Graduate Student Ben Hewes ’12 Likes MLC’s Commitment to French Canadian Studies

The University of Maine helped Ben Hewes ’12 get closer to his roots.

With French-Canadian ancestry, Hewes, a graduate student in UMaine’s Department of Modern Languages and Classics, always had a keen interest in the language, culture, and history of the descendants of French colonists who arrived in Canada in the 17th and 18th centuries.

But the attachment he had for all things French Canadian was really built as a first year graduate student in 2010 when he spent five months at the University of Quebec at Rimouski, taking classes about Quebec history and short stories from 17th century France, as well as doing archival research for his thesis on American-Quebecois writer Jules-Paul Tardival (1851-1905), a journalist and early promoter of Quebec nationalism.

“I loved how clean and peaceful Quebec was,” said Hewes, a Cumberland, Maine, native who is earning a master’s degree in French and a master’s of arts degree in secondary education. “I enjoyed the slower pace as well as the people. They are very warm and welcoming.”

Hewes said he was drawn to UMaine because of the campus’ Canadian American Center, a primary institute for the study of Canada in the U.S. Funded by the Department of Education and the Canadian Embassy, the CAC has been designated a National Resource Center on Canada.

“I like the respect and support for Canada that I see here at UMaine,” said Hewes, who was awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship from the Canadian American Center to study in Quebec.

Now in his final year of graduate school, Hewes plans to teach high school French, making sure to expose his students to the French Canadian version of French which he said is quite a bit different in accent and usage from the French spoken in France, but nonetheless quite accessible.

Meanwhile, he is making the most of UMaine’s proximity to Canada. He travels to Quebec regularly, taking great pleasure in immersing himself in that province’s language and culture. “My French improves after each visit,” he said. He is enjoying his time at the MLC which offers “a good mix of linguistics, literature, and cultural issues having to do with French Canada,” said Hewes whose courses include North American French Linguistics, Quebecois Theatre, and Nineteenth Century French Poetry.

“Along with study in Canada, these classes have made the Quebec culture come alive for me,” said Hewes who finds them challenging and provocative with plenty of stimulating discussions and one-on-one attention from professors.

Working on his thesis with his advisor Professor Raymond Pelletier, Hewes said he hopes someday to have it published and possibly carve out a niche for himself as part of Quebec’s tight-knit historical community. “Writing my thesis is really preparing me for dealing with the academic environment in French Canada,” he said.