César Olivier — 24, Rognes, France — is one of five French House assistants we will feature this year. Not a stranger to Wisconsin, César spent a few weeks in Lake Mills as part of a high school class exchange, then a year on campus as an exchange student in 2014-2015. He then completed his degree at Aix-Marseille Université and is thrilled to be back in Madison this year to teach introductory French, mix and mingle with our residents and guests at the French House, and play a bit of rugby as well!
First tell us a bit about where you were born and how you ended up in Provence?
I was born in the northern part of France in a city named Saint Martin Boulogne, right next to Boulogne-sur-mer in “Le Pas-de-Calais.” When I was six, we moved south to a cute little village “de provence” right next to Aix-en-Provence. I was a kid who had lived his entire life in a big city and all of a sudden I was living on a two-acre plot in the middle of the forest, I was in paradise!
What brought you to Madison, and what does it mean to you to be a Badger?
Well, “Les Bouches-du-Rhône,” which is the region of the Southeast I live in, somehow had a partnership with a state with the strange name of “Ouisconsin” somewhere in the Midwest of the United States. I was a senior in high school in Aix-en-Provence at the time and I heard that people in Wisconsin made great cheese and beer and had beautiful lakes so I was in! I had no idea that what I was about to discover there would blow my mind and put me on the course I am on now. When I came to Wisconsin for the first time in October 2010, people were so warm and welcoming I couldn’t believe it. I got to experience the homecoming dance and the little corsage, the parades and football games…. The trip was only two weeks long but I promised myself I’d return to the Dairyland. I’ve been to Wisconsin four times in the past five years, as a tourist first but finally as a student in 2014, and I’m going to make it as a French assistant in 2016!
How does it feel to be a “Badger” ?
To me, being a Badger means the world. I’ve made many promises to myself, many I couldn’t keep, but when I promised myself I’d become a Badger someday, there was no dodging that one! When I’m on campus at UW-Madison I feel like everything’s possible, like I can make everything happen, and I guess that’s what it is to be a Badger. I am so proud to be part of this great community and am looking forward to being on campus for another year.
This coming year you will be an exchange scholar. What are your research interests and what will you be teaching?
I have a Master’s in English with a specialization in U.S history. I’ve always loved history. I was never bad in English, but my trip in 2010 really pushed me to choose English as my curriculum. I specialized in African American studies. When I was a student at the UW, I took a U.S military history class with Prof. Hall and it really fascinated me. To link these two subjects, I wrote a paper on the Harlem Hellfighters and the segregation of the U.S Army during WWI. This year I have been writing another paper about the integration of football and its effect on U.S society and the civil rights movement between 1946 and 1962. Next year, however, I will be teaching French 101 to the wonderful students of UW-Madison as well as spreading my language at the beautiful French House.
You came regularly to the French House for lunch. What were your initial impressions, and what are you looking forward to as an assistant?
Indeed, I did! And I would like to thank Andrew [Irving] yet again for his tremendous generosity. I loved being between those walls, so I came twice a week during the first semester and extended that to four times a week during the second. It’s always a great feeling to sit with the people you like and chat in French while eating the great food they serve there. You know how big the French are on the lunch and dinner tradition; we love to spend countless hours of our lives around tables eating and drinking and talking. The French House does just that, it gives you the opportunity to get closer to the French way of life while having a good time with your friends.
As an assistant I wish to remain as available as possible to help the residents, students and anybody who would require help with their French (or U.S history for that matter!). I am looking forward to learning how to do my job as best as I can and not just be that French guy who comes now and then to eat the food and tell bad jokes! I can’t wait for this new adventure to begin.