The Professor Chronicles: Francis Mathieu
December 03, 2020
December 03, 2020
- Caitlin Alexander
Associate Professor of French Francis Mathieu was born in Besançon, France, a small city on the border of Switzerland. Studying abroad for a full year in Ireland during college gave him a lifelong passion for travel and experiencing foreign cultures. He has lived in France, Ireland, the U.S., and Japan, and he spent a full year traveling in Southeast Asia. At SU, he regularly teaches second-year French language classes. He also teaches upper-level courses on various aspects of French culture and literature, such as History of French Civilization, Translation, Food & Health, World War II France; Multicultural France; Introduction to Modern Literature; and African Literature.
How long have you been teaching?
I started teaching college French in the previous century, back in 1998, as a graduate student at Ohio University. At the time, I had just arrived from France. As I write, I have suddenly realized this is my 22nd year of teaching! Is there any champagne in my fridge?
How long have you been at Southwestern?
In fall 2007. I cannot believe it has been 13 years already. I think it went by so fast because it has been such a wonderful experience for me. Thanks to the students here, I particularly love going to work every single day.
What inspired you to become a professor?
As a boy, I did not dream of becoming a police officer or a firefighter. I wanted to be either a marine archaeologist (thank you, Jacques Cousteau) or a teacher. But I grew up in a subalpine mountain range near Switzerland, so I quickly realized that spending long periods underwater was not for me. Fortunately, when I started my undergraduate studies, I fell instantly in love with the university’s heightened level of intellectual engagement. Then, I realized that not only could I be a teacher but I could be a college professor—I would never have to leave the university setting even after graduation!
What is something your students would be surprised to know about you?
I apply my intercultural and teaching skills to guiding American tourists for a few weeks in France each summer to support my wife’s boutique tour company, Sojourner Tours. This is pro bono work on my part, but I love going to the beautiful cobblestone villages and fancy restaurants on her itineraries.
When not working, you can find me …
Cooking! I love taking the time to make tasty, nutritious food that is homemade from scratch. Of course, French cuisine is a staple in my kitchen, but I also make a mean authentic Thai curry, and I prepare my fair share of Tex-Mex cuisine. This hobby has inspired me to develop a first-year seminar titled Food, Health, and the Environment and an enrichment class that I taught for Senior University on campus titled French Food Culture.
Describe your dream vacation.
Regardless of the country, my dream vacations take me to small pedestrian-friendly town located in beautiful natural surroundings with a lot of history, character, and charm, from which I can take interesting day trips. The availability of excellent restaurants and tasty food is also a must! One such place is Collioure, situated in French Catalonia by the border with Spain.
If you could have a drink at the Cove with anyone in the world, living or dead, who would the person be, and why?
It would probably be a glass of champagne because it is the drink of festive and special occasions in France. Plus, it is absolutely delicious! It isn’t on the menu at the Cove, but I would just smuggle it in! The ideal companion to share it with would be the Marquis de Lafayette. I am a history buff with a strong interest in the Enlightenment, its aftermath, and its revolutions. They are a crucial segment of the History of French Civilization course I regularly teach. Lafayette was a protagonist of the American Revolution and the French Revolutions of 1789 and 1830. His long life was extremely eventful, and he rubbed elbows with the likes of George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Louis XVI, and Napoleon. I’d love to hear what it was like to be a Frenchman living in the colonial United States. What an incredible conversation I would have with him!
If you could choose one superpower, what would it be?
Time travel. As a history buff, I often try to picture cities and societies in past centuries and millennia. I would also love to visit the future to see how Old Town Georgetown or my favorite places in the world, like Paris, will change. How will people live, and what will have happened 1, 5, or 800 years from now? Wouldn’t it be amazing to visit ancient Egyptian society—or find out what becomes of the place we live in in the 23rd century?
When you reflect on your time at Southwestern, what comes to mind?
That is an easy one for me to answer because I often talk about it: the diligence and warmth of Southwestern students are exceptional. Thanks to the students here, I particularly love going to work every single day. They motivate me to both be at my best at all times and to constantly improve my teaching. I love the fact that interacting with students at Southwestern means so much more than just teaching them: it is also about building meaningful, sometimes lifelong relationships with them through advising, mentoring, and shared academic interests. It was not like that at the two big public universities where I taught before joining Southwestern.
“Be bold and creative! Highlight the intercultural and analytical skills you have acquired as a foreign-language student.”
What advice would you give students going into your field today?
I would say, “Be bold and creative! Highlight the intercultural and analytical skills you have acquired as a foreign-language student.” They are highly marketable skills. Employers seek creative thinkers and problem-solvers. Graduates of SU’s French Department often enroll in graduate programs or take jobs in a variety of fields, like international business and the Department of State, for example. Why not work for a French company? France ranks second for jobs created by foreign companies in Texas, with a total of 58,700 jobs. According to the French embassy, bilateral trade between France and the Lone Star state totaled $6.4 billion in 2018.