Campus celebrates French Week

Kelley Peters, Volunteer writer

From Nov. 3-9, the University of North Alabama’s French Club celebrated National French Week, a celebration of French culture that many high schools and universities across the United States participate in. 

National French week is meant to spread awareness about French-speakers and the cultures from which they originate. UNA’s sixth annual French Week included many festivities and opportunities for students to learn more about French culture. 

Stephanie Coker is the French professor who oversees UNA’s French Week activities. While in college, she fell in love with the French language and has made it her mission to spread that love of the culture to others. When she began teaching at UNA, Coker was approached by students who expressed their desires to create a club centered around the French language and French culture. With the help of Coker, the UNA French Club was founded, and it has been going strong for almost six years.  

The French Club sponsors a variety of activities throughout the academic year, including French Week and a French film festival in the spring, but also smaller events like their weekly French Table.  

“We do the different events to create some visibility and to let people know that we exist as a club,” said Coker. 

The events of French Week were carried out by the joint efforts of the university’s Foreign Language Department as well as the help of many French Club volunteers like the club’s president, Anna Oelmann.  

Oelmann has only been in the French Club for a few months and applied for a leadership position on a whim, which led to her current role as president. As a Spanish major, Oelmann has grown to deeply enjoy learning foreign languages. 

Oelmann’s duty as president of the club is to plan the club’s events, such as French Week, with Coker’s assistance. This year, the French Club created a variety of events, including the passing out of croissants and hot chocolate, an Anime Night featuring a French-inspired anime, a free concert performed by the student artist G.I.G.A.N.T.I.C. and a “French Around the World” panel of international faculty and students from francophone countries. 

 “We have done very well this year. It has been a huge success,” Oelmann said. “We’ve gotten a lot more people in the door to hear everything we had for the week. Hopefully it will keep going and we’ll keep growing as a club.”

At the kickoff event, the French Club set up a table in the lobby of Wesleyan Hall and passed out free croissants, cups of hot chocolate and berets to students passing through. A long line developed as many from psychology and foreign language classes stopped to grab a bite and see what the event was promoting. This helped gain attention for the rest of the French Week events. 

The concert also turned out to be a huge success, as many students made their way to the Guillot University Center’s Atrium in order to hear the artist G.I.G.A.N.T.I.C. sing in French. Many who were simply eating lunch or studying were soon drawn in to hear the artist’s voice and to see why the concert was being held. The French Club also distributed custom French Week t-shirts that show a picture of Wesleyan Hall with a French flag flying atop it.  

On Nov. 6, UNA welcomed students from Florence High School who are studying French and allowed them to sit in on French classes and the French panel. At the panel, French-speaking students and faculty spoke to listeners about their home countries and their cultures, as well as the experiences that they have had moving between countries.  

“I want to make sure that when we talk about French culture, people understand that I’m not trying to make it just about France,” Coker said of the French panel. “It’s about all the cultures around the world that speak French.” 

In fact, only one of the panelists was from France. The others came from French-speaking countries such as Chad and Burundi, and they were eager to share their cultures with listeners.  

The next Monday and Tuesday, Coker and Professor Robert Rausch of the Photography Department held interest meetings about the school’s Paris trip in the summer of 2022. Many students attended in order to find out more about the trip. It is open to all students, regardless of if they are currently majoring in photography or French. This seems to be the message of the UNA French Club: anyone is welcome.  

 “You don’t have to know the language to know the culture,” Oelmann said. “We try to make it more open-ended so that people would know they are welcome.”

The club works to make all students feel included and like they can learn a foreign language on their own terms. The events of French Week and the other festivities the UNA French Club organizes work toward that purpose.  

“You don’t have to feel like you have to learn French all at once,” Oelmann said. “It’s baby steps. You’re always going to be learning. We’re never done learning English, so you’re never going to be done learning French, or Spanish, or any other foreign language. Remember to have fun with it. If you want to do it, you can do it.”