Spotlight: French journalist learns about America


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Sebastian Compagnon walked into his 10-student French class from frigid late-January temperatures and greeted his subjects with “Bonjour” and a broad grin plastered on his face.

As the class read aloud an excerpt from their textbooks, Compagnon stood at the front of the room, interrupting only to correct a student’s pronunciation.

“He made class really comfortable and at times seemed more like a group of people chilling and having French conversations rather than an actual class,” said Alex Bennett, a student of Compagnon’s Oral Expressions in French III.

Captivating the students’ attention with a generous laugh, Compagnon introduced one of his favorite newspapers from back home, La Republique des Pyrénées, into the day’s lesson. 

“Students in this class have to express a genuine interest in French and a dedication to the coursework,” said the teacher. “That’s the main difference between students here and students in France. My students here come to class prepared, always have their homework done, always ready to learn.”

Compagnon came to Iowa from Pau, France, to be with his American girlfriend and found a niche in the University of Iowa’s foreign-exchange program for teaching assistants.

“I had to find a plan to be close to her,” the 32-year-old said about his girlfriend, who lives in Ohio.

Despite the journey — which might as well have come from a romantic movie — Compagnon holds a realistic view of traveling across the world for love.

“I wanted to find something useful for my career,” Compagnon said, and he registered at Université de Pau to do a thesis about American daily newspapers facing the Internet revolution. “I’m here to have a new professional experience,” he said.

While Compagnon said he enjoys his students’ dedication to a higher education, his dislikes and studies come from the media. Specifically, he doesn’t support the amount of advertising revenue in American newspapers.

Compagnon also dedicates his time at Iowa to studying the changes in journalism from print to online media.

“Everything is online these days, and that changes the way newspapers conduct their business,” he said. “But I still think that the primary form of news is in printed newspaper. I don’t believe the business is dead.”

The chairman of the French department, Roland Racevskis, said Compagnon’s addition to the UI is a delight.

“He’s brought his cultural background not only to the classroom, but provided extra hours outside of class in conversation for students, which benefits the students’ studies as well as the community,” he said.

In his spare time, he likes to travel to monumental sites across America with his girlfriend.

“We like to travel to all different destinations in America. We’ve been to places in Ohio, out to California, and the Statue of Liberty in New York,” he said. “You don’t really know until you see it, but it’s a versatile country.”

Compagnon plans to return to Pau, where he hasn’t been for six months, by July for another job opportunity.

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