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Samira Sayeh

Samira Sayeh, assistant professor of French and Italian, specializes in Francophone literature and culture and the history of countries other than France that speak the language. Read More

Samira Sayeh, assistant professor of French and Italian, specializes in Francophone literature and culture and the history of countries other than France that speak the language.

Professor Profile: Samira Sayeh

Samira Sayeh teaches in a language that is spoken in more than 40 countries and territories around the world. She has sent many of her students to learn firsthand in far away nations. A good number of them are far from where one might expect a student to study French.

Sayeh, assistant professor of French and Italian, specializes in Francophone literature and culture and the history of countries other than France that speak the language. In a new KU YouTube video, she discusses the satisfaction of seeing her students study in nations such as Senegal, Cameroon, Reunion, Morocco, Canada and, of course, France, all the while learning more about the language and themselves.

“Life. Independence,” Sayeh said when asked what students learn from studying abroad. “They need to use everything they’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to the many real life situations they face.”

She cited one of her students studying French and anthropology who traveled to Cameroon with the Peace Corps. While helping build a well for a rural community, the student has improved her French skills and learned what is meant by “comfort” in an African setting. Many of the luxuries she had grown used to are not available, yet she found comfort elsewhere, in the social interactions with her host family and the African community. She has been so impressed by the people, the country and the knowledge she has gained, she’s now working to start a station on her own bring other students and people to the area for more work.

Another student studied French but was not sure what she wanted to pursue as a career. Sayeh urged her to take a short break and teach English in a French-speaking country. She enjoyed the experience enough to apply for graduate school upon her return to KU.

“She told me ‘I never thought I could get paid to do what I love,’ ” Sayeh said.

While the native language is the same among many nations for historical reasons, often they have little else in common. Sayeh’s research explores what brings people together in these nations. Currently on sabbatical, she is working on a book about the literary identity of French-speaking authors of the colonial period in countries such as Algeria and Angola.

“What ties these territories and areas together is the French language,” Sayeh said. “Of course, there are many differences, linguistically and culturally.”

That diversity, she said, is what drew her to Francophone studies, and what many of her students find appealing about studying the language, the literature, the culture and experiencing it first hand.

“With Francophone studies, you’re never bored,” she said. “In more than 40 countries and territories you’ll never have the same topics or issues, the same questions.”


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