Nathan French


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 is 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 wasnít a big drawing point, but I was also really happy with the environment. The school is 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 good and Iíve never felt that I couldnít approach a teacher, whether it was with a question about the course material or a joke over lunch in the dining hall.

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

I havenít lived on campus for more than a year, so I certainly canít really speak about what it is like to live here as a current student. So with regards to the campus as a community, Iíll say this: 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 donít necessarily consider when youíre 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?

Iím an off-campus student who, unlike the majority of the students living off campus, chose to live in Pankow, quite near the school actually. However, I donít have classes on Friday and manage to get into town whenever I have the opportunity. Whether it be just to meet up with friends, to see a museum expo, or to find a comfy corner of a cafť where I can read, I always find it refreshing and extremely helpful to have all of Berlin to explore and interact with.

I actually think this is critically important to the ďBard College BerlinĒ experience insofar as American liberal arts institutions are not often located in the middle of a large city and fashion themselves, it appears to me, as sort of monasteries where the place of learning and education is removed from the greater community. Having Berlin, although I have a hunch this would be true with many other cities, makes this border seem not so insurmountable and one is able to apply what they have learned in the classroom, everyday should one wish, to what is going on in Berlin; protests, new art installations, lectures given by authors visiting the city, etc.

Write briefly about one of your courses that left a lasting impression on you.

It would be easy here to talk about the core curriculum that structures our education here, but instead I think Iíll talk about one of the electives that has influenced my thinking to a large degree. During the second semester of my second year here, I had the opportunity to take a course called Recognition, taught by Katalin Makkai. In it, we were led through selections that constituted an overview of intellectual thought on recognition theory, and how we as human beings fundamentally understand, relate to, and recognize each other and ourselves. For the first half of the course we read the classics, working our way through Rousseau, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and the French existentialists; Sartre, de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon. Then, after our spring break, we took what we learned and applied it to more contemporary thinkers on recognition politics; these included people like Nancy Fraser, K. Anthony Appiah, Charles Taylor, among others. This course had a strong influence on me because of the way it insisted on relating philosophical questions to the Ďrealí and messy world of politics, and more precisely, that space of what is often pejoratively called identity politics. Not only have I continued to engage on a deeper level with some of the thinkers we explored in this class, but Iíve also continued to think constantly about how philosophical ideas can be applied to lived social experiences, rather than being limited to academic seminars.

Could you tell us a bit about your third year abroad and how you frame it in regard to the education that youíve received at Bard College Berlin?

I spent my third year abroad on an Erasmus exchange with Sciences Po Paris. As far as courses went, I was very free with my choices because I finished many of my module requirements at BCB by the end of my second year. I took a few of the more philosophy-oriented courses, such as an introduction to French Theory and another on philosophy of public space. I also took the opportunity of being at Sciences Po to take political science courses focused on France; with the 2017 election going on, it was an engaging time to be there. Probably the biggest skill that I gained from my time there was the ability to read and understand French on a high level. My speaking is still a little rusty, as these things take time, but Iím now putting my newfound reading ability into practice with my thesis, which is focused on politics through a look at contemporary French literature. If someone had told me that I would be reading and working with texts in the original French during my thesis in just a few years, I would have been very surprised.

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. I ask myself what I value and what I donít value, instead of being a victim of popular opinion, or doxa, as Plato would say. Of course we could go on to become ďprofessionalsĒ 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.