By Sherri Kimmel
Kingué received two major honors, one from François Rabelais University in Tours, site of the Bucknell en France program, which Kingué has directed for 15 years. She also was co-winner of the Burma-Bucknell Bowl, presented yearly for outstanding contributions to intercultural and international understanding within the University community. In a collaboration with faculty from Penn State, Kingué excerpted parts of her novel Venus of Khala-Kanti for a dance and musical performance in State College and at Bucknell. She took the production to Dakar, Senegal, earlier this month. And a presentation she made, “Acquiring Intercultural Competencies for Africa,” won the Best of NECTFL 2016 award from The Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. She is now taking a sabbatical year to complete a novel and translate from French to English her first novel. In 2017–18 she’ll return to directing the Bucknell en France program.
Q: Why is it important for students to venture into the world, even though the world is a scary place these days?
A: The only way I think we will survive on this planet is to get to know one another. At the heart of what makes us human is that connection that can be made through exchange, conversation. If students go to a country and live with a family, and eat and converse and navigate the streets and understand the culture and see the buildings and talk to the artisans and talk to fellow students, that’s how they get to know the world. But most importantly, that’s how they get to know themselves. Often when you go abroad, the first person you get to know better is you. You learn something about you as you’re facing difference.
Q: You’re out of your comfort zone?
A: Right. It’s like, who am I? They learn a thing or two about other cultures. They understand that context better. They gain another perspective. They’re part of that culture for a very short while, but it expands them. We gain empathy when we get to know what otherness is. That’s why it matters at all levels, for us as adults as much as for the young students, to move toward the other.
Q: So what compelled you, as a young person from Cameroon, to move out into the world?
A: Reading stories. I remember being so curious about fall leaves. You know why? Because it’s always green where I come from. What got me curious were stories about people, imagining what that world was like. I grew up in a world where education mattered, so it was one door that opens another one, then opens another one. When it came time to study more, going abroad was a way to go beyond, to go to the next level. There’s nothing like immersion. You can’t run away. You find a way.
Q: You are admired around campus for your style. Where did you get your flair for fashion?
A: African women are very stylish. I don’t think about it as fashion, because I’m not following any trends. I have a body that I have to dress, and it’s not a body that I see in magazines, so I have to put things on me that work for me. It just simply reminds me that I’m OK in my world and in the body that I’ve got, and I can adorn that body for my own pleasure. I probably wear things that are brighter, more colorful.
Q: Like red shoes.
A: Yeah, red shoes. My graduation shoes are blue and orange! I just walked in the store, and there they were. They just beckoned and said, “Come get me, come get me.” If you’re going to be Bucknell, you’ll be Bucknell all the way.
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