Category Archives: France

Sciences Po Notes: Burka Free Meaning of Liberty


The US and France have a deep disagreement about the meaning of liberty.

I know what you’re thinking — the US and France? They’re both Western, developed countries. Don’t they kind of do everything the same?

My first trip abroad was all about seeing something different. I went to Bolivia for a year because I wanted to be shocked– I wanted to see horrendous poverty and learn about ludicrous laws and peculiar traditions. And I was right that Bolivia has far more visually noticeable differences– after all, in France people look kinda the same, dress kinda the same, eat kinda the same, and act kinda the same as people from the US. Barring an obsession with techno music and stinky cheese, culture shock here is pretty mild.

Peeling back the layers of cultural differences is a far more subtle study in France, but it nevertheless reveals some important, deep-rooted differences.

Reading for class today (see citation below) I was reminded of one great example of our differences:

French banning of the burka and hijab.

For those of you reading this asking if the hijab (the Muslim headscarf) or burka (which also covers the face) are really banned somewhere, the answer is yes! They are! Does that shock you?

Both the burka and hijab have been banned at different times in France… I won’t be going into the legal side here. Rather, I want to focus on how such a ban underlines an important difference in thinking between the United States and France that not only pervades the legal world, but also the average citizen’s individual conception of… well, life.

In the article I was reading (cited below), author Ioanna Tourkochoriti states the issue simply:
“A law, like the one adopted in France, banning the hijab for students in schools would most likely be considered unconstitutional in the United States.”

While both the US and France can agree that insisting a person remove their hijab for certain identification reasons makes sense (you know, in a very respectful way, like for the passport photo, because we need to see your face, sorry), the question of whether or not it should be allowed in schools or other public places is contentious.

In the US?
Americans have a long history of fearing their government is going to impose too much control on them. We don’t want anyone taking away our guns anymore than we want them telling us what we can wear (well, unless it’s about leggings, then maybe).

This is the concept of “negative liberty” — a phrase Tourkochoriti uses freely in her article, though I admittedly had to look it up. It’s the idea that we should be free from interference by others.
You wanna wear a burka? Go for it! I’ll wear my cross, he’ll wear a Jewish yarmulke, and we’ll all go around happily dancing at the capital because we know that our rights to freedom of religion and expression protect whatever kind of religious paraphernalia we want to wear. Period.

So what kind of unfair, liberty-hating radicals infested France?

Honestly, the first time I heard about the burka ban, I thought it was a joke– or at least a sign of the wrong French political party getting waaay too power. But here’s the rationale:

“The burka ban, like the hijab ban in public schools in France, is justified by the need to protect the girls wearing a burka from social pressure when the choice to wear it is not authentically theirs. It also aims at protecting them from themselves when wearing the burka happens to be an authentic choice of the women concerned.”

The French reason that by banning the burka you actually protect religious freedoms— you promote gender equality and, in the case of public schools, create a space for learning free of religious issues.

Both countries support separation of church and state (or laicité as the French call it). The difference is on how they go about implementing that separation: “freedom through the state in France, freedom from the state in the United States.” 

Should the state help to ensure religious freedom by insisting schools enforce separation of church and state in public places? Or should the state ensure religious freedom by simply not sticking their noses into other people’s business?

Personally, I can see the rationale for both systems, so this post isn’t intended to push any one conclusion. What is clear to me, though, is that the role of the government as seen by the French public and the US public is quite different.

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Source of Quotes and Inspiration:
Tourkochoriti, Ioanna, The Burka Ban: Divergent Approaches to Freedom of Religion in France and in the USA (March 24, 2012). William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 20, pp. 791-852, 2012. Available at SSRN:

6 Normal Things From Life Abroad

When you move to a different country you become immune to many “normal things” that at first you thought were weird. Here are some *prizes* for my favorite normal things from life abroad:

1. Dirty streets, dirty feet [Bolivia]
Yes, you can get used to your feet being constantly caked in dust. In fact, in some places you really don’t have a choice.
In Senegal my host mother always insisted I wash my feet to avoid microbes “getting me,” but after spending 8 hours a day like this, I bet the microbes still “got me.” Bolivia wins the prize on this though, because nobody there ever suggested I wash my feet.

