Spotlight: Annie Rhodes

Author:

Annie Rhodes with host mom Mme Herisseau

From Greece to Mexico to France, our outstanding foreign language student, Annie Rhodes, brings a tremendous amount of exuberance, international experience, and social grace. North Carolina’s Rhodes, a multilingual and multitalented senior, was recently accepted into Notre Dame’s 5-year BA-MA program in French. She also has an uncompromising appetite for foreign languages and cultures in her DNA. She spent her summers in Greece as a child, spent a year in Mexico, studied in France, visited Prague (the list goes on)... Nominated by the faculty of French and Francophone Studies as the February Spotlight, Rhodes is a regular presence at the CSLC and a dynamic polygot who loves to “TALK”—in her target languages of French, Spanish, and Greek with the express aim of communicating with people on a deeper level. I recently discovered why Rhodes was selected as being among the brightest students in the French and Francophone program: she’s imbued with a sparkling personality, an adventurous spirit, and a tender soul. Meet Annie Rhodes, a shining young scholar at the University of Notre Dame.

Projects and Goals

What are your plans for the near future?
I am a senior participating in the 5-year BA-MA program in French, so I’ll be here for one more year, getting my Masters (2014-2015). I am very excited to have the opportunity to continue working with the exceptional faculty and students in the French department at Notre Dame! My fellowship requires that I also teach a beginning French class to undergraduates, which I’m thrilled about—I have a some experience teaching language to little kids, but this will be the first time I’ve had a classroom full of academically ambitious people close to my own age, and I think it will be a rewarding challenge. After obtaining my MA, I’d like to take a year or two to teach or work in a Francophone or Hispanophone country before beginning a PhD program either in French or in cultural anthropology (for which my background in French and Francophone language and culture will definitely be vital!). I am also toying with the idea of going to school to become a translator.

What are your current projects?
I just finished up a project for which I received a grant from the Nanovic institute to go to Paris and examine primary resources at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. I was using primary sources to (a) find the original source and (b) trace the evolution of a popular French nursery rhyme and works inspired by the rhyme. I’m currently working on a major research paper for Professor Louis MacKenzie’s course 17th Century French Theater and Psychosexual Criticism, for which I am using psychoanalytic theory to help determine the motivations of the women in Racine’s Phèdre and Corneille’s Médée. In sociology, I am writing an honors thesis on intergenerational mobility of Mexicans in El Paso. The data I am using is from a survey conducted by Dr. Ernesto Castañeda of over 1,000 Mexican-Americans living on the border. Dr. Castañeda selected me to work with him last summer on immigration research at the University of Texas at El Paso. My thesis will be the first publication on this data.

Foreign Language Experience

Which foreign languages do you know and/or study? Give us a snapshot of your foreign language experiences.
I have lived almost every summer of my life and a number of full years in Ancient Corinth, Greece. I went to the village elementary school there for the fall semester of 1999 (I was 8) and was plunged into an environment in which I could understand and express nothing. I was certainly a little apprehensive at first, but I adapted quickly. Despite the language barrier, I made friends immediately, learned passing Greek without much difficulty, and whetted my appetite for language. When I got older I was eager to repeat the language-learning experience—but this time on my own terms, and alone. I applied for the Rotary International Youth Exchange Program, which sent me to Mexico for a year following high school graduation. Having taken four years of French in high school and knowing not a word of Spanish, I decided to go to a Spanish-speaking country because, really, what other chance would I have in my life to go somewhere for a year with no other objective than to immerse myself entirely in the culture and to learn a new language from scratch? That year in Mexico was life-defining: from then on, I knew that my thirst for language, foreign culture, and adventure would never be satiated and that my life would, from here on out, revolve around these things. When I got to Notre Dame after my gap year in Mexico speaking near-native Spanish, I knew it was time to master French and that I wanted to spend a year in France as I had in Mexico. My freshman year I took two French classes in preparation for what would prove to be another life-defining experience: my sophomore year abroad in Angers, France.

