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28. Douglas Hofstadter (LGB 1963)

Posted By Alumni Office, jeudi, 25 septembre 2014
Douglas Hofstadter1. How long did you spend at Ecolint?
Alas, just one year: 1958-1959. I so much wanted to stay on at Ecolint, but I was just 14 when my parents returned to California (my Dad was a professor of physics at Stanford University), and they could not imagine leaving me in the Internat. Probably they were right to take me home, but the return to California was extremely sad, for me.

2. How did you come to attend Ecolint in the first place?
My father, an experimental physicist, was taking his sabbatical year at CERN, which at the time was only four years old. Coming to Geneva was my first exposure to another country and culture, and it blew me totally away. Geneva was so different from the rather heterogeneous and boring suburban community I had grown up in. And Ecolint itself was such a fantastic contrast to my provincial middle school in Palo Alto, where there was a huge pressure towards conformity, and where there were awful cliques and groups of "hoods" (very scary kids). At Ecolint, there were no cliques, no "hoods", and no pressure to conform. I felt unbelievably liberated.

3. Which teacher had the biggest impact on you and how?
I would say there were three key ones. Two of them were French teachers -- Madame Wendt and Monsieur Stock -- and one was my Latin teacher, Mr. Quin. I adored languages (and still do), and these teachers all reinforced my love.  Moreover, Mr. Quin had an exceptionally warm personality. He was a most remarkable human being. Unfortunately, I didn't have Mr. Quin all year long, but he nonetheless left a lasting impression on me.

4. What was your favourite spot on campus and why?
I loved the woods around the sports field; it was so rustic and unlike a city.

5. What was your favourite place in the wider region, and why?
I had so many favorite places (such as the pâtisserie across from the Gare des Eaux-Vives, which was owned by our neighbours, the Stauffer family, and my great friend Iranee de Soysa's apartment across the street from our house, in Avenue Godefroy).  I also loved the quartier of Champel, which in those days had far fewer huge apartment buildings than today, and had a certain kind of charm and elegance that I can't explain. Lastly, one very special "place" that I loved was simply being in a tram (most often the 12, but also the 1, with its circular route) and travelling through the city.

6. Describe your life today, where you live and what you do.
I am a professor of cognitive science and comparative literature at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and I write books and dance salsa (sometimes on 1, sometimes on 2, if you must know). I have two kids (Monica, age 23, and Danny, age 26), and am newly married (as of 2012) to Baofen Lin, who is Chinese. She and I speak some Mandarin together, but I have to admit that Chinese is frightfully hard for me (despite the fact that, over the last four decades, I have spent roughly seven years studying Chinese very intensely). But I still plug away at it.

7. What should be Ecolint's top priority as it approaches its 100th anniversary?
Helping kids from different cultures understand and respect each other.

8. What "words of wisdom" would you pass on to today's Ecolint students?
Plunge yourself into the study of foreign languages! Befriend people from other cultures!

9. What has been the biggest impact of your Ecolint education on your life?
Ecolint gave me lifelong friendships, instilled in me an undying love for languages, made me deeply believe in internationalism, and taught me respect for people of all stripes. It also showed me that the area where I grew up, though rich and sophisticated in some ways, was also very provincial. My year at Ecolint revolutionised my life. I would be someone entirely different had I not gone to Ecolint.



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