from Noodle Love at 6 a.m. and started discovering the campus right away. I was surprised at how nice it looked, how warm it was and how at home I felt. It was quite early in the year, so there were almost no students around. It allowed me to familiarize myself with all the different places to start working on my syllabi. And to realize that I would be teaching, a dream of mine, thousands of kilometers away from my home.
Can you describe the work that you are doing here at Gannon through the Fulbright program? What courses are you teaching?
The first lesson I had was with four students; one who graduated last semester and three who are still Gannon students to this day. It was a French language lesson. As soon as the hour started, I felt that what I was doing was right, that I felt good doing it and that I would love teaching these students, and I still do. As a teacher, it is perfectly fine to feel stressed out, to feel like you are not good enough, not competent enough, not “enough” to teach other human beings, but these feelings are overcome with feelings of pride when one of your students achieves something or when you feel that they trust you with their education and that they are genuinely happy and interested in what they are learning.
During this year, I had the chance to be involved in the Gannon community in so many interesting ways. First and foremost, I had the privilege of teaching five classes: one tutoring class on French short stories and one French play, two levels of French language (III and IV), one class on the French and Francophone cultures in the Fall and Once Upon a Time in France which I am still currently teaching. This is a course that I built myself and that centers around the idea of allowing the students to view France through the eyes of a child who grew up there. I had approximately 40 students, and every single one of them brought something to me that I will never forget.
I also audited classes with Dr. King, Dr. Bloodworth and Dr. Baugh. Doing this allowed me to stay connected to my identity as a student and my love for academia. I got the chance to hear these teachers talk about so many interesting subjects, from American politics, Native literature, and the Middle East and its representation through cinema. I have gained so much knowledge that I will keep with me for the rest of my life.
I got involved in the Schuster Theatre as Helen of Troy in “Doctor Faustus” back in September, as a box office manager for “A Christmas Carol” in December and as a member of the ensemble in “Dusk: The Musical” in February. I had the opportunity to go and see “Hamilton” and “Beetlejuice” in Cleveland and how dreamy these performances were. Gannon allowed me to explore the world of theatre and to keep on learning about it throughout the year.
In October, I visited Pittsburgh with one of the greatest teachers at Gannon: Dr King. I got the privilege of learning about “dahntahn” and “Yinz” and I am now proud to be in on the slang. It was such a great experience and it made me think a lot about the person that I am. This trip is a part of me and everything that I have seen, everything that I have done, and the conversations that we had will stay in my mind until the day I die like all the interactions I had throughout this year with the Gannon community, whether it be with Gannon's incredible staff, great students or with Gannon’s amazing teachers.
Why was it important to you to bring your expertise and cultural experiences to students at Gannon through the Fulbright program?
The Fulbright program allowed me to have the privilege of being a cultural ambassador abroad and I think that comes with a lot of responsibility. As such, I got to represent France as a country to some people who had never encountered or talked to a French person before. Now, it is so easy to fall for the clichés about one nationality or another, but how interesting it is to start deconstructing them and learning beyond. The Fulbright program allowed such a powerful cultural exchange at Gannon University, and I feel honored to have been a part of it. This is only one of the hundreds of exchanges that Fulbright organizes every year for the sake of culture and opening our minds and our souls to the world.
What has been most memorable to you about this experience?
I think what was most memorable about this experience was the way Gannon welcomed me with open arms from the first day I arrived. I can’t express how grateful and thankful I am to the Gannon community for making me feel at home during my whole stay. I am returning to France in less than a month, and a few days ago, I received an email from a soon-to-be French Fulbright teaching assistant who has received Gannon in her list of universities to rank. We are in the process of scheduling a call so that I can tell her about Gannon.
In that call, I will tell her that in the mornings, she should walk to these blue half-swings/half-benches that look over Lake Erie that a student from Bangladesh once showed me to watch the sunrise. After that, she should go to the Recreation and Wellness Center to exercise and talk to the people there. After this, she should take a stroll on campus, swing by the Nash Library and take advantage of the calm, great working environment she can find there like I did, spending countless mornings and nights working and relaxing.
She could one day find a troll in one of the books she is borrowing and learn with joy and surprise that someone hid these small characters in the books and that the library’s staff still finds them to this day. She could then go to the food hall on campus and try Noodle Love, Shawarma Station, an ice cream sandwich or a bubble tea. After this, she could catch the orange sun setting outside of Palumbo and feel how charming Erie can be like I did.
Finally, at night, she should go to the top of Harborview to get an exceptional view of Erie like I would do when I missed my family.
There are many things that she or another candidate will experience that I did and many things that they will experience that I didn't. This is where lies how precious travels are. When you go to a new place, you have no idea what you will do, who you will meet, what you will learn or the adventures you will live.
This is what makes traveling the most beautiful experience on Earth because isn't it what, as humans, we are supposed to be doing? Learning and teaching, discovering and connecting, exploring and spreading joy?
Anything else you’d like to add?
I would give anything to let all of the young adults of the Gannon community know what it feels like to travel abroad, alone, for the first time. The galvanizing feeling, the fear and excitement blended, the feeling of being alone, both scary and empowering. I can't emphasize enough how such an experience builds character, how it helps one to discover oneself and how crucial it is to embark on such a journey as a young adult. I know how intimidated some may feel, because I felt it. But don't let intimidation, fear or low self-esteem stand in the way of your higher goals. Believe in yourself like you are your biggest supporter and advocate for yourself like no one else will ever do it better than you.
Even in my most incredible dreams I had never thought of being a part of such a special community that is Gannon. Nothing is too big or too great for you, bloom as you have always deserved to bloom, at your own pace and towards your very own special destiny.