After two weeks at Northwestern, Henri Lauzière hasn’t had time to decorate. Five rows of wall-length shelves and two dozen books line the first-time assistant professor’s office. A handsome desk houses a phone and a few sheets of paper pertaining to his first course at Northwestern, a seminar called The Arabian Peninsula in the 20th Century.
Lauzière, 35, is an expert in Islamic movements in the Middle East and North Africa. He earned his Ph.D at Georgetown University, researching the Salafi movement, a form of Islamic extremism. Hired as part of an effort to enhance Middle Eastern studies at Northwestern, Lauzière impressed the history department with his innovative research and linguistic abilities, strengthened by a year spent in Qatar at the end of his Ph. D studies.
But before he could work on his Arabic, Lauzière first had to learn English. Though a Canadian citizen, Lauzière is from Francophone Quebec City, where English is taught but rarely mastered. He continued his graduate studies in Western Canada.
When Lauzière arrived at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, he attended a meeting for TAs whose first language was not English. “When I said I was from Canada, everybody started laughing and waited for me to say where I was really from,” Lauzière says. “It did not occur to them that you could be born and raised in Canada and barely speak any English.”
Facing his first class at Northwestern, Lauzière is open about how new he is, asking his students if it’s normal to keep them in class for three hours on the first day. (He doesn’t.) He speaks a foreigner’s English – musically accented but occasionally too formal, an English peppered with words like “pedagogical” and “inculcate.”
Discussion sections still stress him out, a result of his “annoying French background,” where professors lecture at students and rarely hear questions. “If you want me to just talk for three hours, at least I’ll prepare. It might be boring, but I can prepare,” says Lauzière. “But discussion is something else. You put one brick there, but the student has to put another, and together we build something, we build a wall, we end up constructing something. But if the students say nothing, what do you do?”