Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
During my Spring semester as a junior, I studied abroad on the Global Francophone Program. I took full advantage of this uniquely St. Lawrence program of experiencing three francophone cultures in Canada, Senegal and France, each on three different continents. I have been fortunate to have traveled beyond the borders of my country from an early age. Having been raised in three different countries, namely Switzerland, Zimbabwe and South Africa and other travels has made me more culturally aware and intrigued. In addition, my fascination with peoples and their cultures played a part in my choosing to further my education in the United States. Hence, I believe, living in and being immersed in many different and diverse cultures has led me to not only have an immense appreciation for my culture and those of the people around me. This has driven me to be intrigued about other communities and their societies.
Through the enrichment grant I was awarded, I was able to take advantage of being in Europe, a continent that heavily attracts immigrants. This is largely due to its colonial conquests in the past which is what attracted me to conduct research on West African people living in the Diaspora, and more specifically in France. I wanted to find out real stories about real people and whether or not they had truly acculturated in France, a country known to many as being hostile towards immigrants. Largely most of the immigrants in France are from former French colonies. The language tie making for an easier transition, but on an interesting note, I not only met immigrants from Francophone West Africa but from former English Colonies.
I conducted my research in two cities: Rouen and Marseille. The two cities; one a northern city and one a southern city gave a good dynamic, as they have different demographics, largely influenced by the fact that one city lies in the interior and one near the coast (attracting many more immigrants). I interviewed women and men from different professions. The following countries were represented: Benin, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Senegal. Their profiles spanned those who had been in France for only five years to those who had been in France for 30 years. I interviewed hairdressers, a restaurant owner, a tailor, students and a homemaker. I found that the majority of my informants had not completed a higher degree in education. For most of them who were not currently enrolled in University, they had not even completed high school. Some of them had not even received any formal education. Some of the younger non-educated interviewees were married to significantly older French men, presenting themselves as opportunistic marriages in my opinion - to gain citizenship and break ties with their countries in Western Africa. This is justified as most cited leaving their countries due to poverty, wanting a better life for themselves, being able to send remittances home and also to seek political asylum. University students on the other hand, ranged from students pursuing engineering and medicine and were attracted to France more for educational opportunities not afforded to them in their home countries. As a component of the GFC the group spends time in Senegal, a francophone West African country that has large numbers residing in France. This gave me the opportunity to see the living situation that many Senegalese immigrants had fled from, but also the important aspects of their communities that they missed such as their homes and family life which is central to their culture.
On a scale of 1 - 5 my interviewees, rated their own governments, education systems, work opportunities, healthcare, and culture and did the same for France.
From the results the most prevalent factors for staying in France were the Healthcare & Education system and the government, given the large variation. Most favored family life in their own countries while highlighting the importance of a safety net to raise their children. Work opportunities were almost equal, as it would generally be easy to find work in their home country because of the existence of a large informal sector in developing economies. A lot of them noted having informal kiosks when they were back home, or being street vendors etc.
Overall, I was humbled by meeting these extraordinary men and women, who have left their homes to pursue a better life for themselves and their children. It was also powerful to see the links created by colonization, especially in language. It was interesting to see that they call the former colonies "home;" those that once subordinated them.