Gaétane Krebs interviewed by Maia Tooley
“You really feel you’re a part of something. You really feel like you’re important.”
This is how Gaétane Krebs replied when I asked how she felt about attending an American university. Raised in the French area around Geneva, Switzerland, Gaétane came to the American Studies Diploma program at Smith as the second participant from her family. Gaétane’s sister attended six years ago, and helped encourage her to spend a year in America.
Gaétane was drawn to Smith because of its extensive opportunities in the Asian art field. She pursued a bachelor’s degree in Chinese and Art History at the University of Geneva, and is currently completing her coursework towards a master’s degree. Impressed with the freedom the liberal arts curriculum at Smith offers students, Gaétane is taking courses in Chinese landscape painting and Art of Asia, as well as her American Studies class.
One thing Gaétane noted about Smith was that the professors are “really here for you; you have support.” In Geneva, she says, it’s harder to connect with the professors, and as a student, you are more independent, more on your own.
Gaétane had visited the US a few times as a child and teenager; however, she says that “you see things differently when you’re a bit grown-up. You’re more aware of the world. You pay more attention to details.” Some of these details she has noticed about Smith center around its community. People discuss race, gender, and LGBTQ+ issues openly, something that she says rarely happened back in Geneva. Students study subjects that they are passionate about, not subjects that they feel have a higher status. She sums up her appreciation for the atmosphere by saying, “I’m really happy that people can just be expressing themselves.”
Gaétane’s transition to life in the US has gone smoothly, as she doesn’t think the difference in American and European culture is as drastic as people perceive it to be. One expectation did prove true: the cars are bigger, the buildings are bigger, the streets are bigger. Gaétane was pleasantly surprised to find that in the US, “Everybody’s state of mind is very positive.”
Gaétane says she is very excited for her second semester at Smith, as there are still so many things she wants to explore, such as canoeing or kayaking on Paradise Pond, connecting with Chinese international students learning the French language, or beginning a study of the Italian language. Gaétane is also planning a collaboration with the Smith Art Museum to create an exhibit centered around twenty-first century collections, an opportunity she believes would be hard to find outside of Smith.
As our interview came to a close, Gaétane had some advice for students considering studying or traveling abroad: “Do it. It’s awesome to open your mind to something else. You [can be] so full of prejudice. Open yourself.”
In a follow up conversation with Gaétane, she reports that she did indeed start Italian though she was unable to continue because of conflicts, and that with the help Yao Wu, the curator of the Asian Art department, she’s been able to interview the subject of her thesis, Joan Lebold Cohen, one of the Museum’s donors of Asian art. She confirms enthusiastically that her year at Smith offered her opportunities that she would not have had through her home university in Geneva.
Global STRIDE fellow Maia Tooley is currently pursuing an engineering degree, and hopes to combine her passion for foreign languages with her desire to promote innovation abroad. Maia was honored to speak with Gaétane Krebs about her experiences living and studying abroad.by