GV professor receives civic honor from France

Lauren Formosa

Grand Valley State University French professor Dan Golembeski has been given the title of Chevalier des

Courtesy / Dan Golembeski, associate professor of French

Palmes Académiques, or Chevalier of the Academic Palms, one of the most prestigious and oldest civic honors bestowed by France.

On Wednesday, April 7, Golembeski along with Jolene Vos-Camy were presented the Palmes Académiques medal, consisting of two olive branches on a purple ribbon, by Consul General Guillaume Lacroix during a ceremony at Calvin University. While it was mostly held on Zoom to adhere to COVID-19 regulations, there was a small in-person ceremony held in the Calvin University Chapel.     

The award dates back to 1808 and was established by Emperor Napoleon for teachers and professors at the University of Paris. It has since been broadened to include those in France and internationally who have made significant contributions to the promotion of French culture.

Golembeski said that he was surprised to have been nominated for the title.  

“The best awards, in my opinion, are those that make you wonder if you truly deserve them, and that’s because they spur you to do even better, to do more,” Golembeski said. “Sharing French culture with those around me and especially with my students has been a big part of my life.”

Golembeski’s interest in other languages and cultures started quiet early on. Growing up in suburban Detroit, he made many international friends throughout his early life and was fascinated by the way they spoke. It wasn’t until he started taking French in high school and listening to French radio from Windsor that his love and fascination with the language and culture grew.  

“I traveled twice to Quebec when I was 16 and 17 and after those trips I was fascinated with the idea that other people not only speak differently, but they think differently – they don’t view the world the way we do in the States,” Golembeski said. “As I took an interest in French and began traveling there, I wanted to share what I had learned with others.”

The opportunity to teach and spread his knowledge of language and culture came to Golembeski first as a graduate assistant at Indiana University and then as an English language teacher at a high school in Toulon, France. Golembeski then joined the GVSU French faculty in August 1997 and has since seen the program grow and develop over the course of twenty years.

Courtesy / Dan Golembeski, associate professor of French

Golembeski said the dedication from faculty and the passion of the students in the program have allowed the GVSU French program to remain strong despite the downward trend in foreign language enrollment nationwide.   

The need to study different languages and understand different cultures in the United States is becoming increasingly more important, according to Golembeski. Not only has globalization and technology made it more easy for Americans to interact with other cultures, but learning from other cultures allows people to view challenges and problems from a new perspective.  

“Studying any other culture will help you think ‘outside the box,’”Golembeski said. “Rather than to randomly try a solution here, we can look to see how a given solution is working in another society and determine whether that particular solution might be applicable and successful here. Students who study foreign cultures gain new insights to the arts, social life, politics, architecture, environmentalism, and much more.” 

Golembeski has stated that the most rewarding part of teaching has been seeing students succeed in their language skills and open up to new ideas about the world around him. His work in translating French novels and promoting French films in the United States has also allowed him to share his passion with more people in and around the GVSU and Grand Rapids community.

“I’m incredibly grateful to the French government, as well as to my colleagues for their unflagging support and all the incredible and diverse work that they do, too,” Golembeski said. “I am grateful as well to my students: I have had an incredible diversity of amazing students and I have been fortunate as well to stay in touch with them over the years.”