2. Street animals [Turkey]
Saint LouisChat de GoréeIMG_4794In some places it’s goats and sheep, in others its dogs.
Some have homes, others are wild.

At first you take pictures and ask what’s being done for them, but eventually you get used to their presence.

Turkey takes the prize because of its cats… they are literally everywhere.


3. One potato. Two carrots. [Spain]

I remember being very taken aback the first time I realized that I could buy only the singular fruits and veggies that I needed.


When I lived in Spain I had a fruit store on the corner, a bakery down the street and a small grocery store that saved all the weird-shaped tomatoes, like this one, just for me.

4. No silverware. Just your hand. [Senegal]

Eating with the hand


I cannot stress how much I LOVE eating with my hand.

It gives you intimacy and connection with your food.

Senegal wins the prize for teaching me to do it right. Even though I only lived in Senegal for 5 months, I still use my hand for rice dishes when I’m home alone.

5. Poor translations. [Czech Republic]

Brno - Mendel MuseumIMG_6217

Every non-English speaking country gets credit for this one, but the Czech Republic wins this prize.  I’ve seen many botched restaurant menus, but the Czech apparently dared to translate poetry at Gregor Mendel’s garden in Brno.

That said, the “30 Second Dispel Horniness” L’Oréal cream is my all-time favorite find. I found it in Turkey but since there was no Turkish on the packaging, it can’t qualify the country for a win.

6. Explaining Arkansas. [Wikipedia]

No matter where I go I always have to explain something about my state. That’s especially true when I gawk at funny-shaped tomatoes or my roommate comes home and I’m eating dinner with my hand.
What is life like in Arkansas? Thankfully, Wikipedia has always been there to help me find the words:







Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015#BloggingAbroad

My Home in Saint Denis

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Home can take many shapes and sizes. This is my home in Saint Denis, France.

I live in…

“Ym working on myselt, or myself, by myself”
Clash of Clans, anyone?


a Muslim neighborhood advertising clothing for female independence







in an apartment shared with two game-addicted geeky boys




Stuffed tomatoes and peppers!



who love to make homemade grub



Chouchen, a form of mead made with honey





and wash it down with various French alcohols



So clean you can eat in ’em!



after a long day of taking the spotlessly clean Parisian metros


Oh la la!



only 40 minutes away from the beauty of Paris.






Just remember, Cinderella, to start heading home at midnight.*



*Or else you might miss that metro ride 😉

My neighbors are terrorists

My neighbors are terrorists.

I moved to Saint Denis because I was accepted to a great school in Paris. If smart meant rich, I certainly would have rented a cute little apartment near the Bastille district in downtown Paris. Or somewhere near the Latin quarter with big windows, a beautiful kitchen and hardwood floors.

But while my parents passed along the gift of study and creative thinking, I had to grow up counting quarters and make my way through school by earning scholarships. No regrets or complaints– after all,  I made it to Paris! But the fact is, I needed someplace cheaper than what downtown Paris was prepared to offer.

I ended up finding a place in Saint Denis, a northern suburb of Paris. The first thing I asked about was the kitchen. After all, a Southern girl like me needs space for apple pie and taco bars every once in a while. It was a sweet deal: my own bedroom, a full kitchen and cheap rent. I jumped at the chance.

As soon as I said yes, a friend warned me that Saint Denis was a little bit shady “for a white girl with blonde hair.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Nothing, nothing. Just that you might not want to go out alone at night or stumble home drunk.”
His warnings felt almost insulting to me. After all, I had already spent time in places like Bolivia and Senegal, where unwanted male attention is the name of the game. How bad could any French neighborhood really be? I moved in.

Since some of my unversity classes ended at 9pm, coming home late at night quickly became the norm, and not because of drunken debauchery.

The first few times I returned home cautiously… I took off my headphones, kept my purse close to my body, walked quickly and took note of my surroundings. By the ninth or tenth time, I started to get careless.

