Let’s hear back from one of our old laureates: Jacob Hamburger!
Back up: Apart from being the leading French language and cultural center of Chicago, for the last 35 years, the Alliance Française has been proud to send outstanding students to France each year under the Alliance Française de Chicago McCormick Award for Excellence Scholarship Program.
Back up further: What is this scholarship? The purpose of the Alliance Française de Chicago McCormick Award for Excellence Scholarship Program is to provide scholarships for American students to study French language and culture in France. The scholarship provides round-trip air transportation, tuition for a pre-approved language and civilization course, at the Sorbonne, and a stipend for living expenses for a four-week stay in Paris.
The Alliance awards a limited number of these scholarships each year to deserving high school seniors from the Chicago metropolitan area who are chosen from among finalists earning top scores on the National French Exam – Grand Concours.
Okay, back up-to-speed: Jacob Hamburger is a graduate student at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, whose work has focused on Cold War liberalism and neo-conservatism in France and the United States. His journalistic writings have appeared in numerous publications in both English and French, and he has translated authors including Michel Foucault and Marcel Gauchet. Jacob covers American politics for the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, with whom he recently co-created a special report entitled “Feeling the Burn”. He is also the editor of Tocqueville 21, a blog devoted to democratic politics and ideas in the twenty-first century.
But before he was all that, he was a recipient of the Alliance McCormick scholarship. We asked him a couple of questions to get into the head of a top scholar and to also see language, traveling and education through his eyes.
Why do you think it’s vital to learn a new language?
“It’s important to learn a new language because until you do, you don’t realize how much of the world is closed off to you. For English speakers, it’s easy to assume that because so many people around the world learn your language, you can travel to more or less any country, communicate with more or less anyone, read more or less any book in translation, etc. It’s only once you learn another language that you realize that people in other countries not only say different words, but speak and think differently, have entirely different assumptions about the world. Even learning a language as similar to English as French opens up a vast territory that is otherwise inaccessible.”
How did receiving this scholarship benefit you?
“Since I received the Alliance McCormick scholarship, learning and knowing French has never stopped opening up new opportunities. When I was in college, for example, I was able to earn a grant to return to Paris to conduct archival research for my history thesis. After I graduated, I returned yet again to complete a master’s degree in philosophy at the École normale supérieure. During this time, I began writing as a journalist in French, notably for the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, as I continue to do.”
Who introduced you to this prize?
“Nobody ‘introduced’ me to the Alliance McCormick scholarship. I had no idea it existed, but during my senior year of high school I took the Grand Concours, sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of French, as I had done every year. I always did well on the test, and I received prizes that included a small French flag, a t-shirt, and a gift card for $5 to Starbucks. Nearing the end of high school, I almost didn’t take the test again. Luckily, however, I did, and a few weeks later my French teacher called me on the phone to tell me I was a finalist for a 4-week language study in Paris. The rest is history…”
We thank Jacob for a continued connection with us, here at the Alliance, and for taking the time to talk with us and his past, present and future!
A bientôt !