Dr Alexia Vassilatos has been chosen as one of the recipients of a national order of France by the French Ministry of Education.
The Wits French lecturer and Head of Discipline was awarded the “Ordre des Palmes Académiques” (French Academic Palms) last month. It recognises individuals who have contributed to the advancement of French language and culture in the education sector. The award is bestowed annually by France’s Ministry of Education on behalf of the French government. Vassilatos has been a lecturer at Wits for 15 years and obtained her Bachelor of Arts at the university prior to that. She says that it was an honour to have been nominated for the award by the French Embassy in South Africa and believes that her multiple contributions throughout her years in academia were the reason she received the award.
Some of her contributions include her long-term role in the Association of French Studies in South Africa (AFSA), for which she currently serves as a treasurer.
“It’s a really nice recognition. I think the French Embassy thought that I would be worth being recognised for my involvement. For me it is a 24-hour commitment,” she says.
The association supports French by developing guides for schools, training teachers as well as publishing academic journals. Outside of her work with the AFSA, she has published academic research, participated in conferences and taught French for many years.
The significance of the award is not lost on her and she admits that while there are no prescribed duties attached to the award, there is an increased feeling of expectation.
“When you get an award of any kind, there is a big expectation. I’m not even French but I’ve been linked to a strong affiliation to France and the French language through a national honour. There is a sense of responsibility that comes with it”.
Vassilatos is Greek but has lifelong ties to French culture having lived in France and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she was born and lived until she was 15. For Vassilatos, the award “shows what I’ve always known, that French has a place in South Africa. Some people do not find the connection immediately obvious. On the African continent, French is not just a language. It is a space where very different cultures can meet through a linguistic commonality. Sometimes a cultural and economic one. Around it you can have so many meetings of different role players”. Vassilatos will receive her medal at the French Embassy in South Africa later this year.