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What has been your favorite part of learning a language at Notre Dame?
I love it all. I love my professors, who are almost unbelievably supportive, but who also push and challenge me. I find myself constantly inspired and humbled by them all. In all my classes, I see timid people—often women—being encouraged by the professors to speak up, and we are all made to feel that our insight is invaluable. And the French faculty is full of smart, strong, enthusiastic female scholars: exemplary role models for female students. I can’t imagine a better place to be a woman.

I love how my professors are accessible and always ready to advise me on academic or even personal matters. Many professors graciously invite their classes to dinners, movies, and into their homes. They also consistently afford us exceptional opportunities to engage with great people from outside of Notre Dame. Last year, I was able to attend talks by and have intimate meals with such influential Francophone filmmakers and social commentators as Ismael Ferroukhi, Nadia El Fani and Claire Denis. This year, I had dinner with Bessora, the author of one of the novels we read in Profesor Rice’s graduate class and profited from her presence in class during our discussion of her novel. In Professor Douthwaite’s class, we were introduced to and had an extended discussion over lunch with Elaine Sciolino, the Paris correspondent for the New York Times. In October, I attended a colloquium organized by Professors Douthwaite and Rice in which many scholars of French and Francophone literature came to discuss parallels between the French “canonical” literature and modern Francophone literature.

I love being able to access some of the world’s greatest literature and film in their original language. I have come to realize that translation—while being an amazing human feat and immensely important—often inadvertently adulterates meaning. Especially in literature, in which the art IS language, it is very difficult for nothing to be lost when the words themselves—the very paint on the canvas—are changed.

But perhaps the most rewarding part of language learning is also the most obvious: communication. Most people who know me would tell you that I LOVE TO TALK. And I love to understand other people. I believe that you get to know someone on a much deeper level if you are capable of communicating with them in their native language, and, better yet, in multiple languages: speaking different languages allows people to express different parts of themselves. I don’t know exactly why that is—it likely has to do with the circumstances in which they learned each language, and certainly with the fact that language profoundly influences thought formation—but people can seem completely different from one language to the next. I, for example, tend to act pretty serious in French, fairly dry and sarcastic in English, and totally outrageous in Spanish.

What has been your favorite language class and why?
This is an impossible question. I’ve loved every single French class I’ve ever taken. However, one that stands out as unique is the creative writing class I took second semester in Angers. Among many compositions, I wrote a Ronsard-style sonnet, a fairy-tale, and a short-story mystery—and all in French!

How do you use your languages – here or abroad?
I’ve had lots of opportunities to speak French in the past few years. Of course, in all my classes I speak French all the time. Whenever I’m out with the graduate students as a group, we always speak in French. Last Fall Break I was in Paris doing research on a Nanovic grant, and it was wonderful to go back to speaking French full-time during that week. Of course, I spent my entire sophomore year speaking French all the time (I was living in Angers) with my host mother, French friends and acquaintances, and professors. With Natalie Boll and Anne Marie Bliezner, the two other Notre Dame students who stayed the entire year in Angers, I still always talk and text in French, partly out of nostalgia for that year, but mostly out of our common adoration of the language.

I actually use French a lot in extra-Notre Dame situations, as well. I’m a French addict, so I immediately pounce on anyone who shows any signs of speaking French—a slight accent, the correct pronunciation of a French word, the mention of having spent time in a Francophone area—and say, “Tu parles français?”. It actually works more often than not. At random events like wine-tastings and art openings I meet French people, French teachers, and people who have studied French. At the farmer’s market in my hometown, there is a French vendor. So every Saturday when I’m home I walk down there just to talk to him, even if I don’t buy anything. I do Latin Dance, and there is someone from Cote D’Ivoire who dances, so I speak French with him. These are just a few examples of many.

I use Spanish all the time, because there are so many Spanish-speakers around and because I have tons of Spanish-speaking friends. I taught Spanish two summers ago at a language academy, and I tutor kids in Spanish now. I tutor French, as well, so I get to use my French for professional purposes, too!

