Many eager students dream of being able to study abroad during their time in college, but financial limitations may restrict them from being able to accomplish this goal. For English and French double major junior Chloe Forsell, receiving the Dr. Gerard R. Gouvernet Ambassadorship is not only a prestigious honor, but also the blessing of a lifetime, as this will allow her to study abroad for a semester in Montpellier, France while conducting unique cross-cultural research.
According to the Geneseo department of languages and literatures, “The Dr. Gerard R. Gouvernet Endowed Ambassador in French Language and Culture is selected through a competitive proposal process with high preference given to students studying the French language.” Forsell explained that applicants for the $5,000 award must submit a research proposal for a “project that connects Geneseo’s campus to where you’ll be studying abroad.”
She added that while she had looked at scholarships to hopefully fund a study abroad experience in France, she had not considered applying for the ambassadorship simply because she hadn’t thought of a definitive project idea. At the encouragement of professor of French and Western humanities Beverly Evans, however, Forsell became determined to create her own innovative proposal in order to apply.
“I came up with something that I thought was really close to me personally and would advance me academically as well,” she said.Forsell’s research “will explore the complexities that surround non-white identity, particularly in Western nations with a history of Eurocentric oppression, mistreatment and misunderstanding of non-white peoples, with a focus on the city of Montpellier in France.”
Forsell explained that the idea for her project came from personal reflections on her experiences as a biracial individual.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about my own identity—cultural and racial—and what that means in the United States as a nation that was sort of founded on ideas of slavery and appropriation,” she said. “I was considering if I would feel similarly in another country that is similarly a world power, a Western nation founded on similar Eurocentric ideals and built on slavery.”
Forsell emphasized that while non-white individuals are part of minority groups, different races and cultures all over the world explore notions of identity in individual and collective contexts.
“I think that as a non-white student in Geneseo, cultural and racial identity is something that I’m thinking about all the time,” she said. “I think that there’s a small group on campus that is forced to think about this, but there’s a large community of thought when it comes to identity. So, I think that sharing non-white experience cross-culturally from nation to nation can help explore those ideas.”
While many students are enticed to travel to France because of the beauty of Paris, Forsell noted that she specifically chose Montpellier for its unique amalgamation of cultural and racial identities. She cited Montpellier’s proximity to the Spanish border and the displacement of Africans moving to the city after the Algerian War as contributing factors to the city’s “cultural richness.”
This multi-faceted ethnic blend within the encompassing French culture resonated profoundly with Forsell. “People perceive me as black or African-American—even though I’m Haitian-American, so I don’t even identify with that—but I’m half-white, so culturally, I come from a very white background and, because I’m half-white, people don’t always perceive me as being black,” she said. “I’m often perceived as being Hispanic, so it’s kind of complicated.”
Forsell will conduct her research through interviews with other non-white individuals—including people in her integrated classes—and also through her own observations about those around her, comparing her experiences in both Geneseo and Montpellier.
Forsell added that she was astonished to receive the impressive ambassadorship.
“I cried. Coming from a low-income family, I honestly didn’t think I was going to be able to study abroad … and being blessed with this ambassadorship … it’s been pretty awesome,” she said. “It’s actually something I can do now and it’s affordable. And it feels great to be the person chosen to represent Geneseo on this program.”