Cross-Cultural (and Accidental) Encounters

  • Celine Carayon
    Celine Carayon
    Celine enjoys a walk down Prince George Street and a stop at the Campus Shop.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Celine Carayon and Her Parents
    Celine Carayon and Her Parents
    Celine and her parents as tourists in Jamestown.
    Photo courtesy of Celine Carayon
  • Celine Carayon - Take Two
    Celine Carayon - Take Two
    Celine is intrigued by history's cross-cultural encounters and by the history in Williamsburg.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

Why William and Mary? That’s a question Celine Carayon, a French graduate student studying U.S. history, gets asked all the time. "They say, 'you're from Europe--that's where the history is,'" says Carayon.

So why is she at W&M? Because our cultural, economic, and intellectual exchanges date back to the 17th century.

Carayon is intrigued by history’s cross-cultural encounters: the communication, connection, and merging of peoples. Little did she suspect how this theme would manifest itself in her own life.

While studying at Université Paul Valery in Montpellier, Carayon met W&M students on exchange. Effusing with Tribe Pride, they told her about the College and its historic setting. Through one of them, Carayon contacted Professor James Axtell, whose book The European and the Indian inspired her to research interactions between colonists and Native Americans at Jamestown. As she learned more about the Historic Triangle, Carayon came to appreciate its rich tradition of cultural interchange--first fostered by encounters between native peoples, explorers, trappers, and merchants, and more recently embodied by students from around the globe. As one of more than 250 international students currently studying at the College, Carayon herself is a part of this exchange.

As W&M’s international community continues to grow, cross-cultural encounters are a part of everyday campus life. In fact, with student organizations as varied as the Bhangra dance group and Chicas Latinas Unidas, eleven different language houses and culturally-focused special interest dorms, more than 70 international teaching and research faculty, and internationally-focused programs like International Mentors and World Savvy (the latter of which Carayon herself helped to create), cultural interaction is as inevitable as it is inspiring.

“It’s how you become part of a place, about how people who come from a different culture learn the language and transform,” Carayon says.

Whether you’re talking 17th-century Virginia or present day W&M, the connections that bring diverse groups of people together are a core part of life in Williamsburg.