Whether he is talking about the French language, building international connections through scholarship and travel, or Buffalo State’s international students, Jean Gounard’s passion is evident. When asked to explain his boundless enthusiasm, he spreads his hands. “It is just me, who I am,” he said.
Considering the influences that shaped his childhood, it’s not surprising that Gounard, until recently the director of international student affairs, is a global citizen. His father, a member of the French Foreign Service, served in many countries in the Middle East and Africa. “I visited my parents wherever they were stationed,” Gounard said. “Syria, Senegal...I can’t remember all of them.”
He studied at the University of Bordeaux in France, where he earned a doctoral degree in American studies. As a Fulbright lecturer, he studied and taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the 1960s. His interest in African American writers led him to meet with those who had taken up residence in France. “I met Richard Wright, his wife, and his daughters in Paris,” he said. “I met James Baldwin, too.” Both were discussed in one of Gounard’s three books, The Racial Problem in the Works of Richard Wright and James Baldwin.
Gounard also spent some time in the United Kingdom, noticing the influence of the French language on Scottish expressions. “The French language, it's in my heart,” he said. “More than 200 million people around the world speak French; just 66 million of them live in France. The future of the French language is in Africa.”
The list of connections he’s made to promote mutual understanding is long, and has been recognized many times over. “I am proud of my awards,” he said. Indeed, they stand as testimony to the persistent, personal effort Gounard has made to bring people together. He was named Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques, a French honor started by Napoleon to honor academic achievement. In recognition of his efforts to promote positive relations between the United States and France, Gounard was also named a knight in France’s National Order of Merit.
Gounard’s dedication to Buffalo State’s international students is well known. “I see myself in them,” he said. “Encountering the language, the culture, the economics, the prejudice. There are so many things international students must learn, sometimes simple things like using a telephone. A student visa imposes limits on student activities outside of class. And sometimes students’ money doesn’t come in time from their home. Working with international students is not a nine-to-five job.”
Jude Jayatilleke, ‘04, ‘06, now senior adviser with the EOP program, came to Buffalo State from Sri Lanka. “As an international student, you usually come here alone, with just a bag and your books,” said Jayatilleke. “Dr. Gounard was always willing to help, and his door was open even when I worked late on campus and stopped in his office for advice or just to chat.”
Gounard is now turning his passion to three programs dear to his heart: promoting opportunities through the Fulbright Program to Buffalo State students and faculty; promoting the Rhodes Scholarship program to students; and furthering Buffalo State’s role in the sister-cities program between the city of Buffalo and its many “sister cities” around the world, including Lille, France. “I cannot stop,” he said. “I always have an urge to learn and share.”