Helen E. Mundler (French, 1992)
My degree in French has not just been useful; it completely shaped my life. At Durham I read French with English literature as a subsidiary, and I was passionate about literature in both languages. I also loved the process of learning a language to an advanced level: I feel very strongly that foreign languages not only open doors to other worlds, but are in themselves other worlds in which all sorts of intellectual and emotional voyages are possible.
Concretely, my French degree paved the way for an academic career. In my last year at Durham, I felt as if I was only just beginning the work I wanted to do on metafictionality. I got funding from the British Academy for a PhD, but for reasons which are not completely clear to me even now I jumped ship and went to live in France. There I munched my way through the academic system – MPhil, PhD in 1998, and in December 2014 the Habilitation, which gives access to a full professorship. Along the way I have published books and articles in French and English, and I also teach in both languages.
I have been a tenured lecturer since the year 2000 at UPEC (a university in Paris). While academic pay in France is far from generous, universities do allow faculty to pursue other income streams, so I have been able to work as a translator too, and have various other irons in the fire (this summer I am writing course material for French teachers of English who are looking to be promoted via the Agrégation). I have also had time to write and publish fiction, which has been very important to me at times.
I enjoy participating in conferences in France, and at the moment I am at a stage in my career where I am trying to “internationalise”. In August-September 2015 I spent a few weeks as visiting professor at Western Michigan University, giving lectures in both the English and French departments. In the next year or two I hope to do something similar in Brazil.
In conclusion, I would like to return to the pleasure of learning languages and of using them on a daily basis. Knowing French helped enormously when I needed to learn Portuguese, and I found the confidence to start reading novels and poetry in Portuguese very quickly, and given that we live on the German border, we also have to function to some extent in German, just to get by. I really feel that contact with these languages has not only changed my world, but to a great extent created my world. Foreign languages change the way you perceive and the way you think; they open up possibilities you didn’t know existed.
My novel: Homesickness (2003)