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Forgotten Lunches, 30 Years Apart

Most, but not all, Kalamazoo College students go on study abroad. Most, but not all, do an internship. On the other hand, everyone who graduates does a Senior Individualized Project.

Therefore, the fact that Diane Dupuis ’80 and Fiona Carey ’14 did a SIP is more “Dog Bites Man” than vice versa. But when you consider that Dupuis is Carey’s mother, and that they both studied French and completed SIPs that were both based on translating literature in their second language, things start to get a bit more “Man Bites Dog.”

And the similarities don’t end there.

SIP students and supervisor (l-r): Diane Dupuis ’80, Fiona Carey ’14, Professor Kathleen (White) Smith.

Both women studied abroad in French-speaking nations—Dupuis in Caen, France, and Carey in Dakar, Senegal—and both persuaded Professor of Romance Languages and Literature Kathleen White Smith to serve as their SIP advisor, albeit some 34 years apart.

“One needs to know French very well to create a literal translation that reads well,” Smith says. “Diane and Fiona are both extremely proficient in French.”

In the fall of 1979, Dupuis translated Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein by Marguerite Duras, first published in France in 1964. Duras grew up in French Indochina, creating a literary perspective and voice unique from other French writers of the time, Dupuis says.

“There was an otherness to her voice that set her apart,” she says. “I really responded to her style.”

Carey, meanwhile, translated the first act of the three-act play Béatrice du Congo by Bernard Dadié, published in 1970, a work she first encountered in a francophone African literature class at K. Here, too, there are serendipitous similarities between the choices of mother and daughter. Significant themes in both works revolve around colonial imperialism, religion, and native peoples trying to maintain or resurrect traditional ways of living upended by foreign influences.

“I was amazed that our SIPs were almost the same,” Dupuis says. “I wondered why I didn’t think about this sooner. It seemed almost inevitable that we would pursue the same kind of project.”

Both women love language—French in particular. Carey well remembers a trip the family took to France when she was in high school, particularly the admiration she felt for her mother as they walked around towns in Normandy and she heard her mom’s French language skills reawaken.

Dupuis often read French to Carey and her younger brother when they were kids growing up, teaching them how to make the sounds of the words. But she never pushed her children to learn the language, Carey says. It just kind of happened.

“I attribute my love for language to her love for language,” she says. “I knew my mom translated a novel, but I didn’t really think about it until the end of this winter. It’s funny that it worked out this way!”

When it comes to pathways to higher education, the similarities fade. Dupuis, the daughter of two Detroit Public Schools teachers, was intrigued with medicine. In the mid-1970s, some universities were offering six-year programs that, when completed, earned a student a bachelor’s and medical degree, a sort of fast-track to the medical profession.

She applied to these programs at the University of Michigan, Boston University and Northwestern University, among others. Kalamazoo College—where she’d been accepted—was her “traditional-track” top choice, she says, adding, “If I didn’t get into one of those specialized programs, I at least knew I wanted to go to the best school in Michigan, with an excellent rate of med-school acceptances.”

She got interviews at all the universities she applied to, was placed on waiting lists for a few of them, and got rejections from a few others. K was still there, the doors wide open.

“I didn’t like the waiting list idea,” Dupuis says. “K let me know they wanted me.”

She had a passion for science, enrolling in the pre-med curriculum, but it soon became apparent that the rigidity and competitiveness of the traditional pre-med and medical-school trajectory of 35 years ago did not square with Dupuis’s vision of health and healing.  “These days we have terms for what I wanted to explore: integrative or holistic medicine, and alternative and complementary therapies,” Dupuis explains. “Back then, those concepts were generally labeled as ‘snake oil.’  I wasn’t comfortable with the narrow combativeness of the mainstream.”

So Dupuis started down a compelling new path, double-majoring in English and French, diving into creative writing, writing for the Index, serving on the yearbook staff, editing the Cauldron, and helping out in the library’s A.M. Todd Rare Book Room.

Words became her passion. She took an internship on the editorial team at the Chicago publishing house Nelson-Hall, which, at that time, was administered in part by a K graduate. That experience led to a nearly two-decade career in book publishing, taking a job in 1980 at the Detroit-based Gale Research Company and spearheading her own imprint—Visible Ink Press—which she launched and led.

Now, after ten years in nonprofit administration at Interlochen Center for the Arts, Dupuis serves as Charitable Giving Specialist for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, near her home in northwestern Michigan’s Benzie County.

Thinking back to the six months she spent in Caen, Dupuis remembers being routinely mistaken for a native, her last name a fairly common “nom de famille” in France. Then French natives would start talking a mile a minute. She had to try to keep up, and it was hard. The experience has stayed with her.

How can I be always learning to be a gracious presence in the world?

“K was a place where you really could pursue what intrigued you. Things felt possible there. I had gone to Italy when on study abroad, and when I came back I had a strong desire to learn Italian. So Dr. Henry Cohen in the Romance Language department made it happen—just because I asked. Our intellectual curiosity was valued there. The K- Plan is so forward-looking, such a wonderful way to find your place in the world.”

For Carey, things were a bit more streamlined when it came to searching for schools. She applied to Bowdoin, Swarthmore, Dartmouth, MIT, Middlebury, and Kalamazoo College. In the end, says Carey, who majored in theatre at Interlochen Arts Academy, K was a pretty easy choice—thanks in part to her mother’s experience.

“K was always on my radar because of my mom,” Carey says. “I think particularly the study abroad the College offers was mouthwateringly cool, and I love Michigan. I wanted that small, liberal arts experience. The choice to go to school here was pretty easy.”

Graduating this June, Carey has been busy on campus, serving as a Student Chaplain volunteer and spending substantial time and talent on Festival Playhouse theatre productions, including Kahani, a theatre project that toured in India in July, 2012. Carey has always been fascinated with the intersection of culture and the arts, and with art’s potential for creating intercultural dialogue.

It was Carey’s time in Dakar, Senegal’s capital city, that really woke her to the uniqueness of the K experience, as well as her own love for learning foreign languages and navigating between cultures. Dupuis helped out, too.

“Mom’s multicultural awareness and appreciation for other cultures helped shape mine,” Carey says. “She transferred that to my brother and me. I’m very grateful for that.”

The openness and hospitality she experienced while in the West African metropolis astounded her as she learned from teachers, host family, friends, and strangers in a constant flow of culture shock and warm welcome. Carey was able to participate in a give-and-take that was different from give-and-take at home.

“It’s said that you are never more from your home country than you are when you’re abroad,” Carey says. “I experienced a heightened awareness of the importance of generosity. I carry that with me. There’s the saying at K that’s inscribed in the wall of Trowbridge Hall:  “The end of learning is gracious living.” To me, that has a lot to do with responsibility, with respect on a deep level—how can I be always learning to be a gracious presence in the world? I definitely felt myself asking that question in Dakar and growing in that way.”

This September, Carey will start a job teaching English to middle- and high-schoolers on the Caribbean island of Martinique.

So, who’s the better translator? The answers are diplomatic.

“I don’t know,” Dupuis says, “I haven’t seen Fiona’s SIP yet. She’s working with idioms I am probably not familiar with. Fiona is a gifted writer in English, which is just as essential.”

Says Carey, “My mom’s probably been exposed to more French text than I have. She’s got more experience. She just has such a nuanced sensibility with language in general—she’s a really great writer.”

Either way, it matters little. What’s most important? Dupuis has a good answer: “I have always told my kids to pay attention to the things that, when you are doing them, make you forget what you had for lunch, or even whether you had lunch.

“K is a place where you can lose yourself in so many explorations that help you realize your full potential.”