Message from the Department Head

June 2020

Dear friends of the Department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies,

I hope that this latest issue of the FHIS Newsletter finds you well.

After the stress and the disruption brought upon us during the last few months, it is my hope that you are all starting to experience some sort of relief as we adjust to a new normal.

It is hard to believe how much has changed in just a few months. Our lives and habits have been turned upside down, forcing us to review our plans and priorities, leaving us with a great deal of uncertainty. We fear for our loved ones and feel the pain of interrupted connections with our family and friends. Many of us had to renounce things that we took for granted, starting with the way most of us had experienced teaching and learning.

In the face of adversity, many have also stepped up in every possible way and shown great resilience. Following UBC’s decision to hastily transition to online learning in March, FHIS instructors came together to tackle the complexity of the shift and propose solutions to complete the term. Many students found themselves trapped in very difficult contexts, and had to learn to juggle with different forms of pressure and constraints: academic expectations, legitimate concerns for family and friends, spotty Internet connection, limited access to computers, a lack of a proper workspace, and the prospect of an uncertain future.

These difficult and uncertain times have taught us a few things. Not only did we learn to come to terms with the great possibilities of modern technology, but we also experienced firsthand its limitations and shortfalls. Leaving the physical classroom forced us to reflect on the meaning of education and our need for in-person interactions. We learned that a microscopic virus can bring the world to its knees, but it can’t put a stop to our desire to question and understand it. Now more than ever, we are reminded of the role of reading, writing and thinking in the humanistic search for meaning.

As many writers, artists and thinkers have proposed for a long time before us, times of crisis always come with great uncertainty and significant challenges. They also offer an opportunity to reimagine the future and make room for bold, creative and innovative ideas.

In the midst of all the difficulties, the Department of French, Hispanic & Italian Studies remains highly focused on its intellectual mission. Despite the sudden interruption of our activities on campus, our faculty and students have imagined new spaces for thinking, debating and socializing. If you haven’t done so already, take a look at the Virtual Koerner’s blog to see a true example of what persistence means in times of pandemic.

Everyone at FHIS is currently working hard to prepare for their courses, which will all be taught remotely this fall. Faculty and staff are making sure that new and returning students will be provided with a high-quality education and a memorable experience, and that they will find a sense of community, make meaningful connections and have access to the support they need in September.

Until then, enjoy the summer days. Take a pause from virtual meetings. Read books. Learn a language. Stay healthy.


Joël Castonguay-Bélanger
Department Head
French, Hispanic and Italian Studies