10 (or so) questions with ... Hélène Genéty
Recent transplant from Paris and volunteer coordinator at Channel One Food Bank.
So, you got married. Then found out you were moving to Rochester a month after you got married. Then moved to Rochester one month after that. From Paris.
Correct. It was crazy. It was very quick. We had to get married so we wouldn’t be separated with my husband in the U.S. and me in France. He was going to the United States for his work at Mayo Clinic. We had one month before we moved. It was very hard in France to stop my work, because I said, “Oh, sorry, I have to go to the U.S. in one month.” It was hard when we got here because, suddenly, I have no work. I have no friends. I have no family. I loved the adaptation step, it’s a big opportunity to discover yourself. It makes you grow personally and professionally, but it’s hard and so frustrating to start from scratch.
That’s rough. Especially when you didn’t speak English.
Yes. My English was such a disaster. I took English lessons at Hawthorne [Learning Center] when I first moved here. But now I’m taking the TOEFL [Test of English as a Foreign Language] and I am enrolled for a certificate with Cornell University.
Tell me about Rochester and the U.S. now that you’ve been here 10 months.
I was made comfortable when we moved here because people are very open. I love the diversity of people here. It’s very fantastic to discover the country and we try to visit other states (California, Florida, and soon Arizona) to compare and to understand the country. It’s very fantastic. It’s beautiful.
We’re meeting at the cafe in the Rochester Athletic Club. And you said you joined an athletic club because of two big differences between Paris and Rochester.
I’m sorry. I don’t understand.
That’s a long question. Let me type that into Google Translate and see if that works.
Oh, this is very helpful. I love Google Translate now. I use it a lot. Yes, two big differences made me join a health club. In Paris, I moved around the city with my bicycle to go to work, to shop, to discover the city with friends. And now I only move around by car. The second difference was how much sugar and salt is in the food here. Exercise helps me decompress and stay fine physically and mentally.
Speaking of food, you now work at Channel One Food Bank.
I’m very proud to work at Channel One. I’m a volunteer coordinator. I’m very proud because the team is nice and the value of the work is beautiful. It’s interesting to work in a food bank considering the food issues that exist here (overconsumption and bad food). The strength and organization of the volunteer work is crazy.
You’re giving an upcoming talk at History Center of Olmsted County called “Why and How Can We Save Cultural Heritage.”
Yes. It will be about how and why we need to conserve cultural heritage. It’s good to compare the methods between France and the U.S. And I will take the example of the French organization, Les Compagnons du Devoir et du Tour de France, where I worked as Head of Partnerships and Fundraising.
And you’ll be talking about how the French are renovating the Notre Dame Cathedral after the fire, a project that you helped work on ...
Yes. To be precise, I worked for an educational project and we were in partnership with the new public institution who is in charge of restoration and conservation of Notre Dame. Les Compagnons du Devoir have been providing high quality training for young people in a variety of manual trades such as carpentry. Trainees move between workplaces all over France and also abroad, learning a trade but also about themselves, through experience of different people and cultures.
This is your first winter here. It has been cold.
Yes. But we are okay. People say, “Helene, be careful. Winter is very dangerous there.” I have my French coat, my French shoes. I think I am fine. The winter is just beautiful. The snow. It’s sunny. It’s cold but you take your hat, your scarf, you’re okay.
How did you and your husband, Simon (Parreau), meet?
It was a party. For a birthday. I saw him and I said “Wow!” I didn’t know he was a doctor. And I am a hypochondriac, I believe.
That must be a great fit.
For Simon, it is theatrical sometimes. But I also have a lot of admiration for science. Let me ask you a question.
OK. I’ll allow that.
What are your tips for me in Rochester and in the United States to improve myself, improve my English?
It sounds like you’re doing all the right things. I know you volunteered at the Art Center. You joined the RAC. You read Rochester Magazine ...
Yes! I love the Rochester Magazine. What groups are you in? Where do you meet people?
Well, I’m in the Rochester Chess Club. I play poker with a big group of people. ... Wait a second. I’m supposed to be asking the questions.
Yes. But it’s easier for me to ask and listen and not to talk English.
Yes. Same for me.