In every major city, it can become all too easy to get lost in the shuffle, unless of course you go the extra mile to get to know your neighbors. For our new week-long series, “Know Your Neighbors,” we’d like to introduce several people in each major borough of Boston that are working to help create strong communities.

Some of these strangers are up to radical work in the non-profit, arts, and music world as well as just being wonderful human beings. By looking around, asking questions, and working to get to know the people we pass by each day, Boston will hopefully begin to feel stronger and more connected.

We continue this series with the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston. Our next subject: PierreAntoine Tibéri,  the Children’s Program Coordinator at Boston’s French Cultural Center.


Q: What types of programming are you working on at the moment?

A: Part of what we’re doing is working with Boston Public Schools. We send teachers to different schools in Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, and a couple of schools in Brookline and Cambridge. We teach children French as a part of their after school programs. We also fund the after school program entirely by fundraising events throughout the year. It’s a great way for students to get access to learning a foreign language, which is not necessarily something most children get a chance to do.

Q: How did you become involved with the French Cultural Center of Boston?

A: I studied how to teach French at a foreign language center in the South of France. I wanted to teach in a school or an institution like the French Cultural Center. Shortly after my studies, I had an interview and came to Boston for it. I began teaching and am now taking care of the children’s and teenagers’ programs at the French Cultural Center.

Q: What types of challenges have you faced while working to create access for education in foreign language programs?

A: One of our major challenges is trying to get students interested in learning a foreign language. I believe it’s important to develop a relationship with learning a foreign language that can be carried on throughout schooling or one’s life. That’s why we believe in this type of a program. We’re also going to be expanding our program throughout other schools in Boston. Through the contacts at the Boston Public Schools and world language coordinators, we will be able to help kids be successful in French, when they have the access to it.

Q: Are there classes and opportunities for students and children to learn at any level?

A: We will try to start up some tutoring for kids that need more help in French. To do this, we will be providing professional development to world language teachers, inviting them here to the center to take advantage of our library and be connected to the French Cultural Center.

Q: Have you had many students that you’ve seen really excel in their French studies?

A: We work with the Ohrenberger School in West Roxbury. We’ve invited kids that come through this program to be a part of summer program as well. They continuously come back year after year, and we’ve been able to watch as their excitement progresses. We believe it will help them to choose their language classes when they get to middle and high school. We want to be able to provide an opportunity to travel to Quebec and have a capstone moment in their learning experience.

Q: Have you had the experience of growing up bilingual yourself?

A: My father’s family is French and my mother’s family is American. I learned both English and French at the same time. It’s interesting to see how different people have had these experiences growing up. I was schooled in both English and French back and forth, which allowed me to learn to read and write in both languages. It’s important to develop literacy in more than one language because it doesn’t only help one’s mother tongue, but their second and third languages as well. Students who are learning French, Spanish, or Chinese will improve their new language as well as their own native language.

Q: What age are most of the students and children who are involved with the French Cultural Center?

A: We have children beginning to get exposure to French as early as age one. The idea is that as you get older, the different sounds you will be able to produce are going to be exponential.

Q: What do you love most about working at the French Cultural Center?

A: I really love working with the kids. Also, we have such a wonderful team of teachers and a really welcoming environment here.

Q: Are there any upcoming events that you’re particularly excited about?

A: Bastille day is coming up this week on Friday. We’re probably going to have between 1,500 and 2,000 people together on the street. We will have two wonderful bands performing in the night. There will also be family activities like face painting, and arts and crafts as well. There are a bunch of restaurants and bars opening up to us to offer a taste of different French speaking countries’ foods. Mostly, it will just be a great day to celebrate French culture.

Q: That sounds like a lot of fun! What other types of events are held at the French Cultural Center and are they open to the public?

A: We’ve had some interesting concerts in the ballroom downstairs. We also have wine classes, lectures, and book readings as well. They’re open to the public but members have a discount to some of the events. Other events are completely free. We offer cooking workshops that are a lot of fun and the younger crowds seem to really enjoy them. In the past, we’ve worked with the Peabody Essex Museum and the MFA to help explore French art. We also do a lot of school visits. French teachers in the area come visit us and host classes.

Q: It sounds like there is quite a variety of ways to get involved with the French Cultural Center. Do you get much foot traffic or would you like to have more visitors on a daily basis?

A: So, I think people get easily intimidated by our building from the outside. I think if they can make that first step in, it really helps. We have several small galleries and a lot of people take interest in them, but they just need to take a step inside. Everyone here is very welcoming. People can come in at any time. Our library is totally open to the public for people to browse and check out without being a member. We have an online library as well, which is pretty unique. We’ve got videos for kids and adults to check out.

Q: What’s next for the French Cultural Center?

A: We’d like to grow into other parts of the city. We’re partnering with a pharmaceutical program to help bring after school programs to low income schools. With all of the programming that goes along with students busy lives, students don’t always see the language classes as a priority. We are hoping to change that and working to improve access to inform language learning.

Read more from BDCwire’s “Know Your Neighbors: Back Bay” series:

Pt. I – Jazz pianist and composer, Mitch Hampton

Pt. II – Street Artist, Eric Kluin