AcademicsApr 19, 2020

French as a window to the world

An adventurous traveler lands in the Berkshires — and falls in love with MHS

Aurélie Cressin could have landed anywhere. She has, after all, visited more than 60 countries and territories around the globe. And, when Aurélie says visited, she only counts places she has fully explored, not, say, simply passed through on a connecting flight or spent a few days.

It was fortuitous then, that when she visited Miss Hall’s for a teaching interview in May 2006, while finishing her Master’s Degree at the University of Arkansas, it was a beautiful day in the Berkshires. Mlle. Cressin, originally from France, had been considering teaching and staying in the U.S. after graduation, and an immigration lawyer suggested she look into independent schools. She went online and discovered a posting for a French Teacher at MHS.

“I decided to apply, as it seemed to be my dream school: high school, the values, the mission, single-sex education, a beautiful campus, and so much more,” recalls Aurélie. “I realized I was right when I came for my interview. It was a beautiful, sunny, and warm spring day (which fooled me, I must admit), and the community was so warm and welcoming. I loved it as soon as I stepped foot on campus and did not hesitate for one second when I was offered the position.”

Since joining MHS, Aurélie has taught five French classes each year, in addition to her roles as a beloved student advisor (She received the May 2020 Pietas Award, given to a faculty and/or staff member who goes above and beyond for the School community.) and resident — seven years on 2nd South (formerly 2nd New) and the last seven in Groves Hall. She supervised the French Club for many years, has served on multiple committees, been a mentor to new faculty and new advisors, and, not surprisingly, coordinated a 2011 school trip to Paris and London, and chaperoned a 2018 school trip to Haiti.

Aurélie’s family has always traveled. When she was a youngster, they visited Provence every summer, and, when she was 10, the family began annual international trips, the first to the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona and the following year to Poland. “The first trip that really stuck with me, however, was the next year, when we visited French Guiana, in South America,” she explains. “That trip changed my life and turned me into the adventurous explorer I am today. I went there a second time a few years later, and today I dream of going back, as it is still to this day one of my favorite places.”

Aurélie points out that teaching was not initially in the cards for her. She did not enjoy her high school experience, and thought that as an introvert, being a teacher did not fit with her personality. “Being a teacher seemed like a terrible idea to me then,” she recalls, but when she was getting her Bachelor’s Degree at the Université du Maine, something changed. “I had wonderful teachers who made me want to get up in the morning to go to class, and I really enjoyed learning. I saw teachers who were really passionate about their jobs. That’s when I started considering it.” Her university and the University of Arkansas have a TA exchange program, so Aurélie jumped at the opportunity to still be a full-time student while trying her hand at teaching under the close supervision of experienced professors. “I felt quite comfortable in that role after that dreadful first day of classes. I did that for two years while getting my Master’s, and I’ve been at MHS for 14 amazing years now.”

Mlle. Cressin works with her Hallmark French class in spring 2020

Simply put, Aurélie loves teaching French, which is not only a beautiful language, but also a useful one, spoken by an estimated 270 million people worldwide. “Contrary to what people might hear, it’s not hard, but it’s not easy either, I confess,” she notes. “Learning French is a good intellectual challenge that can benefit people’s lives, as it is a means to appreciate art, literature, music, and cinema, to increase one’s employment opportunities, and to travel to more places in the world and interact with the local population, among other reasons.”

She also loves teaching at MHS, first and foremost, because of the students. “They have so much potential, they are ambitious and driven, and I admire their hopes and dreams,” Aurélie says. “I know that they are all going to impact this world in a positive way and that they are going to accomplish extraordinary things.” Aurélie also believes in the School’s mission and the values and has felt supported by the administration and her peers since her first day. “I know that this strong camaraderie is rare and very special to MHS,” she says. “It is truly a unique place with an exemplary culture and very special people. I wouldn’t change it for the world. Oh, and the beautiful campus is definitely a plus.”

Fortunately, Aurélie’s travels brought her to Miss Hall’s on a sunny day in 2006!