What advice would you give to anyone learning a language?
Don’t be afraid to mess up! Your thoughts are important, and you CAN find a way to express them, even when you’re just starting to learn a language! You don’t have to speak perfectly to warrant being heard.

International Experience: Culture & Perspective

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Where (besides the U.S.) have you traveled, studied, or lived?
Besides living for extended periods in Greece twice (a year and a half, 1993-1995 and a semester, 1998), I returned every summer for about a month from the years of 2000 to 2008. After our summers in Greece, we used to take time to visit a foreign city on the way home (we would just go wherever we could get cheap tickets!). This way, I visited Amsterdam, Prague, London, and Brussels.

With the Rotary International Youth Exchange Program, I lived in Irapuato, Guanajuato, Mexico for my gap year between high school and college (2009-2010) and traveled a lot around central and southern Mexico. While there, I studied at the university level at the Tecnológico de Monterrey Campus Irapuato. Last year, I returned and spent a month visiting my enormous Mexican “family”. This summer, when working in El Paso on sociological research as a member of the Department of Homeland Security Summer Scholars Program, I spent substantial time visiting the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora.

I first went to Paris with my dad for a week when I was 17, and, like most people, it seems, fell in love with the magical city. While studying abroad my sophomore year of college in Angers, I of course got to know Angers inside and out, but I also became familiar with other parts of France, as well. I did lots of traveling around my region (the north-west of France), spent many weekends in Paris, and visited several places in north-central and north-eastern France. Professor Menyard, the director of the Notre Dame Angers program, took the whole group to Strasbourg (first semester) and to Brussels (Belgium) (second semester) for a couple of days each, which were some of the highlights of the year. On my own and with friends, in addition to traveling around France, I went to several places in Belgium, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, and Porto.

Other than that, I’ve been to Canada and Jamaica.

Describe your Notre Dame Study Abroad program.
When I arrived in Angers, I was picked up by my host family, who was just one person—a remarkable 83-year-old woman named Madame Herisseau. The moment we got into her car at the train station, Mme. Herisseau started speaking to me in a constant stream of rapid, incomprehensible French. Somehow, though, despite the language barrier (my French was pretty shaky on arrival), I immediately felt comfortable with and affectionate towards her. There could have been no better way to make me feel welcome than the freshly cut flowers from the garden she had waiting for me in a vase in the bedroom and a hand-made quiche and mousse au chocolat in the kitchen. The next morning, we all had to meet early at the Catho (the university where the Notre Dame students study) to take a competency test to place us in the correct class at the CIDEF (the International Center for French Studies, the program within the university that specializes in teaching French to foreigners). Then we had a month of intensive French courses—language/writing/grammar, aural comprehension, and oral expression—basically from 8 to 4 every day, and we had “culture” courses a couple of times a week. The schedule was pretty demanding, but we got free lunch so it was worth it! It was also worth it because part of the program was going every weekend on “excursions” to castles, cities, vineyards, wonderful restaurants, battlefields, and much more. And it was worth it , of course, because we all made a massive amount of progress during that first month. From October to June, I took 6 classes each semester. As a student at the CIDEF, I was required to take six hours of pure language per week, but the rest of the classes were electives. All of the courses were taught entirely in French by French professors. I and a couple of other ND students also took a course at the UCO (the Catho proper); that is, a course intended not for foreigners studying French but for native French students. It was a very important experience in my French career, for it was in this class, where I was held to the same standards as the French students, that I became confident in my academic French.

We also went on multiple “excursions” as a group during the year, including one in which we went for three days to the Christmas markets in Strasbourg, and one in which we went to Brussels for two days and had a private tour of the EU headquarters. We were reimbursed for any “cultural” event we took part in in France, so I really took advantage of that, constantly going to museums, concerts, festivals, plays, expositions... I was never, ever, bored in France. Also, it meant that I never had to refuse any invitations to such events with my host mom! These shared experiences in turn contributed to the special bond I formed with her.

