My FLTA experience at Gannon University

In January 2022, I had one full semester as a Gannon University FLTA under my belt. I was slowly but surely getting used to life in Erie, Pennsylvania. Since my arrival mid-August, I had delighted myself in the full seasons this part of the United States has to offer. Erie’s cold and snowy winter filled me up with energy, and I felt ready to spend another semester sharing my language and culture with the students of the Gannon community.

I was also happily noticing signs of my acclimatization to the US and local cultures. My small talk skills were improving (having a small conversation with a coffee shop barista was no longer a struggle!). I had become an expert at finding local vegetarian spots downtown. I had been to the Presqu’Ile in the early hours of the morning and had proudly collected my first Erie beach glass. I had even turned two pieces of beach glass into earrings!

The beginning of this new semester took an even more exciting turn when I received an email from Schuster Theater’s technical director Angela Howell. Gannon’s theater department was putting together “Émilie: la marquise du Châtelet defends her life tonight”, a play about XVIIIth century French scientist and philosopher Émilie du Châtelet. They needed someone to help with the French sections of the script. When I first read the email, I couldn’t believe my luck! As a graduate student in French Language and Literature at KU Leuven, I specialized in XVIIIth century female writers. Émilie du Châtelet was at the core of my research as an XVIIIth century specialist. I had read all her letters (over 650!), written about her, and presented the results of my analysis of her correspondence at KU Leuven’s graduate students conference. You can imagine how head over heels I was to learn that a theater production on Émilie du Châtelet was to take place in my host university!

From left to right: Java Rajbhandari, Regan von Richter, Grace Dible, Edwin Lopez, Ross Mirenda, Stella Przybylinski, Anthony DiFonzo, Marino Martin

I readily offered my help as a French language consultant and dramaturg. In March, I was invited to give a presentation on Émilie du Châtelet and introduce my research to the actors and production crew. During the following two months of rehearsals, I provided background information on the different historical characters on the show as well as on XVIIIth century French society in general. I also researched reference material to help students portray their characters as accurately as possible.

I have a background in theater, having both studied theater at university and worked in the performing arts in the past. It was a real pleasure for me to get back into the familiar atmosphere of a theater group. I enjoyed watching the theater process slowly unfold as the show came to life with costumes, music and lights! Everything was at the same time familiar and slightly different, and I got to learn how theater productions are handled in the USA. I learned so many new technical terms!

For two whole weekends in April, I sat in the first row for every performance, ready to cheer my team. I felt such a great feeling of pride and accomplishment, looking at all our hard work unfold majestically on stage. I feel extremely lucky to have been able to take part in such an amazing project. It has allowed me to meet incredible people, share my love for theater and for French language and literature, and connect with the broader Erie community. Gannon’s theater department is headed to Scotland in the summer of 2023 for the Fringe Festival. We’ve already made plans to meet on the other side on the Atlantic. I can’t wait for our paths to cross again!

Laure Primerano is a Belgian Foreign Language Teaching Assistant in French to Gannon University. She is a graduate student in French Language and Literature from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. She previously earned a BA in French and Romance Languages and Literature and a MA in Performing Arts from the Free University of Brussels. As a French language enthusiast, she is excited to share her language and Belgian culture with the students at Gannon University. She hopes to pass her skills and knowledge on to her students through genuine conversations, performing arts and recipe swaps. She looks forward to engaging with the community in Erie, Pennsylvania through local activism, classes and theater.

Articles are written by Fulbright grantees and do not reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission, the grantees’ host institutions, or the U.S. Department of State.