Marianne Bessy, engaged and charismatic university professor [fr]
Native of Rennes, France, Marianne Bessy is an associate professor of French in the Department of Modern Language and Literature at Furman University in Greenville. Dynamic, enthusiastic, and committed to a job well done, she transmits knowledge by creating a climate of motivation and curiosity. She is an ardent ambassador of France in South Carolina.
“I love research,” she says, “but I also love the classroom and thinking about projects that will excite my students. Teaching is my vocation, and it’s a bit of a magical moment when you see that your students understand, and something clicks in their heads.”
After finishing her studies in France, Dr. Bessy decided to continue her education abroad to cultivate her lifelong love of English. At the end of her master’s program in Ireland, the university offered her a position as a French teacher. Though she had never planned to teach French, she found herself teaching her mother tongue to foreign students who were drawn to French language and culture. She quickly realized that she loved her work, and that it was the job she wanted for the rest of her life. After completing a doctorate in Louisiana, she moved to South Carolina, where she has taught since 2008.
Compelled to ensure a friendly learning environment through empathy and a sense of humor, Dr. Bessy ensures that her students have an ample understanding of French culture, rather than simply knowledge of the language.
“Teaching, she says, “is a skill that must be cultivated, and I feel that I improve after each course I teach. There is never a moment of ‘arriving’ in my profession. I am always thinking about new projects that could work well.”
To capture attention in the classroom, she always tries to discuss a topic that will interest her students. Her classes are lively and creative, and full of practical projects that encourage interaction and exchange between the students. Through these methods, she is able to maintain her students’ interest and cultivate their love of French.
For example, throughout her teaching career, she has made it her mission to challenge stereotypes of French people. “I figured out that in our university we have many students, mostly women, who pursue French for the glamour, particularly from what is portrayed in self-help books…which create a flawed image of the French woman. I realized I needed to develop a course where I would break these stereotypes.”
Every two years, she accompanies a class of 10-15 students to Versailles for the fall semester, where they live with a host family and take classes at the University of Versailles St-Quentin-en-Yvelines. During the trip, she teaches a course on French architecture, which includes visits to Brittany, Normandy, Alsace, and the areas surrounding Versailles.
Along with teaching, she conducts research. Her doctorate and her first book focused on representations of exile, in particular the works of Vassilis Alexakis, a contemporary Greek author who is one of the few authors to write in both Greek and French. “I’m interested in authors who aren’t traditional French speakers, but choose to use French, not just for historical work but more for situational and creative work. Recently, my research has also focused on representations of immigration in French films in the 21st century.”
Thanks to her work, Dr. Bessy has the chance to maintain a special relationship with her country and stay very well connected. Her strategy for staying informed about French politics, for example, is to teach a course. Next spring she will offer a curse on contemporary French civilization, which will focus on the presidential election. “I already offered a course in 2012 about the last election. It’s the perfect occasion to cover the entire history of French institutions, particularly the 5th Republic, to try to interest the students in choosing their own political party. The course ends with a debate between the parties and we hold a mock election.”
When she has free time, she loves to hike and explore the magnificent nature of the Appalachian Mountains with her American fiancé. She also enjoys traveling, shopping for rare books at flea markets, and cooking – her specialty is crêpes bretonnes.
Marianne Bessy is more than just a French woman in South Carolina. She completely lives out her French identity and shares it with others every day. “For the future, I hope to continue working on projects that can prepare our French students for the job market. I’m proud of their success, it’s my motivation.”