True: in Saint Denis there are always groups of people chatting on corners and the smell of marijuana wafts lazily throughout the downtown air. After a while, you start understanding what everyone is rolling into cigarettes as they chat by the roadside, and if you’re paying attention you’ll see the occasional two cars pull up side-by-side and exchange something for… something.

The first time I saw a group of people gathered in a circle outside my garage door in Saint Denis I assumed they were up to no good. But when I looked closer I realized they were playing cards.
“Oh, what a relief!” I thought, “They’re just playing a game!” I smiled to myself and then, by chance, a 20 euro bill fluttered to the ground and a youngster from the group stooped to pick it up.
“Oh right,” I realized, my smile fading, “not so innocent after all.”

I’d been there for about 4 months the first time someone tried to steal my phone. I grabbed the hand as soon as I felt it reaching into my pocket and turned around bruskly to chase after my empty-handed would-be thief, all the while screaming obscenities in English. It was not one of my finest moments.

The second time they went for my phone was a success.
“So, you saw nothing and you felt nothing?” the police officer asked, incredulously. He didn’t seem very convinced.
If only I were better at lying I would’ve spun a better tale.
“No,” I told him, “but whoever took it made 13 long-distance calls to Morocco.”
“I see,” he said, taking note. “Let me guess, you were on bus 153?”
“Yes, sir.”
I had the impression he did this regularly.

Besides phone-stealing hazards, I also encouter regular cat calls. I’m not nearly as anti-cat-calling as some people I know. The way I figure it, if they want to call me beautiful, let them!
In Saint Denis, though, I get called much more than beautiful. I mean to say that I’ve heard all the usual cat calls– honey, darling, delicious, etc. But I’ve also heard some rather inventive ones– syrup, garden, mouse, and, of course, just a loud hissing. I’m actually not sure if the hissing is supposed to be a compliment or not.

Despite all these less-than-perfect aspects of my nieghborhood, I rather like Saint Denis. It has a lot of character. And, even if it is a bit shady, it’s nice when the shopkeeper across the street gets to know you and starts pointing out all the phone thieves nearby to help keep you safe. Or when you walk into a restaurant clearly marked “pizza” only to learn that they don’t do pizza at all (they’ve been too lazy to change the sign for 3 years), but instead the most incredible Cameroonian food you’ve ever tasted.

All of this is to say that with the recent attacks in Paris, I actually felt rather safe in my neighborhood. After all, what terrorist chooses to attack a shady suburb?

Little did I know that I was all too right. Terrorists wouldn’t attack my neighborhood– they would live in it!

Last Wednesday morning I woke up way too early to the sound of gunfire.
“What’s that noise?” my boyfriend asked sleepily.
“Gunfire,” I told him.
I may be pretty innocent sometimes, but I did grow up in Arkansas after all.

The police raid in Saint Denis took place in an apartment just 400 meters away from me. I know because I checked on Google Maps as soon as the news started reaching for new announcements to keep us interested and informed the public that ‘kalashnikovs can only kill up to a distance of 300 meters.’

Only 300m. So for those worried about my safety, you can be sure I was fine at 400m. Especially since there are several other homes between my own and the terrorists’.

Looking back on my decision to live in Saint Denis, I could never have guessed that an important raid of this scale would have happened so close to me. But then again, I’m not sure it would have changed my mind about living here. The uncertainty of a terrorist attack is going to continue to haunt our minds… through February, if the US citizen security messages are to be believed.

Whenever I tell someone I live in Saint Denis, they always asked me if I’m scared. No, I tell them, I am not afraid!

In the wake of the attacks in Paris, Parisians are defiantly insisting on drinking their over-priced coffees on restaurant terraces, even with freezing outdoor temperatures. I too insist on my need: cooking Southern soul food in an affordable apartment with a real kitchen.

So there you have it– life goes on.

Troubling Concerns about the Paris Attacks

The most pressing issue about the Paris attacks is the health of those injured and the families and friends of the victims. My heart goes out to all those affected.
As the French government reacts to this tragedy, several other troubling concerns come to light:

Daily life in France has been seriously affected. Concerts, competitions, and even private house parties have been canceled. Security measures have been increased throughout the country. The streets and the metro aren’t nearly as busy as normal since many people are staying home for the next 48 hours. 120+ people are dead, but 2.2 million are changing their weekend plans out of fear. That is, I believe, is true terrorism.

