Last year, when Maria Muñoz, 21, was selected to come to Bowdoin, the College promised her free room, board, and a monthly stipend. They also assigned her several classes of Bowdoin students to instruct.
Muñoz, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, is one of this year's six foreign language teaching fellows. There are two teaching fellows for the French department, and one each for Italian, German, Spanish, and Russian. They all reside in the same house on Federal Street.
Muñoz was nominated by the Institute for the International Education of Students and selected by Bowdoin to help students in the Spanish department here with language and cultural knowledge. Muñoz meets with several small groups of upper level students every week.
"I also have time and space to do my own projects and work on my own research," Muñoz says.
Muñoz audits classes at Bowdoin, as teaching fellows often do. Muñoz, a musician, is following three classes in the music department this semester. Although Muñoz does all the work, except exams, she says that these classes are not her top priority.
"I really want to devote myself to my Spanish students," she says, adding that some of these students are also enrolled in the classes she audits.
The dual identity of teacher and student is something that all the teaching fellows must negotiate.
"We're kind of floating in the middle," Muñoz says. "We're not exactly teachers, and we're not exactly students."
"It's a very delicate balance," says Associate Professor of Romance Languages Charlotte Daniels.
Daniels, who has worked with French teaching fellows for years, says that they are typically a year or two older than Bowdoin students. She has witnessed teaching fellows who remain very disconnected from student life at Bowdoin, as well as teaching fellows who become very integrated in the social scene here.
"It is great when seniors are open to them," she says, adding that several Bowdoin students have even married teaching fellows.
The French department acquires its teaching fellows through a direct exchange with a French university. Graduating Bowdoin students who have completed a French major may apply to be a teaching fellow in France, and in turn, the university they attend selects French students to work as teaching fellows at Bowdoin. This year, three students from the Class of 2007 are working in France, and two French students are working at Bowdoin.
Romain Appriou, from Brittany, France, is one of the French teaching fellows. Although he will not receive an official credit for his time at Bowdoin, he is studying to teach English in France.
"You pretty much have to go abroad if you want to be an English teacher," he says.
This job is the second one Appriou has had teaching French in the United States. Two years ago, he worked as a teaching assistant in a Michigan high school.
Appriou runs seven French conversation sections every week, each with four to eight students. He says that his primary goal is to try to get students to "use their French."
"It's not only about the French?the language," he says, "I am trying to give them a glimpse of my culture, too."
In addition to preparing and leading conversation sections, Appriou attends the French dinner table at Thorne every Wednesday and helps organize French Club activities and field trips.
Because Appriou is 23 years old, he also finds it difficult to "draw the line between being a teacher and being a friend." While he says that there is a "great atmosphere here," he admits that some student parties seem "a little weird."
Like the French department, the German department also acquires its teaching fellows through an exchange program with a German university. This year's German teaching fellow, Nicole Poppenhagen, is pursuing a degree at the University of Mainz in Germany.
Unlike many other teaching fellows, Poppenhagen says she will receive credit for the courses that she takes at Bowdoin. This semester she is taking two courses in the English department, for which she completes all assignments and exams.
"When I go back to Germany, they expect me to have done the work," she says.
Poppenhagen is struck by the differences between Bowdoin and her university in Germany, which enrolls about 35,000 students.
"You actually get to know your professors here," she says.
Poppenhagen says she chose to come to Bowdoin because she wanted to see what a liberal arts college was like, as there are none in Germany. Despite the differences between her university and Bowdoin, Poppenhagen says she has not experienced much culture shock.
"I have been abroad before, so it's not such a strange thing for me to do," she says.
Muñoz, on the other hand, is living abroad for the first time in her life. She left behind her music band in Buenos Aires to push herself out of "the comfort of a situation you have in your home."
For Muñoz, living in a foreign country has been intellectually exhilarating.
"You get to refresh your ideas and have this air going through your head," she says.