Let Us Introduce You: Inaam Jaffel

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Let Us Introduce You: Inaam Jaffel

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This interview has been translated from French.

Inaam Jaffel is an international student twice removed. With the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, she has worked as a graphic artist and illustrator, showcasing her work in exhibitions. A native of Bizerte, roughly 40 miles outside of Tunis, Tunisia, she decided to work toward her Master’s degree in Poitiers, a town in the west of France, feeling pulled toward research-oriented study of the image.

“I’ve traveled before, but it’s not the same thing if you travel just for the holidays or if you move somewhere else,” she said.

“When you settle down somewhere, you’re forced to immerse yourself, to adapt, so sometimes there are unpleasant things or you do things and even though you don’t have a bad intention, people can take it the wrong way.”

This immersion brought with it a wave of culture shock, but Jaffel soon adapted. (Here, she laments the lack of traditional bakeries, particularly the pain au chocolat that had become her breakfast staple.)

She currently studies within the French division of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, whose dual-M.A. program with the University of Poitiers brought her stateside for the first time.

“When I went to France, I had no idea about the exchange program, so I was counting on continuing my Master’s in France,” she said. “But then, when this program was offered to me … I didn’t hesitate.”

The transition proved another culturally shocking experience. For one thing, it is a matter of temperature, so to speak: “Compared with France, I’d say that people are a lot warmer here.” This comes with its share of surprises. “For the slightest thing there are people who will hug you,” she said. “Sometimes it bothers me because I can’t hug everyone, including people I don’t know, that’s not normal.”

She continued, in more general terms: “Comparing the culture shock I had going from Tunisia to France and then from France coming here, maybe I learned to adapt since I had a first culture shock. But, the differences are so much more pronounced, there are many more differences between America and France. That much is clear.”

Images and observations have defined her experience thus far. “Whenever you’re watching TV there’s, you know, the American Dream,” she said.

“But when I got here, Missouri seems different from America. It’s different from New York or from the image we’re given of the United States.”

Compared with the openness of Tunisia, Jaffel said, Midwestern society seems markedly conservative, citing religion as an example. “The first thing I noticed coming here is the fact that … people have a way of making religion liked, of giving a good image of religion, and I really appreciated that.” She marveled at occasions of people handing out Bibles on campus.

“For me it’s messages, positive vibes, you know, it does you good.”

Discovery lies at the core of Jaffel’s life in St. Louis. “I’m trying to discover everything,” she said. “I’m doing my best to discover as many things as possible because I don’t have a lot of time, so I’ve got to take the maximum advantage.”

This entails meeting SLU’s mosaic of international students (she excitedly recalled Saudi Arabians), participating in university-sponsored events and cheering on the Billikens at basketball and soccer matches.

The subject of her Master’s thesis has also taken on a local facet, studying media coverage of Ferguson. “I was interested in Ferguson,” she said, “because when I arrived here I wanted to continue with the same subject, because before I was working on the media coverage of Sept. 11 and Jan. 7, 2015 ( the Charlie Hebdo attacks). I wanted to take advantage of my time here to work on something that touches Americans, so I watched and I tried to observe a bit and among the things that truly touch people here—people continue to talk about it—is Ferguson.

“Ferguson also interested me because, during the debates I was able to participate in, the fact was brought up that there was a distortion of information. The media could distort events to stress the violence in the black community. I’m curious to know if it’s true or not.”

For as much attention as she pays to images, Jaffel spends just as much time creating them. “I would say drawing is my refuge,” she said.

“When I’m happy, I draw, when things aren’t great, I draw. I know that for each person there’s something that they do, there must be something for each person, and when you do that thing you feel relieved afterward. … [My drawing] has no political dimension, nor is it meant to touch someone else, but it’s in my own interests.”

She regularly fills her Facebook timeline with her drawings, eliciting responses from Tunisian, French and American friends alike. You might find Jaffel in Starbucks, one of her favorite campus haunts.

“Since coming here, I’m really interested in the Starbucks logo, even if there is Starbucks in France.” Many of her drawings are colorful, patterned modifications of it. “I have plenty of ideas and little time,” she said.

With a few months remaining, Jaffel feels a heightened motivation to encounter new people and experiences.

“I have a tendency to go toward people in order to discover … and try to adapt.” She continued, “It’s a richness. When you meet new people…it’s truly a richness. I’ve been able to meet so many people and I believe that will remain all my life.”

“After this year, I want to keep going. Why not take advantage?” she said.