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Star­czewski and Swance joined the Hillsdale College French Department this fall.

When they met at a dinner party in graduate school at the Uni­versity of Wis­consin-Madison, Jan Star­czewski and Whitney Swance had no idea that that evening would lead to the beginning of the rest of their lives — not only as husband and wife, but also as future col­leagues. They now work together in the Hillsdale College French department.

On July 1, Star­czewski and Swance arrived in Hillsdale, with their 3‑year-old son Noah. They enjoy buying fresh veg­etables from the Hillsdale Farmers Market and grabbing drinks at Rough Draft, but their most exciting adventure began this fall as they ushered in a  new era in the Hillsdale College French department. They replaced two recently retired French pro­fessors in the three-person department. 

Star­czewski was born in the United Kingdom to a British father and French mother, but moved to France at an early age. He grew up by the Mediter­ranean Sea in the southeast of France — near Nice. 

“What’s funny is you only realize how much a place is amazing once you’ve left it,” Star­czewski said. “I grew up there and took it for granted. It’s by the sea, near the moun­tains, 300 days of sun­shine a year, and usually mod­erate tem­per­a­tures.”

His initial reason for coming to the United States, Star­czewski said, was to go to a “Bible school” in pursuit of someday becoming a pastor. But after returning to France, Star­czewski com­pleted his under­graduate studies with an emphasis on the English lan­guage.

“My goal at that point was to teach English in France,” he said. “I’ve been bilingual since I was 12, and thought, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’”

After com­pleting his studies, Star­czewski came to the United States to pursue an oppor­tunity to teach English in upstate New York. 

“From that point on, I thought I wanted to teach French in the United States,” he said.

Attending the Uni­versity of Memphis for his master’s degree in the French lan­guage, Star­czewski came to appre­ciate the American way of teaching about French culture.

“Growing up in France [and] attending high school in France, there were many texts and authors that were a part of the cur­riculum — canonical works. As a teenager, I didn’t realize the wealth of all of this,” Star­czewski said. “One thing that struck me was how my American pro­fessors taught me about French lit­er­ature and history with such passion and enthu­siasm that they enabled me to see angles and per­spec­tives of some­thing that was very familiar to me, but from a com­pletely dif­ferent angle.” 

It wasn’t until Star­czewski attended the Uni­versity of Wis­consin-Madison to con­tinue his graduate studies that he came to meet his future wife, Whitney Swance.

Swance, orig­i­nally from southern Wis­consin, came to love the French lan­guage through first studying Spanish.

“I loved Spanish and found I have a love for foreign lan­guages in general,” Swance said. “I decided in college to study French because I love the lan­guage, but I also love French lit­er­ature. 

With a love for French lit­er­ature and art in par­ticular, Swance chose to pursue her master’s degree in French lit­er­ature at the Uni­versity of Wis­consin-Madison.

“Studying the plays of Molière, reading Gustave Flaubert, and the plays of [Jean] Racine, a 17th century play­wright, in college, really made me want to con­tinue studying it in grad school,” Swance said. “I fell in love with these texts because of the pro­fessors I had, who were very much engaged with how these authors used lan­guage to com­mu­nicate meaning.”

Star­czewski and Swance wish to bring this same passion and cul­tural back­ground to their class­rooms as they teach French at Hillsdale College for the first time this fall.

“Although we may have taught French 101, or French 201, or a Culture and Civ­i­liza­tions class at another school, every school’s French program is set up dif­fer­ently so that stu­dents progress through the courses some­times sooner, some­times slower,” Swance said. “It takes some adjustment.”

Both Star­czewski and Swance said they want their stu­dents to know basic French after taking their third general lan­guage course, but beyond that, they want to help their stu­dents pick up real-life skills.

“Our goal is to make our stu­dents critical thinkers, problem solvers, look at a dif­ferent culture, and make some com­par­isons with their own culture,” Star­czewski said. “From a purely lin­guistic aspect, we want our stu­dents after their third semester to be able to go to any French-speaking country and get around, book a room, order a taxi, [and] know how to order food at a restaurant.”

In Swance’s courses, she said she likes her stu­dents to interact with original French texts, including business cards, songs, blog posts, news­papers, and other authentic doc­u­ments.

Junior Ashley Warden is in Starczewski’s Speaking and Writing French course this semester. She says she appre­ciates her professor’s well-rounded knowledge of French culture and how he draws con­nec­tions between the past and present.

“It’s really good to have a pro­fessor who is so familiar with the lan­guage and modern French culture,” Warden said. “Often I feel like I’m just learning about what France was like during the Rev­o­lution, which is great, but Dr. Star­czewski knows all of the idioms and cul­tural nuances of modern France, which will be helpful whenever I study abroad or interact with other Fran­cophiles.”