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1600 Mission Ave, Paris, France

Aida+Schafer+sits+at+her+desk+in+the+back+of+her+Parisian+style+classroom.
Aida Schafer sits at her desk in the back of her Parisian style classroom.

Aida Schafer sits at her desk in the back of her Parisian style classroom.

Aida Schafer sits at her desk in the back of her Parisian style classroom.

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As I walked into Founders 205, I was transported. No longer was I in a Marin Academy classroom, but rather, I was sitting in a Parisian apartment somewhere in the 14th arrondissement. As I sat in one of the stylish white chairs at the coffee table in the back, I began to observe the new world I was sitting in. Aida Schäfer moved swiftly about, as she taught and joked with her French 3 Honors class. Music drifted through the open windows from across the courtyard as she jumped from student to student, pausing occasionally to hear a joke. As the students worked on their French, Schäfer moved to the back of the apartment and sat in her large black chair, surrounded by artwork of Paris and the Eiffel Tower: her home. Growing up in Paris, Schäfer made sure that when she left, she took Paris with her.

Born and raised in Paris, Schäfer was surrounded by culture and art from a young age. With the freedom to move around that comes with living in a city, she saw all different kinds of people and cultures mixing and mingling about: “Now I realize how amazing it is, you know Paris, France; it all is. I didn’t realize that when I was a kid. I was exposed to so much culture, and being in touch with who you are, I didn’t realize that until I left,” said Schäfer.Paris is not only home to Schäfer, but it is also where she learned who she was. So, it was only natural that when she moved to the United States that she bring it with her. The stylish black and white chairs, lamps, and artwork that ooze Parisian culture, the pictures and paintings of the Eiffel tower are draped around the classroom, and the painting of “Le Petit Prince”

Paris is not only home to Schäfer, but it is also where she learned who she was. So, it was only natural that when she moved to the United States that she bring it with her. The stylish black and white chairs, lamps, and artwork that ooze Parisian culture, the pictures and paintings of the Eiffel tower are draped around the classroom, and the painting of “Le Petit Prince” makes it feel as though I truly am in an apartment in Paris. However, in one corner of the classroom are several photographs of Senegalese culture.

From age 14 to age 16, Schäfer lived in Senegal. Her father was Senegalese and decided that he wanted to return to his home country, so he took Schäfer with him. “[Senegalese people] have very different ways of living, different culture, different religion, different values. The other thing that was uncomfortable for me to realize was how much family I had [in Senegal], and it became a big eye-opener, but it was very difficult,” said Schäfer.

Due to her very Parisian way of living, Schäfer did not want to go to Senegal.

“The last place a teenager wants to be is in a developing country. I was very Parisian, and all of a sudden my dad says, let’s go back to Senegal. I had been there, but I had never lived there, so I could imagine what it was like, and I was horrified,” said Schäfer.

Although she did not want to go at first, this experience helped shape the rest of Schäfer’s journey. After living in two very different cultures, Schäfer was able to see the value of each and the importance of maintaining both parts of her identity throughout her life. She not only brought this valuable knowledge and culture to the United States when she moved but also into the MA classroom.

As the faculty advisor of the Mixed Ethnicities identity group on campus, Schäfer stresses the importance of being mixed. “I think [my mixed ethnicity] has always been part of my journey, and when I got to MA, and I saw that there was [a mixed ethnicity identity] group, it felt pretty natural to me to become involved with something that is my everyday identity. And also because MA is a predominantly white student body, it is great when those kids are able to feel safe and have those discussions,” said Schäfer. Schäfer also emphasized the importance of not just mixed ethnicities, but also mixed culture and its value. Growing up in Paris, and living in Senegal, Schäfer understands life in two very different cultures. She makes sure that her mixed identity is present in the classroom where she shares several photographs of Senegalese people and culture, blending perfectly and adding color to the black and white Parisian style of the room. However, not only is Schäfer a teacher, a faculty advisor, and a department chair, she is also a parent.

In her D block class, in the front corner of the room sits her son. Matisse Schäfer is the second of her two children to come through MA. While she may be the teacher, having her kids as students was also a big learning experience for Aida Schäfer. “Teaching my kids made me think that sometimes we, as teachers, don’t think of the students as a whole. We only see you in French class, but I don’t know that after [class] you also have another test and a game and then you go home. It made me realize how much students might have going on,” said Aida Schäfer. She was able to realize the great diversity and volume of work that students face at MA and take that into account in her teaching. She was able to recognize both sides, and realize their value, much like her experience with her own mixed identity.

As I sat in my comfy chair at the coffee table at the back of the Parisian apartment, I began to realize what it was that made this room feel so different from all the rest — it was the familiarity. Schäfer had surrounded herself with all the most influential and important pieces of her life to create a home away from home. Aida Schäfer radiates out of every corner of the room. The Eiffel Tower pictures, the Senegalese pictures, and the black and white style. While one or two of these may be found in another french classroom when combined altogether the product is Aida Schäfer.

 

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