What is more — we are almost certainly stirring up Muslim hate. Here in Paris, I grab a seat on the metro nearly everyday next to someone either reading the Koran or chatting merrily in Arabic. No matter how open-minded the Parisian people may be, mistrust for these metro-riders is likely to run high in the coming days. From my days living in Turkey and Senegal, two predominately muslim countries, I can certainly attest to the fact that Islam can be a wonderfully peace-loving religion. But now matter how many articles we share on Facebook to remind our friends that terrorism has no religion, I have to wonder: will it be enough?

I’m also wary of the Islamic State’s decision to quickly admit responsibility for the attacks.  A Syrian passport found on body of one of the suicide bombers indicates desire to be identified, and the attacks were reportedly met with online celebration from IS supporters. “Let France and those who walk in its path know that they will remain on the top of the list of targets of the Islamic State,” they stated, calling the attacks “the first of the storm.” Pride for such a horrendous “success” ought to be a serious concern. 

In response to the attacks, France is talking about going to war. The idea is one of vengeance: find the perpetrators, make them pay, up operations in Syria. The thing is, IS had to have anticipated this reaction. Did they really think that killing 120+ people would make France pull out of its operations in Syria? Of course not! The ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists’ rhetoric was bound to be stronger than ever! So maybe France needs to be careful that they’re not playing into the hands of the terrorists. What if they want France to retaliate? After all, war is an extremely profitable business.

If there’s any lesson to be learned from following the US War on Terror that came out of the 9/11 attacks, it’s that this may be a long a bumpy ride for France. I certainly don’t have the answers for any of the concerns I’m bringing up, but I’m hopeful that the response of the French people and government will be one of solidarity that shows no unnecessary fear and no unwarranted hate. I hope we, as an international community, can make IS supporters feel shame for the acts committed and, hopefully, react in a way that doesn’t simply fit into the greater plans of terrorism.

Interning at Sikana

As part of the completion of my master’s degree at Sciences Po, in June I began a 6-month internship at Sikana, a non-profit, start-up NGO that provides free, online educational classes in video form.

At Sikana, I am the International Diffusion Team Leader, insuring localization, translation, dubbing, and distribution of Sikana videos in over 10 languages. In other organizations an intern doesn’t have a full title with real responsibilities, but in a start-up like Sikana everyone is truly needed.

Read more and see a sample Sikana video on how to make Tartiflette (a traditional French recipe made with bacon, potatoes and cheese) on the McDermott Alumni blog!

So far it has been a good experience. Having previously taught English to kindergartnerers, high schoolers and adults, I already had a good idea about leading different age groups– and leading in general. That said, being given the official title of group leader while having no specific knowledge, age advantage or even salary distinction to legitimize leadership was definitely a new challenge! I’m learning a lot about leading from behind and encouraging a climate of innovation.

I’m also learning a lot about what it means to work at a start-up… from taking the initiative to set-up new organizational processes to getting down on my hands and knees to wash the toilet floors (budget constraints = no mop, no custodian!)

Thinking about applying to Sciences Po?
I can review your letter of motivation!

I’ve also written posts with some free tips on writing your motivation letter. And this post, which answers some questions sent to me from a Sciences Po applicant.

HablandoTV: Shortcomings and Potential for France

After nearly 2 years of work on this project, I was excited to finally see the first published videos for HablandoTV about two months ago. My ideas were finally becoming a tangible reality– the prospective of increasing English proficiency among Hispanics in the US felt so close!

See some HablandoTV episodes here!

Yet, the problem suffers from several shortcomings, most notably:

1. A lack of professional filming.
I thought that working with Nowadays Orange, a Dallas-based production company headed by a fellow UT Dallas graduate, would be a great option for this start-up project. However, conflicting angles during filming, illogical film cuts, and poorly controlled lighting suggest otherwise. This production company obviously lacks experience in the fundamentals of filming.

