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Humans of the Hilltop: Priscilla Charrat Nelson

Visiting Assistant Professor Priscilla Charrat Nelson is in her first semester at Bradley and teaches French and Arabic. Photo by Cenn Hall

Priscilla Charrat Nelson cannot count the number of languages she speaks on one hand (hint: she speaks six total: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian and Arabic).

Charrat Nelson is the Visiting Assistant Professor of French and Arabic. In her first semester at Bradley with her new role, she is teaching four courses in the French and Arabic languages.

Born in Paris, Charrat Nelson found her way to America through an exchange program while serving as a teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and discovered her next opportunity at Bradley. 

“I was hoping to find a place that would be a smaller school where I would be able to know my students on a personal basis,” Charrat Nelson said. “I wanted a place where I could get to talk to [students] about what their projects were and if they wanted to study abroad or how they could use French in their future career.”

Charrat Nelson said she learned English at a young age, so when she first came to America, there was no language barrier to cause conversational complications. She said other aspects of American culture did catch her off guard, though.

“The friendliness was a big shock. Having neighbors who say ‘Hello’ is very unexpected,” Charrat Nelson said. “In most European countries, you’re sort of distant and very formal, whereas Americans are friendly [and straight-forward]. It’s one of the things I like the most now in the U.S.”

According to Nelson, it’s a pleasure to teach college students, especially at a time in their lives when they are developing their learning styles. She believes learning a new language is important and has fueled her passion to teach young students.

“It’s a lot easier to understand a culture if you know the language. In a way, you’re immersed in it, and you’re not an exterior observer,” Charrat Nelson said. “People are much more willing to interact with you and adopt you into the culture if you’re speaking their language.”

Juliet Boyer, a freshmen in the academic exploration program, takes French with Charrat Nelson. She said Charrat Nelson is active through hosting Table Français, a club where students can learn about French language and culture and often greets students outside the classroom.

“I like that she isn’t timid about correcting us or telling us that we’re incorrect,” Boyer said. “Other professors that I have had try to be nice and accept answers from students even if they aren’t completely right.”

Getting her students involved in their studies and inspiring them to look deeper into languages is something Nelson said she is always excited to do.

“Sharing knowledge is the goal of academia,” she said. “While we also do so by disseminating research findings through writing papers and attending conferences, stepping in the classroom every day and sharing my passion for languages and literatures with students who discover it for the first time is always a reviving pick-me-up.” 

Nelson said through her travels around the world and learning at different universities in different countries, she has cultivated some advice she offers to all college students.

“Be inquisitive. Try a lot of things,” Nelson said. “Open your eyes to things and opportunities you won’t have later.”

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