Sheela Hadjivassiliou wins scholarship to spend a semester in Lyon, France
In August of 2015, I was selected as the Graduate Teaching Fellow that would spend a semester in Lyon, France. I was awarded the Beall Scholarship which enabled me to undertake this fantastic experience. I am grateful to the Romance Language department and to the faculty that supported my candidacy for this position. I was aware of this unique program for graduate students studying French at the University of Oregon, but I had no idea that I would be able to profit from this opportunity so early on in my PhD program. I completed a Masters in Romance Languages (French and Spanish) in June of 2015, and I embarked upon my adventure in Lyon for the first term of my doctoral studies.
While in Lyon, I lived five minutes from the Rhone River and would often walk along the river path in the evening. My studio was centrally located and I took full advantage of Lyon’s excellent public transportation system to explore the city. My job was twofold: similarly to being a GTF at the University of Oregon, in Lyon, I was both a student and an employee. As an employee, I worked as the graduate assistant for the Centre Oregon. I assisted the undergraduate students with practical details—getting cell phones, calling utility companies, etc.—and I helped the students navigate the French university system and create their class schedules. I also planned cultural events that we attended as a group. I met amazing people, saw incredible museums, gazed at fantastic architecture, shopped at open air markets, and scoured the city trying to find the best boulangerie. I was in Lyon with a remarkable group of undergraduates, and together we went to the theater, film festivals and museums. We saw plays that ranged from the Geneva Ballet’s futuristic interpretation of the Nutcracker to a modern playwright’s interpretation of classical Indian epic mythology.
As a student, I pursued my own research interests while taking classes. I study India’s French colonial past; specifically, the history of the French colonization in southern India. My research interests include: Indian diaspora and migration studies, Indian identity in Caribbean and Mauritian Literature and dramatic stagings of “India” in contemporary French theater. I attended two plays that portrayed “India”—one at the Lyon Opera and the other at a small experimental repertory theater— and my current project involves analyzing the manner in which both of these productions choose to represent “India”. I examine temporal and spatial factors in conjunction with other formal theatrical elements, and I consider structures of meaning in both plays to interrogate the ways in which “India” becomes homogenized and exoticized.
Although I had many positive and wonderful experiences in Lyon, I was also there during the November 13th Paris attacks. I felt somewhat removed geographically—Lyon is two hours south of Paris—yet the attacks impacted my time in France and marked a change in my experience as an American student studying abroad. The attacks themselves were horrific. They seemed to provoke reactions that were divisive and unifying—bringing out both the best and the worst among the people I encountered in both Lyon and Paris. On one hand, I witnessed disturbing and violently racist reactions to the attacks—fear inspired Islamophobia that I found more terrifying than the attacks themselves. On the other hand, I was able to witness extraordinary unity in the face of extreme violence. For example, I attended a vigil at the Lyon 2 campus at which the university president called for tolerance and peace. He condemned the senseless violence of the attacks while at the same time stressing the diverse and vibrant nature of the university’s student body. I travelled to Paris two days after the attacks and was struck by the surreal sense of normalcy superimposed upon a city in mourning.
Despite the attacks and subsequent state of national emergency that prohibited large public gatherings, I was able to experience Lyon’s famous festival of lights, if in a much more subdued form. Instead of four days of music and festivities, the 2015 Fête des Lumières was observed just the night of the 8th of December. Thousands of candles were placed in window sills, they were carried through the streets and then many were placed in front of a memorial to the victims of the attacks.
I am now adjusting to life back on campus at the University of Oregon and pursuing my first year of coursework as a doctoral student. I am currently the secretary of the Romance Language Graduate Student Association (RLGSA), and together with my colleagues, we are planning our annual Works in Progress event and various other professionalization workshops for the graduate student body. It is only now that I have returned to Eugene that I can fully appreciate the wealth of both cultural and linguistic experience that I gained in Lyon.