I also participated in a program (AFIA, but I have no idea what it stands for—too many acronyms in France) in which French families signed up to “host” foreign students for monthly activities with their families. I ended up becoming really close with my family, though, so I actually saw them a couple of times a week! They took me with them to parks and festivals and I often just went to hang out at their house with them and their two little kids. Sometimes I babysat for them, and sometimes they’d hire a babysitter so that I could go out with them (the parents) and their friends! It was through them that I met the women who would hire me to tutor her son in English. Also, Sebastian, the father, has two brothers in a very popular French band, Achimede (one of whose songs reached number 1 on French iTunes!), so I got to go to concerts for free with them and got to know the band personally!

What was a memorable or impactful experience regarding other cultures? What did you learn from it?
When I was in France, I went to a cooking class with three of the other ND students. It was very stressful because we couldn’t really understand what was going on and we were trying to pay attention to the teacher and to cook three courses at once! We were embarrassed and were sure we were being judged (“what are these young, clueless Americans doing here, anyway?”) but we were wrong. People were so nice! Several ended up coming over and helping us out--bringing us ingredients we had forgotten to get (or not realized we needed), repeating the instructions to us more slowly so that we understood, and giving us advice on stirring and whisking and chopping. We were so grateful! At the end, as we were all eating our creations together, an older couple came over to us to tell us how much they appreciated our presence there. Apparently, most of the foreign students—and there are a lot of foreign students in Angers—tend to stick with the other foreigners and miss out on all the great opportunities to do things with French people. The couple invited us all over the next week to their home for a private cooking lesson, and we went and got to meet their family and spend a lovely evening with all of them. We stayed until 1 am just sitting around and talking! This kind of experience was repeated a good number of times in France, and I guess what it taught me was that when foreigners feel unappreciated somewhere by the locals, it could be because the locals feel unappreciated by the foreigners. Even the smallest, seemingly insignificant act—attending a cooking class of traditional French cuisine one Saturday night instead of hanging out at a bar with the Americans, for example—can inspire someone to reach out to you. And when you’re abroad, someone reaching out to you is just about the best thing that can happen. When you’re abroad you should never refuse an invitation or pass up on an opportunity to do something new (unless your best judgment tells you it’s dangerous, of course!!).

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University Experience

Discuss mentors you have had at Notre Dame and how they have encouraged and inspired you.
I definitely feel that I have been encouraged and inspired by every professor I’ve had in the French department, but I would say that Professor Alison Rice is my main mentor. I’ve had a class with her every semester for the last two years, and she is my go-to for advice, letters of recommendation, and support when I need it. She inspires me because she is a smart, driven scholar who is at the same time completely devoted to her family. I think she’s got life figured out: she seems as happy and fulfilled as anyone I’ve ever met. Professor Julia Douthwaite has definitely been an important mentor for me, as well, although I’ve only taken one class with her. Before going to Angers, Professor Douthwaite advised me, encouraging me to take classes at the UCO with the French students. Unfortunately, I only ended up being able to take one class at the UCO, but that class was very important in my French language career. This year, she also guided me through the process conceiving a project, obtaining a Nanovic Grant, conducting research in Paris, and putting together a finished project. She even met with me while I was in Paris. She, too, is a wonderful scholar, an excellent teacher, and a very strong woman, and I value her advice deeply. Finally, Professor Odette Menyard, the director of the Angers program, has figured very importantly into my ND career, as well. Before I went to Angers, she was one who pushed me to make the decision to study abroad for an entire year. And then, in France, she was there for everything: she took me through the confusing bureaucratic processes with the French government and the school, she counseled me on personal matters, she gave me academic help whenever I sought it, and she was our advocate in the Catho.

