Sunday, April 02, 2006

où sont les profs d'antan?

Gérard-Zai -- Syntaxe française

de Reyff -- Littérature française du 17e siècle

Corbat -- Culture et civilisation françaises

Nayak -- La quête de l'Absolu (hindouisme)

Friedli -- (1) Science des religions, (2) Religion rwandaise

Piérart -- Religion gréco-romaine

Giraud -- Oeuvre poétique de Louise Labbé

I found myself trying to remember the names of the profs who taught me, and the courses they taught, during my year in Switzerland at the Université de Fribourg. That really was a fantastic period in my life. I was a college junior, living with a Swiss family, hiking every day... no job, no pressing responsibilities, no inkling of the crushing weight of college debt... Oh, for a return to those times.

I turned 20 in 1989 and went to Europe, first to Nice, France, for a présession at the Université de Nice to get us French majors somewhat accustomed to the European way of doing things. I spent a month in Nice. September is a great time to be there: the heat isn't oppressive, and at night you can walk the city's pebbled beaches, find a rock outcropping among the waves, and stare out at the brooding Mediterranean. Afterwards, I went to Fribourg, Switzerland to study at the Université de Fribourg. My courses went toward my French major and theology minor. I completed the minor while there.

In November of '89, I went to Berlin a week after the Wall was opened and watched as nameless people hammered away at it. Some stood atop the Wall; others hacked at it from either side. Just normal citizens caught up in an extraordinary period in history. Korean Berliners were there, too, and they saw the Wall's fall as a hopeful analogy for the Korean situation: simultaneously sharing the Germans' joy and giving voice to their own anguish, clusters of Koreans danced about with banners reading "Korea ist EINS!" (Korea is one).

I had the chance to witness Carnaval (Fasnacht) in the city of Basel (a.k.a Bâle in French). A fantastic, dizzying experience that was, as we students wandered the streets at 4AM and watched ranks of costumed fife and drum players cut random paths through the city.

Switzerland is a strange country. Politically neutral, still using its own currency, proud of its land's beauty and its multifarious cultural heritage. It's shot through with hiking trails; if I'm not mistaken, you can almost hike the country from end to end on these trails, no matter where along the border you start. The people are, as they say in French, a bit renfermé, somewhat closed to outsiders. Making friends with the Swiss can be difficult. The Swiss share some traits-- good and bad-- with Koreans. Along with a general concern about hard work and physical fitness, as well as a love of family, the Swiss evince a "mountain valley" mentality: people take pride in their local culture and can be suspicious of outsiders. There are about as many cantonal dialects as there are cantons in Switzerland (26). Cantonal rivalries remind me of how Koreans from one part of the country make fun of the behavior and accent of people from other parts of the country. It's hard to see beyond one's own valley.

Unlike Koreans, the Swiss are, individually and socially, an orderly people. This character trait produces its own weird calm and beauty that color your perception of both the land and the people. Nature is often left to speak for itself. Swiss hikers greet each other with a quick "Gruetzi," but never yell "Yaaaaaaa-hooooo!"-- Korean-style-- into the distance. It's hard to find obnoxious architecture in Switzerland (in France, such architecture abounds). The downside is that the country sometimes seems to lack spice and unpredictability, two things you find in spades here in Korea. Also unlike Koreans, the Swiss aren't as fiercely and openly nationalistic, but make no mistake: they often do see themselves as an island of order in a sea of chaos. If you think the French are bad for how they rail against American culture and politics, you should listen to the Swiss go on about... well, everybody. They know they have it good, and they're interested in keeping it good.

I lived in the very tiny town of Bourguillon, about a 35-minute walk from the university. Every day, I would walk way downhill, cross two bridges, then walk way uphill to reach the uni. The campus was small but cozy, and I enjoyed most of my profs, except for Dr. de Reyff, listed above at the beginning of this post. That woman was a stone-cold bitch, and she hated Americans. Imagine Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter series, minus the compassion.

I had a lot of free time in Switzerland. Most of my classes met only once or twice a week, and our homework was generally reading. So I hiked. A lot. One of my favorite hikes took me down into the Altstadt (old city, la vieille ville in French), which is a common feature in most European cities. After descending a zigzagging set of steps, I would hike through the edge of the Altstadt to les Gorges du Gottéron (Galterental), a narrow, imposing valley that saw very little direct sunlight throughout the day. A trail that began at the mouth of the gorge ran through a neighborhood with barking dogs, then switchbacked upward, ever upward, past eldritch streams, fallen leaves, and plenty of trees, until I found myself behind Bourguillon, at which point I would simply walk back to my "home," that is, to where I was housed.


My Swiss Papa died a few years ago. Cancer. Maman has moved out of the house in Bourguillon and now stays in an apartment somewhere in Fribourg proper. The house felt so empty, she said. Her kids, all grown, all moved out, three of the four now married and with families of their own, seem to be doing well in the wake of Papa's death.

I'd been hoping to go back to France and Switzerland this summer, but it doesn't look as though I'll have the money to do so. Perhaps I'll be able to go in the winter. If I do get back to Switzerland, I'd like to check in on my Swiss family, as well as my old profs. I looked at the university's website today, and saw that quite a few of them are still there, teaching away.

Even Prof. de Reyff.



1 comment:

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Nice memories, Kevin. They overlap with my own -- both geographically and temporally.

I always found humorous how the Swiss Germans referred to the rest of the world as "Das Ausland" (literally, "The Outland"). Did the Swiss French have a similar expression?

One Swiss fellow whom I worked with joked, "It's a big country, the Ausland." He said it with just the right tone of dismayed awe to express the Swiss sense of superiority and vulnerability.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *