Nathan French

Email: n.french@berlin.bard.edu

Where are you from and which program are you enrolled in at Bard College Berlin?

I am from the United States and I started here as a Begin in Berlin student, but decided to remain at Bard College Berlin and enrolled in the Humanities, the Arts, and Social Thought BA program. My concentration will be Ethics and Politics.  

What drew you to Bard College Berlin and why did you ultimately decide to enrol as a student?

Of course it would be a lie to say that the city wasn’t a big drawing point, but I was also really happy with the environment. It’s small, which honestly can feel a little suffocating sometimes, but people seem to really care about each other here. The professor-student relationships are especially very good. I never felt that I couldn’t approach a teacher, whether it was with a question about the material or a joke about something that happened in class.

What do you like about campus life at Bard College Berlin?

I like how on such a small campus the cafeteria becomes the epicenter of everything. It becomes a place where everyone meets up, whether for meals, French club (which I help run), or just to hang out with friends. Also, I definitely like how international the community is. You meet people from all over the world that bring lots of different value systems and moral frameworks to the table with them, which is particularly interesting to someone who studies politics, because you have people with different perspectives that you don’t necessarily consider when you’re coming from a different country. I think that in an American classroom with students that are all American it can become very homogenous because they are all coming from a similar background. This is not the case at Bard College Berlin. 

What do you enjoy about living in Berlin?

I like how “fashionably gritty” Berlin is. Young people can still afford to live here, which makes it a “happening place” to be and it’s very fun. The city itself is very international, which is wonderful. I love just sitting in a café during the day, having a coffee, doing my work, then coming back and going out with friends to a bar. There are always things to do. The art scene is also really good. There is always an exhibition to go to, or a book launch, or a language meetup, or an extra lecture at Bard College Berlin.

Write briefly about a text you've read for one of your courses that's left a lasting impression on you.

I took an advanced elective for Ethics and Politics on Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws during the second term of my freshman year. We read the whole book, which is a tome of political philosophy, cover to cover. It was a class of only 5 people, so we were able to really discuss and interact with the text in a way that I just don’t think you could with a large group of people. It has definitely influenced me, as I often find myself thinking about it or bringing it up in my other politically oriented classes here. Right now I’m in a course called Liberalism, Fascism, Socialism and we don’t actually read any Montesquieu, but since he is very much part of the liberalist tradition, I find that he has given me a framework that I can use to approach other conversations. I feel more grounded when Mill or Constant talk about virtue in a democracy, for example. I know what virtue means in the sense of this tradition because I studied it in the Montesquieu course.

How do you think the education you receive at Bard College Berlin will help you in the future? What does a liberal arts education mean to you?

I think that, while there will always be a place for doctors, lawyers, and people with these kinds of focused careers, for the majority of people a liberal arts education is really invaluable insofar as you can become your own judge and you can decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong, and how you want to live your life. That sounds cliché, but I think it’s good to think about these things when you’re young. I ask myself what I value and what I don’t value, instead of being a victim of popular opinion, or doxa, as Plato would say. Of course we could go on to become “professionals” with the skills that we develop here, but I believe that one should first be able to answer these fundamental questions of judgment, which is what we learn here.