Research for her 2016 book, The Story of French New Orleans, only deepened Guenin-Lelle’s appreciation of home and community.
the deal, which required something she hadn’t previously considered as a career path: teaching students. “Once I found myself in front of a college French classroom, I knew that was my vocation, to teach,” Dianne says.
“Students often think that life is destined to take them down one avenue, and when they begin understanding that that is an illusion more than anything, very interesting connections sometimes happen,” she says.
Spending two years in France provided Dianne plenty of learning experiences, both culturally and personally. “I learned so much from the highs and the lows,” she says. “You’re going to want to stay at the highs, but it doesn’t work that way and you don’t want it to work that way even if it could. Because [the lows] are the areas where you learn.”
Nick Diamond, ’15, didn’t know what he wanted to do when he began French 301 as a freshman. He recalls being overwhelmed, especially because he was a little late due to some first-day confusion. Immediately put at ease by Guenin-Lelle’s friendly “Bonjour!” upon entering the classroom, Diamond now attributes his early career success to his experiences studying French at Albion. He currently works for the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies through Massachusetts General Hospital, and has used his French while working in Senegal.
One of Dianne’s biggest lows occurred before she even arrived in Montpellier. In the equivalent of Albion’s French 301 at UNO, Dianne found herself hitting a language roadblock. Her professor pulled her aside and complimented her pronunciation, but explained, “You can’t say anything. You can’t express your thoughts.” To overcome the hurdle, she retook the course. Guenin-Lelle shares this story every semester in her 301 class as a way to consider how she can help her own students. “What I try to do with students is, first of all, try to understand them, never tell them I don’t understand them, but try to figure out if there’s something that’s not easy for them, that they’re challenged by,” she says. “I figure out how they can keep at it so they do learn the skill, so they do understand the reading, or the assignment, or how to write the term paper in French.”
7 Guenin-Lelle began teaching at Albion in 1987 as an associate professor. More than 30 years later, she has seen students fall in love with the language and helped them pursue studyabroad and career options that allow them to use their French, even if they had never considered these routes as a first-year student.
“French students at Albion can really go outside of the four walls of a French class and see the world through a different lens,” Diamond says. “While I was there, I was really on the fence on going to medical school or pursuing a degree in global public health. Going to France and Cameroon with Dianne and Emmanuel [Yewah, professor of French and Guenin-Lelle’s longtime colleague]—that’s what started to shape my career.”
The Sister City relationship creates teaching moments for all three locales involved. The history of Bailly (pop. 4,000) and Noisy-le-Roi provides lessons on how a community can endure—the first written mention of Noisy dates to the 12th century. Albion’s location in the Midwest, meanwhile, provides a unique experience to French visitors. They are dropped into an area they call l’Amérique profonde, or “profound America,” which is not usually seen by French visitors to the United States.
Guenin-Lelle recognizes the importance these cultural exposures can have on students, especially as first-years. “You begin to understand how big the world is and how to connect to it, so that’s why Emmanuel and I take first-semester students abroad every year. The aim is to give them these experiences early on, so they can chart their liberal arts journey building on that experience.”
“At this point in Albion’s history, at this point in our Sister City relationship, what we can learn from them is how do you sustain a city, through the years, through the centuries,” Guenin-Lelle says. “What they are learning from us is living in the American heartland. That our Sister City takes them, and they land in the middle of l’Amérique profonde, is something that they value.”
Diamond remembers how Guenin-Lelle always incorporated various points of view into her teachings as well. “Dianne has the unique ability to open students’ eyes to diversity,” he says.
All of Albion’s travel costs are covered by grants, donations, and fundraising alone. Albion Area Philanthropic Women, a local giving circle, recently gave $5,000 to the Sister City program, which could send another delegation of students and adults a year earlier than planned. Overall, the exchange has seen nearly 1,000 students and Albion community members visit Noisy-le-Roi and Bailly, and nearly 1,000 students and community members from France make the trip to Albion.
“ She brought every voice from the Francophone world into the classroom, and helped students see the world through a different lens.” —Nick Diamond, ’15
Spring-Summer 2018 | 25
Io Triumphe! The magazine for alumni, parents, and friends of Albion College