Redeemer in France Program a Gift from God
Dr. Allan Curnew, former chair of the French department and director of the program that took students to France for a semester, discusses the uniqueness of the program and next steps for him as he leaves Redeemer.
6 min. read
August 25, 2021

It’s not that you’re happy when one chapter ends, but you’re looking forward to what the next chapter will bring for you.”

This is the perspective Dr. Allan Curnew, assistant professor of French for the past 10 years, has about painful cuts made to the French program at Redeemer and the loss of his position.

Curnew joined Redeemer in 2011, first for a sessional contract, and then full time to chair the French program. “I was very excited to apply my trade in a Christian environment,” said Curnew, after having taught high school French immersion and then French courses at universities in New Brunswick, Alberta and Ontario.

“We were blessed to find Allan, a skilled French professor and committed Christian with a love for interacting with students in the classroom,” said interim president Dr. David Zietsma. “Dozens of students have benefited from his experience, dedication to excellence, and passion for French language studies. We are grateful for his faithful service to the Redeemer community and he will be missed.”

Dozens of students have benefited from his experience, dedication to excellence, and passion for French language studies.

As part of a French major at Redeemer, students had the opportunity to spend a semester studying abroad in France. Up until Curnew’s arrival at Redeemer, this program took students to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. The thrill of studying at a world-renowned university in vibrant and historic Paris was certainly a highlight for many Redeemer students, but behind the scenes, the logistics of running the program were immense. Dr. Thea Rusthoven, the previous chair of the French program, stayed on for a certain number of years as director of the Redeemer in France program to continue to manage these details after completing her time as chair of the French program.

Timing, housing, the obtaining of visas, travel arrangements and more were all part of managing the program. “I was quite willing to let her bless me in that way,” said Curnew, grateful to have Rusthoven’s ongoing assistance and expertise, all the while knowing that she would eventually retire fully and he would need to develop a plan to manage the program alongside his teaching, research and administrative duties.

The south of France.

An email from a language institute in Montpellier, France in 2014 grabbed Curnew’s attention because of the mention of family stays and service learning all managed by the institute. Students would take courses at the University of Montpellier and the institute arranged for everything else. Wanting to ensure the program was suitable, Curnew set off for the south of France to investigate in person. In spring of 2015, he was able to tour the university, meet host families, explore organizations where students could volunteer and visit local churches.

“Everything worked out perfectly! It was a gift from God right from that first email,” said Curnew. Montpellier allowed an expanded student experience, including matching students with appropriate families, increased interaction with the community, applying their French language skills to relationships, service learning and church community. Students were able to interact with the culture by living in the community, rather than as ‘academic tourists’. The connections they made allowed for a rich experience and a broader range of vocabulary acquisition.

“Some of my students had such amazing experiences,” said Curnew, sharing one story of a student who was on Redeemer’s cross country team and was matched with a host who was a long-distance runner. They would run together and even entered a half-marathon together, which the student won.

The range of service learning opportunities was also impressive in Montpellier. Some students worked in the local children’s hospital or seniors’ residence. Three of the local churches also came together to start a cafe where several Redeemer students were able to volunteer. The cafe ran outreach events like movie nights and various classes. Curnew feels that missing out on the uniqueness of these experiences is the greatest loss to students who might have come to Redeemer to study French in the future.

While Curnew says facilitating the Redeemer in France program was definitely the highlight of his time at the university, he enjoyed other aspects of his work as well, including research, committee work and, of course, teaching.

I feel I’m now being divinely reassigned. I’m just waiting for the call for the next mission.

“The pleasure was in the classroom,” said Curnew. “I think a lot of my students would say I’m an entertainer. I like telling stories. I’ve been known to sing and dance in class.” He also enjoyed mentoring students one on one. “I feel the most teaching I ever did was actually in my office rather than in the classroom. That’s where the real teaching often happened.”

Curnew says Redeemer blessed him on a personal level from a faith perspective. “Growing up, I’d come to believe  that in order to serve God, you had to be a minister or a missionary. You had to be somehow contributing to the saving of souls. The only other ways to serve God were to read your Bible and pray. My Reformed experience at Redeemer gave me terminology for what I already believed. It gave me doctrine. It gave me what I needed to support what I already suspected, which was the ability to serve God no matter what you’re doing. Even if it’s decadent 19th-century French literature, there’s a way to glorify God through that.” 

“Redeemer was good for me and my faith personally,” he continued. “It actually expanded and fortified my faith. God meant me to be here, not just for what I may have done for students, but for me personally. God helped me to grow by bringing me here.”

While Curnew speaks highly of relationships he’s built at Redeemer, he says he’s never gotten so rooted to a place that he was completely broken-hearted to leave. 

“Life is like a good book. It’s made up of chapters. It’s not that you’re happy when one chapter ends, but you’re looking forward to seeing what that next one is going to reveal to you. I feel I’m now being divinely reassigned. I’m just waiting for the call for the next mission.”

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