Prestigious ENS Scholarship Awarded to French Honours Graduate

14 April 2022
Sophie Coombs.

Congratulations to School of Languages and Cultures Honours graduate Sophie Coombs who has been awarded a prestigious scholarship to be part of the ‘Sélection Internationale of the École Normale Supérieure’ (ENS) in Paris.

The Scholarship is an annual admissions path offered to ten international students in Science and ten students in Humanities to study in Paris for three years, eventually graduating with a Masters degree plus the ‘diplôme de l’ENS’, which is a year’s worth of coursework.

Sophie is the second student from UQ’s School of Languages and Cultures French Discipline to apply for and receive this prestigious scholarship in the past two years, having endured a marathon external exam process completing written and oral tasks in French.

“I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to study at one of France’s most esteemed academic institutions,” Sophie said.

“I hope to not only deepen my understanding of my own discipline at the ENS but to also learn from and engage with students and researchers across the humanities more generally.”

Under the ENS scholarship Sophie’s project proposes a comparative analysis of “Les plages d’Agnès” (2008) by French director Agnès Varda and “The Beach” (2020) by Australian Indigenous filmmaker Warwick Thornton.

“In these two self-reflexive documentaries, Thornton and Varda share a preoccupation with both marginal figures and spaces, filming themselves in the liminal zone of the beach, at the literal edge of their respective nations,” Sophie said.

“I aim to explore how these two films, one French and one Australian, help to understand the national identities of these two countries.”

Having studied a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Spanish and French at UQ, Sophie then went on to complete her honours thesis which proposed a novel feminist interpretation of “News from Home” – a 1976 cult film by Belgian director Chantal Akerman.

“Art provides a way for us to unpick how we decide what constitutes insider or outsider status as a society,” Sophie said.

“From first contact to the Cronulla riots, to our treatment of asylum seekers who land on our shores, the beach has long been a site of conflict in Australia.

“Similarly, French beaches such as those in Calais in the country’s North have played host to the Mediterranean migrant crisis and sparked debates about who can and cannot be a part of the European community,” she said.

Sophie hopes to contribute to the growing area of scholarship which seeks to understand how these natural and social phenomena intertwine in visual culture.

“I am particularly appreciative of Dr Barbara Hanna, Dr Joe Hardwick and Dr Amy Hubbell from UQ’s French department for having supported me throughout the application process.

“I also extend my thanks to many other members of the SLC, especially Dr Peter Cowley, Dr Jenny Barnett, Dr Roberto Esposto and Dr Sol Rojas-Lizana, whose insightful teaching has made me a more inquisitive and capable student,” she said.

After completing her scholarship Sophie hopes to go on to complete a PhD and share her knowledge with students as a teaching academic in the future.