Chris Buagbe Introduces the French Club

Chris Buagbe Introduces the French Club

International programs in the Higher School of Economics in Saint Petersburg can be considered true bastions of multilingualism. Although English, the language of instruction, dominates followed closely by Russian, the native language of native students. Individuals from all the world’s continents brave the campuses bringing with them a wide and varied avertissement of tongues and accents. 

One language however managed to establish for itself a unique and prestigious position, French. 

La langue de Molière is no stranger in the Russian context, it has been reserved a prestigious status as a widely spoken language among the Russian nobility during the era of Catherine the Great. In HSE, however, the language becomes prominent after the founding of the French club under the impetus of Professor Vera Ageeva, holder of a Ph.D. in International Relations and a Francophone herself. In order to understand the story behind the French, I decided to interview the 4th year international student and a member of the French Club Chris Buagbe.

Chris Buagbe
Student, "Political Science and World Politics" (Saint-Petersburg)

Hello, Chris! Can you please introduce to us the French Club, explain what it is and what type of activities it does?

Hello! In its essence the club is a place where we have discussions on International Relations from a French perspective and the different nationalities that can be included in the Francophone perspective. We see where they are coming from and their points of view on issues of International Relations. The club also brings in Cultural and Social elements from Francophone countries right here into Saint Petersburg and Russia in general. We also have a branch in Moscow.

From your answer I see that there is a strong focus on political aspects. Are there other themes that are non-related to political science International Relations where students of Design and Art for example can also participate in?

Yes, you are totally right, there is a focus on political and international issues. For the broader aspects there are some iterations here and there however they do supplement the political side of things. Sometimes we host events focused on the cultural aspects where we come together and create something awesome. But as of now we are more politically focused because our president and patrons are from the political end of academia and most members are politically inclined. But if we incorporate people of different background, we will see a transformation of the agenda into a more general direction of Francophone culture and social issues.

Its very interesting for that you mention the political inclinations of the president and patrons. Would you say that in Russia there exists a current of Francophiles?

That’s a very hard question. From the first end, for the club itself every year we have a certain number of additional French speakers joining, usually about 3 or 4. On the other end, that of the University itself and its broader social context, the number of people who are French speakers really fluctuates a lot, not to mention the pandemic which affects the numbers, but I would say it is mostly stable neither increasing nor decreasing.

What motivated you personally to enter and participate in the French Club?

As for motivation, my primary reason was keeping my French skills up to date. But the reason I continued in the later years was the topics and the amazing people and connections you get to meet, ranging from your peers to academics, to people who are in the diplomatic space and getting to know them and integrate their ideas into your life and your future, and it’s been amazing for me.

Do you feel that Francophonie is a real international community, and that common knowledge of French has created for you a community that you would not have had, had you only been an English-speaking student?

Honestly, I do not think so. There is of course a sort of camaraderie when someone speaks the languages you know, and you can kind of have shared experiences. But as of now French is just a means of communication. The sense of community in the club comes mainly from planning the projects, and setting everything up, and making sure the club is running, that’s where we got each other’s back. As for Francophonie I would not say it is, we can identify with it but not create a strong identity around.

Can you please talk about the planning process of projects, formation of ideas, contacting the different interesting guests. What type of roles do you and other students play in all of this?

The project and event ideas come from our patrons, they have a specific schedule of things we are going to do each month, they then delegate tasks to different people in the club. Some will oversee contacting potential speakers, other will send out social media invites across platforms. That’s in essence what happens. As for how we get our contacts, we have a backlog of reoccurring guests who are vested in the club’s growth outside of university, from diplomats to academics and whatnot. This backlog includes hundreds of contacts. Students play the role of soldiers, we do our tasks and make sure things happen on time, in addition to doing things like artistic expression and writing articles for the club, something that I do.

It appears to me that this club serves as a good medium for students to meet interesting and people prominent in their fields and professions. Why do you think the French Club and not any other language club managed to serve as such a platform?

The is the biggest reason why is a background of Professor Vera Ageeva, who speaks French and studied and lived in France. It all comes down to who founded the club and what they can offer in terms of direction.

Can you tell me how do you see the future of the club going forward?

As it is right now. The visible part is only the tip of the iceberg. It goes deeper into cooperation with the French consulate and French Universities in general. There is a strong potential for it to grow. Especially as we incorporate other facets than the political arena.

What level of French is required to be a member and participant of the club?

Anyone who is willing to learn from A1 to C2 is welcome to join, but of course they would not be able to participate in the higher order of things like forums and speaking. They would be able to engage to some degree. Most of our members are Russians who don’t speak French to a high degree, but they manage to integrate themselves in activities.

Do you plan on pursuing your education in French Universities?

Personally, I do not plan to do that since I believe French is my second language and I would not be able to deal with the level of abstraction of ideas and the different academic terms.

All right, Chris. Thank you for giving me your time today.

Anytime, man, anytime.

Learn more about the French Club

Interview by

Hassan Jawad