What clubs or activities do you participate in?
I try to participate as much as possible in French-themed activities on campus. I am a member of the French club, and I love going to French club events like the cafés francais. Last year I was in the Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, directed by Professor Paul McDowell, which was a wonderful experience I would definitely repeat. Freshman year I was in both chorale and orchestra. I have a new obsession: Latin dance. I dance with a group every Wednesday night, once a month on Sundays, once a month on Mondays, and just about every weekend at Latin dance clubs or at Latin dance parties. I also go some weekends to out-of-town dance escapades with members of the group (like to Detroit, Indianapolis, and Chicago) and periodically attend workshops and classes.

Talk about any grants, awards, and research positions you've received. Don't hold back.
I received a Nanovic Grant this year to conduct research in Paris. I also was selected for the National Center for Border Security and Immigration Summer Scholars Academy last summer, where I did immigration research under Dr. Ernesto Castaneda at the University of Texas at El Paso. Not only did I help him with his research, but I also conducted my own project under his mentorship. At the end of the program I presented that work at an undergraduate symposium at UTEP, and I won first place for my project (which was the basis for my thesis) at the Summer Scholars Academy’s poster and presentation competition. Here at Notre Dame, I was a research assistant for the Dr. Christian Smith’s National Study of Youth and Religion. As far as awards go, I am a member of the honors societies Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Kappa Delta and I’ve made Dean’s List every semester…

Community Engagement

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Talk about your commitment to and history of volunteerism?
In high school, my best friend and I put on a benefit concert for victims of Hurricane Katrina. We engaged many professional and amateur musicians, actors, and dancers in our town (they all agreed to do it for no pay). Our concert raised over $1,500 that we sent to the Red Cross. Later on, we also put on joint voice-recitals and voice-cello recitals about twice a year for the community. We always did at least two performances: one for the community at large and one for a retirement home in the town. Last summer, this same friend and I ran an American Idol camp for the Parks and Recreation department in my hometown. We executed the project alone and without guidance, but somehow it was a great success.

I was in the IB (International Baccalaureate) program in high school, and in order to obtain an IB diploma, we had to log a certain number of community service hours each year. So, I did lots of volunteer work like working fundraisers for various non-profits, serving and cleaning at soup kitchens, working in community beautification projects, and participating in programs like Room at the Inn and Family Promise (a program in which churches host homeless families for a week at a time while helping them search for jobs). Just about every Sunday I played cello or sang at church services, and I was a member of a couple of church choirs. I also did childcare for church events. Even now, just about every time I’m home I play cello or sing in my mom’s church (she’s the music director). Last summer, I also worked with her church handing out free lunches every week to members of a low-income community, most of whom were Latinos. I interpreted for many of the people who came, and I played with their kids so they could get a break and enjoy their lunch.

I did some service abroad, as well: in Mexico, every Saturday I volunteered with a group of exchange students at an orphanage, where we spent several hours just playing with the kids. We also painted public schools, put on a talent show at a retirement home, and volunteered as language teachers at elementary schools. In France, I volunteered to sing in a number of community performances, one of them being for a show the Notre Dame group put on for a nursing home in Angers.

The world is truly Rhodes’ oyster. She’s dynamic, bold, and makes things happen. Dr. Alison Rice lauds Rhodes:

"Annie Rhodes is a brilliant student who brings spontaneous energy to the study of literature and film in French. Not only is she an outstanding and committed scholar, but she is also a delightful individual. She has a warm and sincere way of interacting with her peers and professors alike, and appears genuinely at ease in a variety of situations. She is also eager to learn outside the classroom; she actively seeks out opportunities to meet and interact with French writers and filmmakers, as well as figures outside her areas of specialization. Her experience living in other cultures, including Greece, Mexico, and France, has given her a crucial sense of perspective that adds wonderful dimension to her academic work, not only in French, but also in sociology. She is highly talented in a range of fields, including music, dance, and art, and she has far-reaching interests. While Annie Rhodes obviously has many positive traits, the characteristic that has made the biggest impact on me is her readiness to formulate her own critiques and think in original, often unpredictable, but always profoundly insightful ways. She is a great reader, in the deepest sense of the term, and her analyses of written texts from the literary realm translate into sound analyses in a variety of areas that extend beyond the pages of the printed book."