2. A lack of professional video-editing.
Research conducted by myself and the project’s other co-producer show the importance of creating hooks and capturing audience attention within the first 10 seconds of a clip. Nevertheless, despite my constant demands to decrease the introduction and conclusion sections of clips (which are geared towards self promotion and provide no actual content for the viewer), these sections continue to take up as much as half of the entire clip time.

3. A lack of talented actors. 
Neither professional actors nor talented actors-in-training appear to have been hired. While this may be in part the result of a lack of funding, the company could likely have found willing, talented individuals to act for free by targeting students and new graduates. Instead, the project’s other co-producer took on the main acting role, despite admitting that he feels nervous in front of the camera. Since the program budgets $500 to the production of each episode, I do not consider a lack of funding to be a major shortcoming. $500 should be more than sufficient to create a decent video clip under two minutes, though no details on actual project spending have yet been made available.

4. A lack of consistent pedagogy.
The Spanish-English grammar and phrase explanations are not consistent in terms of assumed audience English competency. Though some of my scripts are being used, others seem to have been invented on the fly. When asked about the use of subtitles as a pedagogical strategy, the Dallas-based co-producer denied that subtitles hold any value other than  comedic purposes. The project needs a solid pedagogical vision and a show host who values and understands that vision.

5. An inability to provide efficient feedback from a distance.
Despite having expressed all of the above concerns on multiple occasions, I feel that my points are not getting through to the production company. Physical distance creates a barrier in being able to participate actively in filming, editing, and other activities. For this reason, I am discussing the implementation of a new project, using the same basic premises, in France.

I still believe this project has much potential, and perhaps by getting a ‘new start’ in France, greater success can be achieved. While this may require re-writing scripts and re-orienting the project to a French-speaking public, later expansion to the Spanish-speaking public would be attainable if initial success was established in France. Initial goals for the establishment of the project in France include:

  • Engage individuals with proven academic training in filming and video editing. I have several connections in France that I can approach with professional backgrounds in the audiovisual field. The HablandoTV project has shown that the importance of this aspect of the project cannot be understated.
  • Engage actors with an interest or desire to act. They do not need to be professionals, but they should at least enjoy being on camera. Paris offers a prime location for finding dedicated individuals willing to engage in projects without pay with the prospect of getting seen.
  • Establish pedagogical goals and insist on their consistency. All those involved in the project should be aware of the pedagogical goals, and clip content should center around those goals. This must be enforced both by following established scripts and by project direction.
  • Film and publish at least one episode before I leave the country. My career interests will eventually cause me to leave France at some point, if only for a couple of months. Ensuring the production of at least the first episode, if not more, while I am in-country will be crucial to keeping original visions of the project alive. Finding a dedicated and reliable co-producer could also be a good way to deal with this.

See some HablandoTV episodes here!

Sciences Po: When will I know about the Boutmy Scholarship?

I just found out I have been offered a Boutmy scholarship at Sciences Po!

(I’ve written a lot of posts about Sciences Po.)

After months of awaiting a scholarship decision, I’ve decided to post this announcement on my blog so that others may find it next year and know when to expect to find out about scholarship decisions.

After emailing them, I was initially told that I would hear about the Boutmy by late May. After late May passed, I emailed them again and was told late June.

I will be attending the Master in International Development program, 2014-2016.


February 12, 2013 – Completed my Sciences Po application, which included a request for the Boutmy Scholarship

April 17, 2014 – Received notice of acceptance

June 23, 2014 – Received notice of Emilie Boutmy scholarship acceptance

September 1, 2014 – Start date for classes in Paris

Note that these are the deadlines from my personal application process – the process may be different for others! (Acceptances occur on a rolling basis so they will almost definitely be different. However, all the Boutmy scholarships are released at the same time.)

Still working on your application for Sciences Po?
I can review your letter of motivation!

I’ve also written posts with some free tips on writing your motivation letter. And this post, which answers some questions sent to me from a Sciences Po applicant.

For more information about the Boutmy scholarship, check out the official webpage for it at: