Thomas Saupique and Aurelie Viotto traveled 5,700 miles to take a class with Noam Chomsky. In fact, the couple moved from Lyon, France, to Tucson, Ariz., for eight weeks last spring to take the “What is Politics?” course at the University of Arizona.
Prior to their sojourn to Tucson, the couple traveled the world for one year, beginning their journey in November 2016 in an Ashram in India.
Thomas and Aurelie are both younger and older than you might expect. Traveling around the world and moving to a city for eight weeks to take a course seems the purview of either newly minted college grads or retirees. But Thomas, 41, and Aurelie, 32, diligently planned their “adventure agenda,” and meeting Noam Chomsky was always on the list.
Thomas was the one who initially wanted to meet Chomsky, who is considered the founder of modern linguistics and one of the most influential public intellectuals in the world. “He is an icon,” Thomas said. Thomas is fuzzy on the exact timing, but thinks he was in his mid-20s when he saw Chomsky on a TV show, clearly explaining a complex topic in his calm, measured way. Chomsky became one of the “wise ones” that Thomas, a documentary filmmaker, wanted to meet in his lifetime. When planning their world travels, Thomas and Aurelie decided to try to meet with such inspiring men and women, and perhaps interview them for Thomas’ current documentary project.
The couple diligently saved for more than three years. They left their jobs and sold most of their belongings with the intention of moving to Canada when their trip was done, although they did not have their residency approved before starting their travels.
“I decided to leave everything and sell most of my belongings in exchange for the promise of a unique experience, meeting incredible persons and learning from and with them,” Aurelie said.
Their search for Chomsky led them to Boston, Chomsky’s long-time home due to his decades-long tenure at MIT. Alas, once they got there, they discovered Chomsky had moved to Tucson and had joined the UA faculty as laureate professor of linguistics and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair. Their hopes were temporarily dashed.
They returned to France and prepared for their move to Canada. But the unfulfilled dream of meeting Chomsky still tugged at them. A quick Google search later, they discovered Chomsky would soon be teaching a class on politics as part of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences’ Community Classroom program, and that it was open to the public. Canada would have to wait. Their next adventure became apparent.
Thomas and Aurelie were not the only students who had traveled from far away to take the “What is Politics?” course, which was co-taught by Marv Waterstone, professor emeritus of geography at the UA. Fellow attendees included Lydia Griffith, a woman who moved to Tucson from Ireland for the course, and Joe Coughlin, who made a 12-hour commute to the class from Bakersfield, Calif., two years in a row.
Thomas first met Chomsky outside the men’s bathroom. He laughs as he recalls that his first words to the intellectual giant were, “You have a new haircut.”
Thomas and Aurelie were thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from Chomsky and Waterstone.
“This class was amazing,” Thomas said. “It was very inspiring.”
“Every class was a mine of knowledge,” Aurelie said. “I think the most inspiring thing about it is Marv and Noam. They keep telling this story because they want to inspire us to do more.”
Did Thomas get the interview with Chomsky for his documentary? Not yet. He has not even asked. But he has exchanged emails with Chomsky. “We feel like we are not totally ready yet for the interview,” Thomas said. “I am trying to do it step by step.”
Thomas added, “He is so human. Very accessible. Very nice.”
“I think that was something he had in common with the other wise people that we met,” Aurelie said. “They have this global vision of the world. They are not experts in just one field. They can connect the dots. They are so wise but they have this energy of joy and childhood.”
Take a Class with Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky will be co-teaching the "What is Poltics?" class to UA students and community members in spring 2019 as part of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Community Classroom Program. Registration is now open!
Tips on How to Travel the World
During their one year travel adventure, Thomas and Aurelie visited India, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bali, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, the United States, and Canada.
In addition to saving for more than three years, Thomas and Aurelie selected several countries to vist that were both interesting and affordable. The couple also found that pet-sitting in the United States and Canada was a great way to find free accommodation, earn money, and meet people.
They also offered up their skills – Thomas creates videos and Aurelie works in communications – in exchange for experiences they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. In Vanatu they took a plane ride to an active volcano in exchange for creating a marketing video for the company that flew them out.
Having a non-touristy experience was critical. The couple wanted to form connections with locals and not be viewed as a “walking wallet.”
“In Bali, we meant to stay for one week, but because we made friends, we stayed for two months,” Aurelie said. “They would invite us to their homes. These are little miracles that happen because we connect as humans.”
You can read Aurelie’s blog of their travels online.