By TCR Staff

Florian Direny is a junior public health major at F&M who is minoring in French. He has lived in Haiti for the majority of his childhood and is fluent in French and Haitian Creole. Florian recently met with F&M President Altmann, who is herself a scholar of French medieval literature and grew up in a multilingual family in Canada. The two instantly bonded through their shared interest in French and their experience growing up in multilingual families. The College Reporter’s Investigative Staff interviewed Florian about his meeting with the president. Below is the full conversation.

TCR: Hey Florian. Introduce yourself however you feel portrays you best.

FD: My name is Florian. I am an F&M junior majoring in Public Health with a minor in French. I grew up in Haiti and moved to the United States seven years ago. I was admitted to F&M through Posse, a competitive leadership scholarship with chapters throughout the country. Deciding to attend F&M has been one of the best decisions of my life.

TCR: How is French connected to your cultural background?

FD: French, along with Haitian creole, are the two official languages in Haiti. Although Haitian Creole is more widespread, the Haitian educational system is almost exclusively French-based. French in Haiti is a legacy of French colonialism, which ended after the Haitian Revolution successfully repelled Napoleon’s army in 1803. Haitian Creole is a mixture of mostly broken French, with occasional words and expressions from African and Amerindian languages.

TCR: Interesting! How did you get to meet President Altmann?

FD: I was sitting in the College Center with one of my friends when the President walked down from the second floor. I knew that President Altmann had studied French and that her research focused on medieval language and literature. I was genuinely curious about her work and saw this as a great opportunity to reach out and inquire about it. At first, I was slightly hesitant since President Altmann is the most influential person of our entire college and has a very busy schedule. I nonetheless mustered up the courage to walk up to her and introduced myself. As we started talking, I felt instantly comfortable; later, when we began conversing in French, I was overcome with the sense of being truly “Home” at F&M. I had never had the chance to express my culture in this way on campus before and getting to do so was very freeing and empowering. President Altmann later invited me to meet at her office where we further discussed our respective backgrounds growing up in multilingual families. I learned that President Altmann also spoke German and that her decision to pursue French was due in part to her Canadian upbringing. President Altmann emphasized the fact that everyone at F&M is part of a big family, something that I got to personally experience in my two and a half years on campus.

TCR: Wow, this is fascinating! Did you guys discuss anything else?

FD: Yes! Another thing we talked about was how despite our shared language, we had different accents. President Altmann’s French sounds slightly different from mine but we still perfectly understood each other. We talked about how accents helped embellish and diversify languages. I think this is also true of how I speak English. Although my English has improved tremendously throughout the years, I still sound a bit different than my native peers. At first, I used to be self-conscious about that difference, but now I celebrate it as a part of my identity. F&M is a melting pot of cultures and languages. During my time here, I have interacted with people from Jamaica, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Botswana, Sudan, China, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and more. All of these individuals had different cultures, beliefs, languages, and accents. Interacting with this diverse group of people has helped me grow as a person and broadened my perspective in ways that I could have never imagined. 

TCR: What an amazing story! I am so happy that you got to experience this. Is there anything else that you would like to add?

FD:  F&M is truly a big family. In fact, we jokingly call our community the F&Mily and this is very appropriate. The genuine, personalized attention that the F&M experience provides truly likens it to a big family and my meeting with President Altmann was a tangible reiteration of that. Throughout my years at F&M, I have met many highly successful, intelligent people who were all willing to take their time to get to know me at an individual level. I wouldn’t trade my F&M education for anything in the world!

Florian Direny Junior Contributing Writer for the College Reporter. His email address is fdireny@fandm.edu.

By TCR